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.

One Step Forward, A Half Step Back?

A few days ago, the leading Democrat in the House of Representatives finally said the word “impeachment”. That was a big step forward. She announced that several committees will decide whether the president has committed “high crimes and misdemeanors” that fall within their jurisdiction. Now, however, it appears that House Democrats want to focus their efforts on the Ukraine scandal, possibly voting whether to impeach the president in a matter of weeks.

Brian Beutler of Crooked Media summarized the situation in two columns this week. Here is some of his commentary:

Donald Trump entered the White House uniquely vulnerable to impeachment, the owner of an opaque web of private companies who obtained the office through criminal and corrupt means. Over the next two and a half years he piled increasingly brazen offenses on to that bill of particulars, emboldened at each juncture by Congresses—one Republican, one Democrat—that were determined for different reasons not to set an impeachment process in motion.

In the days after Special Counsel Robert Mueller produced a report showing Trump encouraged and expected to benefit from a foreign attack on the 2016 election, then abused his powers of office to obstruct the ensuing investigation, one of the few Democrats who recognized that taking impeachment off the table would create an unacceptable level of moral hazard was Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA). She warned, “If Donald Trump can do all that he tried to do to impede an investigation into his own wrongdoing and an attack by a foreign government,” and Congress takes no action, “then it gives license to the next president, and the next president, and the next president to do the same thing.”

The only thing her analysis missed is that Congress’s inaction also gave Donald Trump license to commit the same crimes all over again, this time with the awesome powers of the presidency at his fingertips.

And that is exactly what happened.

Members of the Trump campaign escaped indictment for cooperating with Russia’s attack on the election by the skins of their teeth. Trump himself escaped indictment for obstruction of justice only because the Justice Department prohibits its prosecutors from indicting sitting presidents. In lieu of an indictment, Mueller effectively referred Trump to Congress for impeachment, and in the face of hard evidence that he’d committed grave impeachable offenses, Congress took a pass….

It is probably no coincidence that Trump involved himself directly in the Ukraine extortion scheme the day after Mueller’s valedictory testimony to Congress, when it was clear Democratic leaders remained intractably opposed to impeachment. Had they treated the report with the seriousness it deserved, and unified their caucus behind impeachment, they might have discouraged Trump from inviting another foreign power to interfere in our election….

And it’s not as though Trump’s recent conduct is so different from his past offenses that the case for impeachment has changed dramatically. To the contrary, the arguments now prevailing are the very same ones impeachment supporters have been screaming themselves hoarse about for months—since before Democrats won back the House: That impeachment is the only way for Congress to alert the public to the seriousness of the threat Trump poses, and deny his enablers veto power over accountability; that it’s the only way to force all Republicans to vote on whether they think Trump’s crimes are acceptable; that a president who faces no consequences for law breaking will eventually discover that an election is nothing but a patchwork of laws, and begin to break them.

 

What we know today that we didn’t before hasn’t changed much either…. [The] plot to coerce Ukraine to involve itself in the 2020 election came to light before the summer. The vicissitudes of politics—a whistleblower who decided to take matters into his or her own hands; the existence of a corroborated complaint becoming public; Trump’s effort to cover it up—have made it easier for Democrats to step up now…. But Trump is only incrementally more deserving of impeachment now than he was two weeks ago. What’s changed is that the untenable nature of doing nothing has become impossible to deny. Having pulled their heads out of the sand, Democrats [could] now breathe again.

[However], as the political world processed the gravity of President Trump’s efforts to force Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election, and to cover it up, House Democrats debated among themselves whether to limit their impeachment inquiry, then less than 24 hours old, to the issue of Ukraine, and even whether they should aim to complete the impeachment process by the end of October….

What we’ve learned should quiet the Democrats’ anxious desire to rush articles of impeachment to the Senate, because the Ukraine scandal turns out to be much larger than it appeared…. Running it all to ground will take time, and may lead us back to the other areas of corruption these Democrats had apparently hoped to sideline….

The Ukraine scandal might thus be a single thread in a web of corruption and criminality that implicates a large number Trump officials and connects back to other impeachable offenses that seem unrelated until you zoom out far enough.

It’s difficult to imagine that Democrats will have plumbed the full depths of this misconduct by late October, and that should serve as a reminder to those Democrats who, for whatever reason, instinctually want to get this all over with as quickly as possible: artificially limiting the probe will place most of Trump’s misconduct beyond the reach of accountability and provide Republicans a road map for weathering the deluge….Shutting avenues of inquiry out of the impeachment process makes no sense….

Democrats must recognize that if they rush articles of impeachment over to the Senate before the fullest-possible accounting of Trump’s corruption is complete, Republicans will likely acquit Trump as quickly as possible, and not only will the impeachment process come to an end but all regular oversight investigations of Trump’s corruption will as well. There will not be a second impeachment process; Democrats had to be browbeaten into launching this one, would be even more reluctant to launch another, and if they did Senate Republicans would shut it down with the simple argument that the House shouldn’t be allowed to commandeer the Senate into putting the president on trial over and over again.

The same House Democrats who were determined to avoid an impeachment process altogether now want to dispose of the one that’s working wonderfully as quickly as possible, and their judgment hasn’t improved much …. since they relented.

It is possible that the Ukraine matter is such a raging fire of corruption that it starves other parts of the inquiry of media oxygen, but those investigations should continue, as forcefully as possible, until they run dry.

In the unlikely event that Republicans signal a willingness to remove Trump from office, it’d be irresponsible of Democrats not to … end this emergency as quickly as possible. But short of that, their lodestar has to be maximizing the political value of the process, which includes both public hearings and a trial. Now is the time for chairs of the relevant committees to accelerate their inquiries, not dial them back, to bombard Trump with subpoenas, and enforce them aggressively, not to let their subpoena power lay fallow. Now, moreover, is the time for officials up and down the government with undisclosed knowledge of impeachable offenses to approach Congress, and for Congress to welcome them, and bring any credible allegations they make too light.

Only when that part of the process is complete should the House force the Senate into a trial. If Republicans intend to protect Trump from the penalty of removal then the only source of accountability available to Democrats is the thorough airing of his abuses—with respect to Ukraine, yes, but also with respect to his obstruction of justice, acceptance of bribes, lies, and attempts to use federal power to punish his enemies….

It’s one big story. But members of the public deserves to know all of it, and we’ll only have one chance to tell it to them.

Unquote. 

Don’t forget that the leading Democrat in the House of Representatives is very easy to email by clicking right here.

A Bright Spot on the Distant Horizon?

Things are not getting better in Washington. To put it mildly. The T@@@p administration continues to resist any congressional oversight. Democrats direct witnesses to appear, sometimes issue subpoenas, the administration refuses to cooperate and the disputes vanish into the glacially-slow bowels of the federal courts.

The Treasury Department has refused to give the president’s tax returns to Congress, as required by law. The Director of National Intelligence is refusing to transmit a whistle blower’s complaint to Congress, even though it pertains to national security and the law says Congress shall receive it. The Judiciary Committee finally got a T@@@p associate to appear yesterday and it got very little coverage, even though the witness confirmed that the president obstructed justice. There is now more evidence that the administration’s last appointment to the Supreme Court lied to Congress and the FBI’s vetting investigation was a sham. The leading Democrat in the Senate doesn’t want to talk about it.

Congressional committees can hold people in contempt and fine them thousands of dollars a day or put them in jail. They have gone to court instead. The Speaker of the House could create a special committee devoted to impeaching the president, but she resists even saying the word “impeachment”. Meanwhile, the Judiciary Committee’s impeachment inquiry is just one item on their agenda. They may have another hearing next week.

Meanwhile, the president is using money Congress appropriated for the Defense Department to build his wall. It’s going to damage environmentally-sensitive areas along the border. The Justice Department is investigating automakers because they agreed with the state of California to protect air quality. Now the president wants to remove California’s ability to set its own air quality standards, as California has been permitted to do for decades. T@@@p is also threatening to round up homeless people in Los Angeles and put them who knows where, even though he has no authority to do so. His Immigration and Customs Enforcement police force is training for urban warfare. And there may be war around the Persian Gulf.

There are too many scandals and other offenses for most mortals to keep track of. Unlike Hillary’s emails, which were beaten to death, journalists and pundits jump from one topic to the next. Los Angeles writer Amy Siskind continues to document as much as she can at The Weekly List, but there is too much to digest (if you’re interested, she accepts small donations to support her work).

So is there a bright spot on the horizon? Here’s a hint.

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She gave a speech in New York this week. Up to 20,000 people attended. She called for big, structural change to address the corruption in our politics (she called our president “corruption in the flesh”). She believes that corruption is the fundamental reason Washington doesn’t work for average people. She spent four hours after the speech having her picture taken with a very long line of people. When complimented on her stamina, she said she stayed for four hours but so did the last guy in line. Polls now show her in second place for the Democratic nomination. The latest poll in Iowa, where the first votes will be cast, has her in the lead. Her campaign slogan is “Dream Big, Fight Hard”. She’ll make a great president if we make it that far.

A Positive Step

It isn’t making much news, but the House Judiciary Committee finally announced their plan to hold the president accountable. They will vote on Wednesday to institute special procedures designed to investigate and publicize the president’s numerous impeachable offenses. The Washington Post has an analysis of this long-awaited development. Public hearings are supposed to begin next week. The committee chairman says they may be able to vote on articles of impeachment by the end of the year. Any articles approved by the committee will be sent to the full House of Representatives. Nobody knows what will happen after that, but this is a positive step.

Here is most of the press release the committee issued this morning:

Today, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler announced the House Judiciary Committee will consider procedures on Thursday for future hearings related to its investigation to determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment with respect to President Donald Trump….

The new procedures provide that:

  • Chairman Nadler will be able to designate full or subcommittee hearings as part of the investigation to determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment.
  • Committee counsel may question witnesses for an additional hour beyond the 5 minutes allotted to each Member of Congress on the Committee. The hour will be equally divided between the majority and the minority; thirty minutes for each side.
  • Evidence may be received in closed executive session.  This allows the Committee to protect the confidentiality of sensitive materials when necessary, such as with grand jury materials.
  • The President’s counsel may respond in writing to evidence and testimony presented to the Committee.

Chairman Nadler released the following statement:

“President Trump went to great lengths to obstruct Special Counsel Mueller’s investigation, including the President’s attempts to remove the Special Counsel and encourage witnesses to lie and to destroy or conceal evidence.  Anyone else who did this would face federal criminal prosecution.

“The Mueller report resulted in 37 criminal indictments, 7 guilty pleas, and revealed 10 possible instances where President Trump obstructed justice. At least five of which we now know to be clearly criminal. Trump’s crimes and corruption extend beyond what is detailed in the Mueller report. The President is in violation of the emoluments clauses of the Constitution as he works to enrich himself, putting the safety and security of our Nation at risk. He has dangled pardons, been involved in campaign finance violations and stonewalled Congress across the board, noting that he will defy all subpoenas.

“No one is above the law. The unprecedented corruption, coverup, and crimes by the President are under investigation by the Committee as we determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment or other Article 1 remedies.  The adoption of these additional procedures is the next step in that process and will help ensure our impeachment hearings are informative to Congress and the public, while providing the President with the ability to respond to evidence presented against him. We will not allow Trump’s continued obstruction to stop us from delivering the truth to the American people.”

The Creep Wins If You Only Focus On Mueller’s Performance

Jonathan Capehart of The Washington Post says what needs to be said about the Mueller hearings. Quote:

“After totally unplugging and being out of the country for 23 days, watching President Trump’s gloat-o-rama in the wake of former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s halting testimony on Wednesday was like turning on a soap opera after 20 years. Same plot. Same script. Same actors. But being away from Twitter, the perpetual American news cycle and the insane pendulum ride that is the Trump presidency gave me some much-needed perspective.

The reaction to Mueller’s testimony brings a key lesson to light. If y’all are focused on the 74-year-old lifelong Republican’s performance rather than the substance of what he actually said, you’re playing Trump’s game on Trump’s turf. Here are three of the bombshells from Mueller:

  1. The Russians are still interfering in U.S. politics. “They’re doing it as we sit here, and they expect to do it in the next campaign,” Mueller told congressional lawmakers.
  2. The FBI is still engaged in a counterintelligence investigation. When pressed by Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-Ill.) about how his report did not address false statements made by former national security adviser Michael Flynn, Mueller said, “I cannot get into that mainly because there are many elements of the FBI looking at that issue.” Notice the present tense? Krishnamoorthi did and asked, “Currently?” To which Mueller replied, “Currently.”
  3. The Mueller report does not exonerate the president on charges of obstruction of justice. “The finding indicates that the president was not exculpated for the acts that he allegedly committed,” Mueller told House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), using a $50 word (exculpated) to say the president was not declared not guilty of obstruction of justice.

The first two points are clarion calls for us to pay attention to things that are happening in the here and now that we’re not paying attention to because of Trump’s distraction industrial complex over at the White House. The third point is bound to have folks dismiss it because it’s something we already knew. And while that might be true, it’s always good to have the words said out loud again, since most folks haven’t read the 448-page Mueller report.

Since the start of Trump’s candidacy four years ago, we know that optics mean everything to Trump. How someone looks, how he or she sounds is paramount to the man who views every day as an episode of the “Apprentice” scripted television franchise that made everyone think he was a successful businessman instead of the grifter he really is. What should be important to all of us is that the world heard (again) that the Russians continue to undermine our democracy, that the Trump campaign was not averse to accepting Russian help in the 2016 presidential election and actively sought to cover up its actions, and that there was convincing evidence the president of the United States obstructed justice. And those are just some of the things that were discussed at the hearings.

On a related note

The Republican Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, blocked two election security measures yesterday, arguing that Democrats are trying to give themselves a “political benefit” (i.e. the opportunity to have a fair election without foreign interference in 2020).

The Mueller Hearings Condensed To Hardly Any Time At All

The president is a criminal, millions who maybe weren’t sure have been exposed to the truth, but as theater, the hearings weren’t compelling on the whole, so lots of savvy journalists weren’t impressed. What garbage.

Adam Schiff lays it out in less than five minutes:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlkNArJ-mew

Jerry Nadler does the same in less than two:
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aAmw24yEJ10

It’s an excellent day to make a call or visit your representative’s website, even if you’ve already done it.

Your country needs your help.