Why an Impeachment Inquiry Now? Democrats Cite the Clarity of the Case
WASHINGTON — For months, dozens of House Democrats anxiously avoided even the mention of impeaching President Trump — right up until the moment that they demanded it.
The sudden embrace of an impeachment inquiry by previously reluctant House Democrats — most notably Speaker Nancy Pelosi — is attributable to one fundamental fact: They believe the new accusations against Mr. Trump are simple and serious enough to be grasped by a public overwhelmed by the constant din of complex charges and countercharges that has become the norm in today’s Washington.
In contrast to the murkiness of the special counsel’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and possible obstruction of justice by Mr. Trump, Democrats see the current allegations as damningly clear-cut. His refusal so far to provide Congress with an intelligence official’s whistle-blower complaint as required by law, coupled with the possibility that Mr. Trump dangled American military aid as a bargaining chip to win investigation of a political rival by a foreign government, strikes them as a stark case of presidential wrongdoing. They consider it egregious enough that they expect many Americans who had been cool to the idea of moving to oust the president to recognize the imperative for the House to act.
“It has shifted the ground,” Representative Peter Welch, Democrat of Vermont and a member of the Intelligence Committee, said about the new allegations against the president, as party support for an impeachment inquiry solidified. “It makes the brazenness of the conduct and the simplicity of the misconduct easy for everybody to understand.”
A second factor was also at work. The national security implications of the president pressuring an embattled ally for political help threw open the door for more moderate Democrats — many of them products of the military and intelligence communities, rather than lifelong politicians — to justify their decision to pursue an impeachment case against the president despite his relative popularity in their districts. In Tuesday’s outpouring of new demands for an inquiry, national security loomed large as a rationale.
“Make no mistake, these recent allegations are certainly dire,” Representatives Steven Horsford and Susie Lee, two Nevada Democrats who had resisted impeachment, said in a joint statement. “They point to a direct abuse of power at the expense of our national security.”
“不要搞错，最近的指控肯定很可怕，”曾拒绝弹劾的内华达州民主党众议员史蒂文·霍斯福德(Steven Horsford)和苏西·李(Susie Lee)在一份联合声明中说。“它们指向对权力的直接滥用，损害了我们的国家安全。”
Ms. Pelosi’s reversal was a head-snapping change. Since early in Mr. Trump’s tenure, the speaker had been the leading voice for restraint on impeachment, recognizing the political danger to her hard-won majority as well as the potential for a backlash that could hand Mr. Trump a second term in the White House. Despite her own deep disregard for the president, Ms. Pelosi did not believe the public was behind a formal impeachment inquiry that she considered nationally divisive. She preferred that various committees pursue Mr. Trump on a range of issues before next year’s election without forcing formal impeachment action.
That all changed with the disclosure of the whistle-blower complaint against the president.
Like her colleagues, Ms. Pelosi said that while the latest allegation against the president is but one candidate for an article of impeachment, “this is the most understandable by the public.”
“We don’t ask foreign governments to help us in our elections,” Ms. Pelosi said Tuesday at a forum sponsored by The Atlantic.
The initiation of a formal impeachment inquiry carries grave political risks for Democrats, allowing Mr. Trump and congressional Republicans to argue that Democrats are unfairly tormenting the president for partisan gain with an election just more than a year away. “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!” Mr. Trump tweeted from New York, where he was attending meetings at the United Nations, as Democrats announced that they were opening a formal impeachment inquiry.
Republicans paid a steep political price for moving to impeach Bill Clinton in 1998, and some analysts believe this episode could backfire on Democrats as well.
But with the party clamor growing for action against the president after the Ukrainian revelations, Ms. Pelosi and others who had been holding back faced the prospect that failing to move forward on demands to hold the president accountable could cost them more with their own party than pursuing impeachment might hurt them with Republicans and independents. Long a progressive hero, Ms. Pelosi had already drawn fire from the left for failing to act.
Even as momentum rapidly built, worries surfaced among Democrats that the drive could fizzle with the release of a transcript of the telephone call between Mr. Trump and the Ukrainian president if it proved less explosive than anticipated — an outcome Republicans predicted. But the speaker and others said that such an outcome would not deter them and that they wanted to hear all of the whistle-blower’s account of what led to the complaint against Mr. Trump, which is believed to include more than the call.
The decision to back the inquiry was not easy for Democrats who had been hesitant to get on board.
“I certainly didn’t run for Congress to be part of an impeachment inquiry,” said Representative Haley Stevens, Democrat of Michigan, who called the phone call an abuse of power. “It’s heartbreaking to look something like impeachment in the face,” she added. “No matter who the president is, we want them to succeed. At the same time, I have to maintain the rule of law and checks and balances.”
While the revelation of the whistle-blower complaint broke the logjam on impeachment, Democrats were becoming increasingly incensed at the proud defiance of the House by the president and his allies, essentially thumbing their noses at a coequal branch of government empowered to oversee the conduct of the administration. The Trump strategy had been effective as recently as a few days ago, when Democrats seemed stymied in their pursuit of the president with the prospect of a formal impeachment inquiry flagging.
To many of them, the fact that Mr. Trump had so far escaped any reckoning had only emboldened him to encourage the Ukrainian government to open a corruption investigation into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., a potential 2020 opponent, and his son Hunter Biden.
他们中的许多人认为，特朗普迄今没有受到任何清算的事实，只会让他更加大胆，鼓励乌克兰政府对前副总统、可能的2020年竞选对手小约瑟夫·R·拜登(Joseph R. Biden Jr.)和他的儿子亨特·拜登(Hunter Biden)展开腐败调查。
Now, Democrats who had been hesitant to open an inquiry are all in.
“These actions, which the president has admitted, represent a gross abuse of power and an abuse of the trust we the people have placed in the office of the president,” Representative Lizzie Fletcher, a Democrat from Houston who flipped a Republican seat last year and will face a challenge in holding on to it, said in a statement. She said the “House of Representatives should act swiftly to investigate and should be prepared to use the remedy exclusively in its power: impeachment.”
“这些总统已经承认了的行动是对权力的粗暴滥用，辜负了人民对总统府的信任，”来自休斯敦的民主党众议员丽齐·弗莱彻(Lizzie Fletcher) 在一份声明中说，她去年从共和党手中夺下这一席位，如今面临着连任的挑战。“众议院应该迅速采取行动进行调查，并准备在其职权范围内使用唯一的补救措施：弹劾。”
For months, it appeared that Ms. Pelosi’s calculus and the deep reservations of Democrats in swing districts would keep the House from moving forward on impeachment. The speaker told fellow Democrats in a private conference call in August that the House would not move to impeach unless the president gave them no choice.
In the eyes of Democrats, that is exactly what happened.