Impeachment Clarified

Jennifer Rubin of The Washington Post, a conservative who hasn’t joined the cult, wrote a column called “The Party Of Lying Liars” (which sounds a lot like Al Franken’s 1996 book Lies and the Lying Liars Who Tell Them: A Fair and Balanced Look at the Right). Some thoughts from Ms. Rubin:

When listening to [our president] and fellow Republicans throw around accusations against Democrats and the media or advance defenses for [his] impeachable conduct, there is a better than even chance they are misleading, if not downright lying [I’d say the chances are closer to 95%]….

On procedure, they’ve lied about the depositions (routinely used in investigations), claiming they violate “due process” or amount to a “Soviet-style” star chamber. Rep. Elise Stefanik (R-N.Y.) lied in claiming she was prevented from asking questions. [According to the rules, it wasn’t her turn yet.] … Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) falsely claimed not producing the whistleblower violates [the president’s] Sixth Amendment rights [the 6th amendment only applies to criminal defendants, and the president isn’t one of those (yet)]….

At times, Republicans deliberately ignore evidence in front of their eyes. They seem to have settled on the theory that Trump never communicated to [Ukraine president] Zelensky that aid was tied to investigations of Biden, Burisma and [the] crackpot theory that it was Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 election, a theory first suggested by ex-KGB officer Vladimir Putin himself]. Trump, however, raised these items in the phone call (“I would like you to do us a favor though”), as we know from the rough transcription [which he bizarrely claims exonerates him]….

Republicans’ lies are so numerous and obvious that one requires only a minimal amount of fact-checking to see that they lie because they have no truthful factual defenses nor valid constitutional argument. The facts are the facts: Trump conditioned aid to an ally in a war for its sovereignty on production of dirt to smear a political rival. He has refused to allow key witnesses to produce documents or to testify, thereby obstructing Congress. He has sought to intimidate and threaten witnesses including the whistleblower and [Ambassador] Marie Yovanovitch, sending out the message you will be targeted and smeared if you provide evidence against him.

As for the Constitution, we know that “bribery,” enumerated as one of the grounds for impeachment in the parlance of the Framers, includes asking for … personal favors in exchange for political acts [whether or not the favor is granted]. That is precisely what occurred here. Obstruction and witness intimidation are obviously “high crimes.”

House Republicans have become so invested in crackpot theories, bogus procedural complaints and constitutional illiteracy that they will never recognize the president’s wrongdoing. They are as incapable of upholding their oath, which requires impeachment for high crimes and misdemeanors or bribery…. Both [the president] and his House enablers are unfit to serve, since personal and political considerations obliterate their ability to detect the truth and thereby to uphold their public obligations. It would be refreshing if House Republicans simply admitted [the Toddler] violated his oath but they are unwilling to abide by theirs and remove him. The candor would be preferable to the non-stop lying.

It remains an open question as to whether Senate Republicans are willing to ignore and distort reality so as to avoid voting to convict a president of their own party. Unfortunately, we find it highly unlikely that more than a few (if that many) would concede that [the president] and the right-wing echo chamber that protects him have been spinning a web of lies for nearly three years.

Unquote.

Yes, it’s unlikely that enough Senate Republicans will agree to remove him from office –unless they make it a secret ballot. That would give the cowards enough cover to dump him. But it still makes perfect sense to publicize more of the president’s offenses. 

It would also make perfect sense for the House Judiciary committee to write separate articles of impeachment based on the findings of the Mueller investigation and subsequent disclosures. Mueller invited Congress to impeach the president. No president should ever get away with what this one did to obstruct an investigation. But Mueller wasn’t a great witness. If he had delivered his congressional testimony more clearly and more forcefully, the president probably would have been impeached already. There is still time to remind the voters that the Ukraine scandal isn’t the only reason he get rid of him (and allow him to become a criminal defendant).

When You Hear Them Called “Far Left”

Our Republican friends keep saying Democratic presidential candidates represent the “far left”. In the good old days, being part of the “far left” meant you were a communist, or belonged to the Socialist Workers Party, or maybe you planted bombs for the Weather Underground. Today, it means you’re not a rabid Republican.

David Mascriota, writing for Salon, clarifies the matter:

The latest bromide — boring and obfuscating as always — is that mainstream American political figures, most especially presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren, and the four young women in Congress known as “The Squad,” are fringe lunatics arguing on behalf of ideas that they cribbed from the diary of Vladimir Lenin.

Reality is consistently stubborn and subversive toward right wing propaganda. A cursory study of history, or a functional memory, indicates that [they] are merely trying to restore balance to the American experience — a balance that existed in such radical eras of the 1940s and ‘50s. The proposals of Warren and Sanders would make them moderates in most Western European countries…

Although the United States is slow to progress to the status of civilization that residents of counties like Canada, Japan and Australia take for granted, … the social welfare state is not entirely foreign to American life. Similarly, ideas like Medicare for All, public universities with minimal or no tuition, and high tax rates on the wealthy are entirely faithful to the “good old days” that President [Toddler] and his supporters seemingly long to resurrect.

After the creation of Medicaid and Medicare in 1965, the rate of uninsured Americans plummeted below 15 percent. Unsatisfied with the existence of any American without access to quality health care, President Richard Nixon — not exactly [socialist presidential candidate] Eugene Debs — proposed a universal health care program that would have [offered] a buy-in rate closely connected to personal income. The poor would pay no premiums, whereas working class families might pay a marginal fee. Decades before …, President Truman — another militant leftist — proposed a national health care program accessible to all citizens at no cost….

Fox News viewers currently collapsing into convulsions over discussion of the “Green New Deal” and enraged over environmental regulations might want to also contemplate that Richard Nixon signed the Environmental Protection Agency into law. He also signed the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, and Endangered Species Act….

The top marginal tax rate during his presidency was 70 percent. When he was vice president to President Dwight Eisenhower, the top marginal rate was 91 percent….[today it’s 37%, but only 20% on capital gains, which mostly accrue to the rich].

Advocates of debt free higher education face accusations of liberal delusion. Rather than the administrators of a hippie commune, Sanders, Warren, and others are as extreme in their ideology as every Republican governor who presided over their respective states and commonwealths, along with their public university systems, in the 1950s, ‘60s, and ‘70s. It was not until the 1980s that college tuition began its upward trajectory toward rates of highway robbery.

Many state colleges in the middle of the 20th century charged no tuition, while many others had fees so low that students could pay semester-by-semester with the wages they earned in part time employment. The overwhelming majority of white male college students after the conclusion of World War II funded their studies with the GI bill, while white veterans who did not attend college used the government subsidy to buy their first homes.

For most of the postwar era, robust labor unions ensured that large amounts of full time workers received adequate pay for their work, using the power of collective bargaining and the threat of the strike to create conditions favorable to blue collar laborers, most of whom were low skilled and without advanced degrees….

The right wing … blusters about how illegal immigration — not corporate greed or the destruction of labor unions — is to blame for the stagnation of wages. They have convinced millions of voters that comprehensive immigration plans that include a “path to citizenship” are treasonous in theory and practice. Ronald Reagan, the patron saint of American conservatism, granted amnesty to three million undocumented immigrants while president of the United States….

The illuminative story of domestic politics is not how the … Democratic Party has drifted off the edge of the “far left,” but that the far right has so thoroughly succeeded in moving the country’s political culture away from the center that the moderate policies of the 1970s now apparently resemble Fidel Castro’s revolutionary agenda.

A more helpful and truthful framework would instruct the electorate that the braver and more creative Democrats are making a valiant effort to return the United States to the more balanced and equitable policies of the past — policies that created the largest middle class in the history of the world. In other words, they are conservatives.

Unquote.

By the way, Senator Warren announced a very detailed transition plan this week that would allow us to get to Medicare For All in four years. The main steps in her plan are to take immediate executive action to fix problems introduced by our current president;  pass “public option” legislation in her first 100 days that would permit all Americans to  join an enhanced version of Medicare if they wanted to (legislation that would only require a simple majority in the Senate); and then enroll everyone in Medicare in her third year, after more people had seen the benefits of Medicare over private insurance. It’s a reasonable plan that offers a plausible path to Medicare For All. CNN has more on her plan here.

Who We’re Up Against

The [Toddler] Make America Great Again Committee (“TMAGAC”) is a joint fundraising committee composed of Donald J. [Toddler] for President, Inc. (“DJTP”) and the Republican National Committee (“RNC”). I don’t recommend visiting their site.

Last week, a journalist shared one of the committee’s Facebook advertisements. The text reads:

The far left knows that they have NO CHANCE of defeating President [Toddler] in 2020, so they’ve resorted to violence to try to silence the MILLIONS of American Patriots who voted for him.

We need to show radical left that they will NEVER be able to silence us with their violence and their hatred.

EItYBD6X0AANcrf

I suppose by “far left” and “radical left” they mean the Democratic Party, not the Communist Party USA or the Socialists Workers. Hatred? You bet. Some hatred is deserved. Violence? Not at all.

This advertisement was paid for by our president’s campaign committee and one of our two major political parties. Facebook let them run it. These are the kind of people we’re up against.

She Made a Mistake, But We Still Need Her

I’ve read Elizabeth Warren’s Medicare For All proposal and think it has some big problems. You can read about it here (there’s a lot to read).

(1) The financing is very complicated. It assumes lots of changes to the tax code. The senator’s 2% Wealth Tax on fortunes over $50 million is a great idea, but raising it to 6% on billionaires, along with the other changes she proposes, makes the whole thing less likely to be enacted and complicates her message.

(2) She says Medicare For All is a long-term goal, but it’s being criticized as if she thinks it could take effect immediately. She has promised to deliver a transition plan, but waiting weeks to explain the transition makes the plan sound too disruptive and even less likely to be enacted.

(3) Although Medicare For All would save the country money overall, nobody is reporting what we would spend without enacting it. It’s simply reported and criticized as the Senator’s very expensive, multi-trillion dollar plan. She needed to emphasize the cost of doing nothing (even though she would have gotten very little cooperation from the press even then).

(4) It isn’t clear how our current Medicare taxes and costs (like deductibles) fit into the plan. Since Medicare costs less than private insurance, it would be reasonable to say Medicare taxes would go up somewhat, but people would save money because they wouldn’t be paying for private insurance? Implying there would be no extra taxes suggests the Senator is again promising too much. Medicare isn’t free now. There is no reason to think it would be free in the future, even with the Senator’s proposals for funding it.

So I think the Senator’s announcement of her Medicare For All plan has been a mistake. Maybe she can get past this by emphasizing that Medicare For All is a goal and would require major changes, and that she supports a public option in the meantime. She has supported a public option in the past. Believe it or not, Joe Biden’s public option plan seems to make sense. (The Bernie Sanders site says you can see the details of his Medicare For All proposal, but when you click on “Details”, there aren’t any.) Somewhere between Biden’s and Sanders’s proposals would be a good place for Senator Warren to be. We need her if we want to replace the Toddler and turn this country around. 

What the House Decided This Week

Sean Casten is a Democrat who represents the 6th Congressional District of Illinois. He went on Twitter this week to explain what the House of Representatives did regarding impeachment:

A brief thread is in order on what we decided to do yesterday, as there seems to be some confusion about what is in [House Resolution] 660:

First, please read the bill. Rather than relying on shoddy journalists or self-interested partisans, go to the original source material: congress.gov/bill/116th-con…

On the substance, let’s first state the obvious: we did not vote to impeach the President yesterday, nor did we vote to initiate an impeachment inquiry, nor did we vote on articles of impeachment. We voted to set the rules for the next (open) phase of the process.

The question we were all asked yesterday was not whether we should move forward, but whether we agree to move forward subject to a specific set of rules.

The rules we passed were not only fair, but in some cases more generous to the President than the rules that were passed for the Nixon and Clinton processes.

There is a very important point to be noted in that prior table. The protections afforded by this process are to the President, not his political party. As is appropriate, since he is the subject of our inquiry.

This weird narrative that the minority party deserves greater protection implicitly presumes that the minority party is on trial. No one is making that argument, except perhaps for those who doth protest too much.

So it’s worth asking the question why someone would vote “no” on yesterday’s resolution. There are only three logically possible reasons:

(a) Because you want greater protections to the President in this process than has ever been granted in prior processes

(b) Because you are opposed to majoritarian democracies where the actions of a legislative body require the consent of >50% of the members, or

(c) Because you think the Congress should not inquire as to whether the President should be impeached under any circumstances

That’s the extent of the logical objections. That’s not to say that there can’t be illogical objections of course… so let’s examine some of those.

Some have suggested that the prior phase should have been open. That’s irrelevant to what we do next. History is behind us.

However, the approach taken was fully appropriate given the circumstances.

In the Clinton and Nixon cases, impeachment hearings came AFTER the [Attorney General’s] office had led closed hearings to ensure that witnesses could not coordinate their stories. Barr’s failure to do so, and his efforts to distort the Mueller report forced a different process this time.

Others have suggested that the prior process required a vote of the house. That argument is silly, and unfounded. Every committee in Congress has the right to set their own agenda, subject to the majoritarian opinion of their members.

For example, no one would argue that the Science Committee cannot hold hearings on ocean acidification prior to a full vote of the House.

In the same fashion, it makes no sense to argue that the Intel, Oversight, Judiciary, Ways & Means, Financial Services or Foreign Affairs committees cannot hold hearings subject to their jurisdiction prior to a full vote of the House.

Indeed, if we DID require a full vote of the House to approve the agenda of any committee, the House would never get anything done. Every member of Congress knows that. But some are hoping the public doesn’t. That is irresponsible.

So what happens next? We wrap up closed sessions as soon as we can, and then move into open hearings subject to these rules. We do so with open minds and no pre-determined verdict.

I am sorry – and in many ways, angry – that not a single Republican saw fit to vote in favor of these rules. Their obedience and deference to the Executive branch is an abdication of their responsibilities.

But we – and by we, I mean all of us – cannot allow their obedience to conclude that a partisan vote is bad policy.

With heavy hearts, we move forward. No member of Congress celebrates this moment. But yesterday, I’m glad to at least report that the majority of us voted not to shirk our responsibility.

Unquote. 

I don’t know about the “heavy hearts”. I assume the Congressman means he’d rather not have a president like the Toddler who so clearly deserves to be impeached and removed from office.

I also wonder how many in Congress don’t know how they will vote. There is so much evidence of corruption and abuse of power that having to make up one’s mind now would betray a lack of attention.

There should be several articles of impeachment, not limited to the Ukraine scandal, and each article should include a list of “whereas he did this” and “whereas he did that”. If they can’t come up with 20 pages of “whereas” clauses for each article, they won’t be trying.

Presenting the evidence in detail would make it harder for some of the Toddler’s supporters and some of the nation’s voters to deny the harsh reality of the situation.

A Brief But Powerful Argument For Impeachment

This is from the Twitter account of the historian and journalist Yoni Applebaum:

I want to share one strongly argued case for impeachment, from a leading constitutional scholar, that I stumbled across the other day.

“[The president’s] defenders describe the unthinkable disaster of impeachment. But it should not be unthinkable. The framers of the Constitution did not see impeachment as a doomsday scenario; they thought it necessary to remove bad men from the offices they were subverting.”

“The president’s defenders, experts at changing the subject, prefer to debate whether [he] committed a felony …. [but] ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ are not limited to actions that are crimes under federal law.”

“It becomes clear that the White House has never before been occupied by such a reckless and narcissistic adventurer. Sociopath is not too strong a word.”

“We are regularly lectured about a constitutional crisis if the House goes forward with hearings and ultimately votes a bill of impeachment for trial in the Senate. Consider the alternative. Perhaps American presidents, by and large, have not been a distinguished lot…”

“….But if we ratify [his] behavior in office, we may expect not just lack lack of distinction in the future but aggressively dishonest, even criminal, conduct. The real calamity will not be that we removed a president from office but that we did not.”

The fire-breathing radical in question? Former U.S. Solicitor General and Supreme Court nominee [and extremely right-wing Republican] Robert Bork, in a glowing review of [neo-fascist] Ann Coulter’s “High Crimes and Misdemeanors,” published in The Wall Street Journal in 1998.

Unquote.

Bork died in 2012, so nobody can ask him if his views on impeachment have “evolved”.

Political Science Says We Should Worry

There is a story in The Washington Post today about more officials in the Toddler’s administration refusing to honor Congressional subpoenas. This isn’t normal behavior. House Democrats could hold these officials in contempt and levy fines. They could even have them arrested, although that’s a power Congress hasn’t used in a long time. So far, the Democrats have asked nicely and sometimes gone to court, but I don’t think a single contested subpoena has been enforced.

Thomas Pepinsky, a professor of government at Cornell, explains why this is a very serious matter:

For decades, Republicans and Democrats fought over the same things: whose values and policies work best for American democracy. But now, those age-old fights are changing. What was once run-of-the-mill partisan competition is being replaced by a disagreement over democracy itself.

This is particularly evident as the president and many of his allies crow about the illegitimacy of the House impeachment inquiry, calling it an attempted coup, and as the White House refuses to comply with multiple congressional subpoenas as part of the probe.

This marks a new phase in American politics. Democrats and Republicans might still disagree about policy, but they are increasingly also at odds over the very foundations of our constitutional order.

Political scientists have a term for what the United States is witnessing right now. It’s called “regime cleavage,” a division within the population marked by conflict about the foundations of the governing system itself—in the American case, our constitutional democracy. In societies facing a regime cleavage, a growing number of citizens and officials believe that norms, institutions and laws may be ignored, subverted or replaced.

And there are serious consequences: An emerging regime cleavage in the United States brought on by [the Toddler] and his defenders could signal that the American public might lose faith in the electoral process altogether or incentivize elected politicians to mount even more direct attacks on the independence of the judiciary and the separation of powers. Regime cleavages emerge only in governing systems in crisis, and our democracy is indeed in crisis.

Just look at the hardening split among the American people on impeachment: The fraction of citizens who oppose the impeachment inquiry is the same as that who approve of the president, signifying that partisan disagreement over policy has turned into a partisan divide over political legitimacy. This cleavage … is clearest in the argument that it would amount to a “coup” to remove the president via conviction in the Senate, and thus that the regular functioning of the legislative branch would be illegitimate. These divisions are over the laws that set out plainly in our Constitution how the president can be subject to sanction.

Regime cleavages are different from other political “cleavages.” Conflict between left and right, for example, over issues such as taxation and redistribution, is healthy. Other cleavages are based on identity, such as racial conflict in South Africa, or religious divides between Hindus and Muslims in India or Protestants and Catholics during the past century in the Netherlands. Identity cleavages can be dangerous, but they are common across the world’s democracies and can be endured, just so long as different groups respect the rule of law and the legitimacy of the electoral process.

Regime cleavages, by contrast, focus the electorate’s attention on the political system as a whole. Instead of seeking office to change the laws to obtain preferred policies, politicians who oppose the democratic order ignore the laws when necessary to achieve their political goals, and their supporters stand by or even endorse those means to their desired ends. Today, when [the Toddler] refuses to comply with the House impeachment inquiry, he makes plain his indifference to the Constitution and to the separation of powers. When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell argues that impeachment overturns an election result, he is doing the same. In the minds of Trump, his allies and, increasingly, his supporters, it’s not just Democrats but American democracy that is the obstacle.

As Harvard political scientists Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt have argued, democracy can manage political conflict only if citizens and politicians allow the institutions of democracy—elections, representative bodies, the judiciary—to do so. Parties and politicians must not be rewarded for refusing to adhere to laws and institutions. Decades ago, a regime cleavage divided Chileans, with conservatives aligning against the elected government of Salvador Allende and eventually leading to a coup that replaced him with General Augusto Pinochet. The United States has confronted a regime cleavage, too: The last emerged in the 1850s, prior to the Civil War, when many in the slave states began to advocate secession—a clear challenge to the legitimacy of the Union.

Growing fights over executive power can mark an emerging regime cleavage in a democracy like ours….Politics becomes no longer about who delivers the best policy or who best represents voters’ ideals, but rather who can control the executive and how far they can push the limits of the rule of law.

But what distinguishes the current moment … from the normal, albeit worsening, politics of executive-legislative relations in the United States is the politicization of the very notion of executive constraint in the face of an impeachment hearing—this is the source of the regime cleavage.

American politics is not yet fully consumed by this current, emerging regime cleavage. But if it continues without a forceful, bipartisan rebuke, we can expect that politics in the United States will increasingly come to be characterized by the kinds of intractable conflicts … that have characterized presidential democracies in countries like Argentina and, more recently, Taiwan. Our regime cleavage has not yet hardened to the extent that it has in these countries, but if it does, … both sides of the regime cleavage will argue that the other is illegitimate and undemocratic. Voters, understandably, will lose what faith they have left in the value of democracy itself. In the worst-case scenario, presidents and their supporters would be entirely unaccountable to Congress, while their opponents would reject the legitimacy of the presidency altogether.

Even worse: What if [the Toddler] refuses to acknowledge defeat by a Democratic opponent in 2020? What would happen in that case? Might the president’s supporters resort to violence? Might broad segments of the [Republican Party] simply refuse to recognize an elected Democratic executive as well?

Protecting the rule of law, defending the separation of powers and restoring constitutional order to Washington increasingly seem as though they will require the impeachment, conviction and removal from office of the current president. At the very least, Americans of every political persuasion must demand that the administration take part in the impeachment proceedings, even if the Republicans in the Senate ultimately weigh partisanship over evidence in their vote. So long as the executive and legislative branches respect the procedures and powers outlined in the Constitution, we must all respect their legitimacy—regardless of the outcome. If we fail to agree on and abide by our common democratic principles, our emerging regime cleavage will harden, and the future for American democracy will be bleak.

Unquote.