Has Ben Ray Luján’s call on Monday for an impeachment “inquiry” changed the game for House Democrats? Nancy Pelosi’s assistant Speaker and #4 on the caucus leadership team became the highest-ranking member to endorse formal action to impeach Donald Trump. Rep. Al Green (D-TX) plans to force Luján to either put up or shut up — and soon:
With a majority of House Democratic lawmakers now behind him, Rep. Al Green says he’ll try for a fourth time to impeach President Trump when Congress returns next month.
Green first filed articles of impeachment the day before Trump was sworn in as president on Jan. 20, 2017.
Now, more than 120 House Democrats have publicly said they support an impeachment inquiry, according to NPR’s tracker.
“Things start with a spark, and sometimes the spark is ignored,” Green said following a Houston forum with his constituents earlier this month. “Other times the spark can cause others to become consumed with the righteousness of a cause and participate in the cause itself.”
Will the fourth time be the charm? According to various media counts, a solid majority of House Democrats now favor a formal impeachment process, with Luján making it 125 or so. That’s less than a third of the overall House, though; even if Green can get half of the other half of the caucus to swing his way out of unity, Democrats will still come up short in a floor vote. It might look better than last month’s 95-332 shellacking, but it still won’t suffice.
Unfortunately for Green, it’s not likely to get much better. Voters simply aren’t focusing on impeachment and the Muellermas letdown hasn’t helped matters. Green even admits in this interview that he’s often forced to broach the subject himself when meeting with constituents. “Wherever I go, I usually bring it up,” which should tell Green something about popular sentiment over the idea.
Others are noticing, the Hill reported yesterday:
In late July, discussion of Mueller’s investigation and possible impeachment were largely absent as the crowded field of Democratic presidential candidates debated each other on issues like health care and who is best positioned to beat Trump in the general election.
Fading public interest in the Mueller probe would be an unwelcome development for House Democrats, particularly as the House Judiciary Committee presses forward with its investigation into possible obstruction and potential abuses of power by the president. …
Democratic strategist Basil Smikle says there are two primary factors contributing to public disinterest: The lack of a fiery moment from Mueller’s testimony and voters no longer asking Democratic candidates on the campaign trail about the Russia probe.
“When you put those together, this is a broader retreat from conversations about impeachment, even while Nadler and the House are steadily conducting these hearings in the background,” said Smikle, former executive director of the New York Democratic Party.
Luján’s statement isn’t going to change the game either, as I argue in my column at The Week. In fact, Luján’s statement exposes Democrats’ weak hand and the risk they run in attempting to play it:
First, if Luján’s statement boosted visibility for impeachment efforts during a quiet news cycle, his stated reasons for endorsing such a move arguably did nothing to advance the case. If anything, he made it even more ambiguous by refusing to name specific “high crimes and misdemeanors” Trump may have committed; Luján didn’t even mention collusion or obstruction as grounds for the inquiry in his statement. …
Thus we have the core problem Democrats face after the Mueller report. They had hoped to get a turnkey case of election fraud by Trump himself that would negate the results of the 2016 election. Had Mueller produced evidence to support that conclusion, or even enough to support reasonable suspicion of it, voters would have likely been much more inclined to support impeachment to rectify a fraudulent election outcome. Leading Democrats spent two years making that specific case for impeachment, especially House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).
Without any evidence that Trump won the office through foreign influence, however, there’s no there there. Nadler wants to pursue obstruction charges related to Trump’s temper tantrums, but polls show that voters simply aren’t interested in pursuing impeachment on those grounds. In that political environment, Luján’s weak and easily refuted argument won’t move the needle at all.
That means the fourth time won’t be the charm for Green. It also means that impeachment should be a dead issue for Democrats, who should be more focused on getting some legislative achievements under their belt rather than tilting at an impeachment windmill.