In early February 1998 as Ken Starr assured reporters his behind-closed-doors impeachment inquiry was moving expeditiously and Bill Clinton was announcing he had no intention of stepping down, CNN and Time conducted a poll asking whether Americans supported impeachment. Just 19% said he should be impeached, with 73% against it.
Over the next nine months as more details leaked from the grand jury and the Starr Report was submitted to the House of Representatives, those numbers shifted — marginally — to 29% and 67%, respectively. This week, CNN released a poll that asked the public a similar question about the current president.
The result? Fifty percent of Americans think President Donald Trump “should be impeached and removed from office,” with 43% opposed and 7% expressing no opinion. In other words, Americans aren’t just prepared for the possibility of impeachment, they are embracing it along with a Senate conviction. This shift in public opinion (last March, an identical poll found impeachment and removal supported by just 36% of Americans) demonstrates that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s decision just one month ago to formally launch an impeachment inquiry was exactly the right call.
And her choice to sharply focus it on whether President Trump betrayed his oath of office, compromised national security and abused his power for personal gain through his interactions with Ukraine has hit the mark as well.
How quickly the ground has shifted in Washington. Instead of a politically risky move for House Democrats, impeachment now appears broadly popular and inevitable. And it just seems to be picking up steam whether from the testimony of the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine who warned the administration of linking Ukraine security assistance with partisan investigations or the recent statements of acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney who essentially acknowledged (and then attempted to walk back) a “quid pro quo” in Trump’s infamous July phone call with Ukraine leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
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Meanwhile, the notion that Trump might put self-interest above national interest keeps getting reinforced by actions like his attempt to stage the G-7 meeting at his own Florida resort. He reversed course on that one, too, but not without a clapback at the U.S. Constitution and its “phony emoluments clause.”
If anything, Speaker Pelosi’s biggest problem is a slowing pace as new information keeps coming out every day, and that’s forcing the three House committees looking into the matter to chase down new leads. That, and the untimely passing of House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, who was heavily involved in the investigation, seems to have Democrats rethinking their timetable. While Pelosi never announced a timetable, many in the House had expected the matter to reach the House floor before Thanksgiving.
Now, it appears it might take until year’s end — or beyond. Meanwhile, distractions like the GOP effort to censure Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff or the president’s latest tweets (for instance, calling the inquiry a “lynching,” an especially vile comparison given U.S. history) are unlikely to move anyone’s opinion one way or the other.
Would an impeachment vote in the House help or hurt Democrats in 2020? Who knows? And frankly, no one involved in this effort should care. What members of Congress should be focused on right now, what the Constitution demands, is to hold the sitting president accountable. No one should be above the rule of law.
If this distracts from the Democrats running for president, if it forces red-state Democrats to take a vote they find “tough,” well, too bad about that, too. The national interest must be held above partisan political interest. That’s what the nation demands at this moment in time. Now, more than ever.
It may be hopeless to expect two-thirds of the Senate to convict no matter how compelling a case for high crimes and misdemeanors is made, but there is honor in the attempt. Americans have heard enough to recognize that there is no recourse but to move forward with impeachment.