Impeachment is the Democratic daydream, but most senior Democrats, who have been in Washington long enough to know how things actually work, are holding their tongues. If they cry impeachment now, with nothing more legally substantial than a wish and the dream, they only encourage Republicans to rally for November. Without control of the House, impeachment, which requires only a majority vote to indict, is unlikely. Without firm control of the Senate, conviction, which requires a three-fourths majority, is virtually impossible.
In the wake of two legal setbacks to the Donald Trump administration, one the conviction of Paul Manafort, the early chairman of the Trump campaign, and the other a guilty plea from the president’s personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, Democrats insist that the United States is on the threshold of a constitutional crisis.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi of California, the Democratic leader in the House minority, sent an urgent letter to her Democratic colleagues in the wake of the one-two punch of legal actions — neither of which landed a legal blow on the president — encouraging them to stand by for something good. “Michael Cohen’s admission” that he made payments to porn star Stormy Daniels during the presidential campaign under the direction of the president, to seal her lips about her relationship with Mr. Trump, “implicates President Trump in a federal crime.” The president is as good as impeached, right? Well, not so fast.
The Democrats know a rush to impeachment now will eventually lead to a dead end, as daydreams usually do. Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the leader of the Democratic minority in the Senate, rushed to the floor of the Senate to fulminate with considerable energy, but he notably stopped short of calling for impeachment. Kamala Harris, the freshman senator from California, called the president an “unindicted co-conspirator” but reluctantly kept to the party line, lest invoking the wolf at the door now invite a backlash against Democrats in the midterms.
Unable to jump on the impeachment bandwagon, Democrats are turning to rhetoric, though it’s difficult to find anything new to say, having exhausted original ways to say how much they despise the president. But Sen. Doug Jones of Alabama, who defeated the infamous Roy Moore, says “the president is under a cloud.” But the president is not the target now. Democrats think they can destroy Brett Kavanaugh, the president’s pick for the U.S. Supreme Court, as collateral damage.
The argument here is that since the president’s lawyer pleaded guilty to election fraud, the president can’t pick a Supreme Court justice who could soon be, effectively, a juror in a case involving the president himself. To do so, says Sen. Schumer, would be “unseemly.” But what that “case” might be is not at all clear.
The president, for his part, denies knowing about Mr. Cohen’s payments to Stormy Daniels at the time they were made. “Later on I knew,” the president told Fox News. “Later on.” If the payments were made under the direction of Candidate Trump that would be interesting, but probably not legally significant.
Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz, a liberal Democrat, calls the Cohen case “a Catch-22” for the prosecution. Mr. Trump “is entitled to pay hush money to anyone he wants during a campaign,” Mr. Dershowitz tells MSNBC News. If Candidate Trump “directed his lawyer to do it, and he would compensate the lawyer, he’s committed no crime. If Cohen did it on his own, then it is a crime for Cohen but not for the president.”
But even if there’s no crime, Democrats argue, this “cloud” is enough to delay Tuesday’s opening of the confirmation hearings about Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination until later. Presumably that would be after the November elections, when Democrats think they have a good chance to win back the House and maybe even the Senate. Impeachment would be possible then.
White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders calls the push to delay Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation hearing “desperate and pathetic.” She reminded the press that the president says he “did nothing wrong” and that “just because Michael Cohen made a plea deal doesn’t mean that it implicated the president on anything.”
The idea that a delay until the midterms would put Judge Kavanaugh’s confirmation in peril is another liberal daydream. The idea that the White House is on its heels after the dual “bombshells” of the Manafort and Cohen cases is a narrative, not a fact. The narrative presumes voters care more about the hysteria of cable news and certain newspapers than about jobs and the soaring economy. Like so much of the Democratic sound and fury, the narrative is noisy but not necessarily true.
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