Saturday, February 15, 2020

Her Objective

Steve M argues what some of us believed all along (italics his, favorably quoting Jonathan Chait):

ordinary Americans don't care about the fate of Ukraine. They cared about the Cold War, and about the hot wars we've fought over the years. They care about fighting terrorists. They may know Russia is a bad actor, but it's not a bogeyman the way Hitler, the Soviet Union, and Osama bin Laden were. If your car is in the shop and you just found out your kid needs braces, concerns about Ukraine's security seem very, very remote. And behind that simple summary is an ungainly, convoluted narrative. (A September post by Chait was titled "The Ukraine Scandal Is Not One Phone Call. It’s a Massive Plot.")

Presidential buckraking is extremely easy to understand: Trump takes advantage of his office to channel money to his own businesses. Presidents aren't supposed to personally profit from the presidency. Some of this money comes from foreign governments. The Constitution specifically forbids that. To comprehend this, you don't need to have a grasp on geopolitics. Also, when Trump pockets this money he can't claim to be engaging in a noble act, the way he can when he says he's very concerned about corruption in Ukraine.

The crimes for which Trump was impeached were serious -- but they were remote from most Americans' experience. Trump's profiteering is much simpler to understand. If House Democrats wanted to grab the attention of the public, that's where they should have turned.

"If."  If House Democrats wanted to grab the attention of the public, that's where they should have turned. Nor was the objective to undermine the President's re-election campaign nor to enhance the prospects of the eventual Democratic challenger.

Quite valid. But House Democrats- spelled "P-e-l-o-s-i"-  did not want "to grab the attention of the public."

The time frame tells the tale.  The House Speaker had been opposed to launching an impeachment inquiry despite the growing number of individuals in her caucus urging a probe.

Then on Monday, September 23, official Washington awoke to read

Our lives have been defined by national service. We are not career politicians. We are veterans of the military and of the nation’s defense and intelligence agencies. Our service is rooted in the defense of our country on the front lines of national security.

We have devoted our lives to the service and security of our country, and throughout our careers, we have sworn oaths to defend the Constitution of the United States many times over. Now, we join as a unified group to uphold that oath as we enter uncharted waters and face unprecedented allegations against President Trump.

As became clear in the Washington Post op-ed, that was because of Ukraine and only because of Ukraine, in which "the president of the United States may have used his position to pressure a foreign country into investigating a political opponent, and he sought to use U.S. taxpayer dollars as leverage to do it."

The short piece was written by seven freshmen, none of whom previously had endorsed an inquiry and all six of whom had "flipped" their seats, turning them from Republican to Democratic.  (Even better, to Pelosi, six are women.) Pelosi flipped on September 24.

Pelosi held her caucus together, with only two Democrats voting not to indict Donald Russia on either of the two counts of impeachment.

Virtually no one (with the "virtually" being questionable) thought there was a significant chance that the President would be convicted in the GOP-majority Senate.  The Senate fell nineteen (19) votes short of throwing Trump out of office which was arguably a marginally better showing for Democrats than expected.

For that reason and others, Steve M is right. The public would have better understood greed and corruption than an attempt to enlist a foreign government in subverting an American election. It also would have cared more because the vast majority of Trump supporters (unsurprisingly) are unopposed to Trump investigating a political enemy. And no one cares about the nation of Ukraine (an exaggeration, but barely).

However, that is none of Nancy Pelosi's concern. She is not the party's leader in the Senate nor is she a presidential candidate.

She is Speaker of the House and fulfilled her role. The chamber she leads did what it had to do, investigating the President's apparent high crimes and misdemeanors, holding the caucus together, impeaching the President, and sending the charges to the Senate.

It was only after the seven national security Democrats announced their support of the inquiry that Pelosi acted. The op-ed was highly influential, not only with the Speaker but probably also giving other centrist/center-left Democrats cover for impeachment. And Nancy Pelosi wants very much to maintain control of her chamber and to remain Speaker Pelosi.  Victory of these Democrats in the next congressional cycle is crucial to fulfilling that objective.

The American people were denied the opportunity to view, in a very visible arena, Trump family grift and greed. Had this been the focus of impeachment hearings, the Trump presidential campaign would have been undermined and the campaign of his eventual challenger enhanced.

But that was not Speaker Pelosi's calling, at least as she understood it. And despite the probability that the alternate approach would have been deleterious to President Trump's political health, thus favorable to national security, a note of caution is needed. Warring against corruption may not always stir the public. Just ask Elizabeth Warren.

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