December 10, 2019

Four big stories today-- impeachment, control of the Senate, the trade deal, and Trump's meeting with the Russian Foreign Minister-- so this is longer than usual. Sorry about that.

This morning, the House Committee on the Judiciary unveiled articles of impeachment against President Donald John Trump for high crimes and misdemeanors. The resolution is quite short-- just 9 pages, double spaced-- clear, and simple. Rather than delving back into the evidence gathered by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, it lays out only two articles of impeachment, both related to the Ukraine scandal. They impeach Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

The first article lays out that Trump “solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, in the 2020 United States Presidential election.” He withheld “acts of significant value” in order to pressure Ukraine’s leaders “to publicly announce investigations that would benefit his reelection, harm the election prospects of a political opponent, and influence the 2020 United States Presidential election to his advantage.” He “used the powers of the Presidency in a manner that compromised the national security of the United States and undermined the integrity of the United States democratic process.”

The second article charges that Trump violated his constitutional duty to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. It explains that the Constitution gives the House of Representatives “the sole Power of Impeachment,” and that to execute that duty, House committees served subpoenas to Executive Branch agencies, offices, and officials. “Without lawful cause or excuse,” Trump ordered those agencies, offices, and officials not to comply with those subpoenas. He used the powers of the presidency against the lawful powers of the House of Representatives. “In the history of the Republic, no President has ever ordered the complete defiance of an impeachment inquiry or sought to obstruct and impede so comprehensively” an impeachment inquiry, trying “to seize and control the power of impeachment—and thus to nullify a vital constitutional safeguard vested solely in the House of Representatives.”

The articles lay out the case against Trump quite briefly and clearly. I urge you to read them for yourselves.

It is also worth noting that these articles are not coming from the Democrats, but from the House Committee on the Judiciary, a key congressional committee which is controlled by Democrats because voters gave them that control in 2018.

The Judiciary Committee will vote on these articles later this week. Then they will go before the House itself, which can either accept or reject them. If the House passes either of them (and it seems likely they will), the case goes to the Senate.

And that poses a huge problem for the Republicans. Trump has made it clear that he wants to make a Senate trial into a spectacle with witnesses and shouting and drama, much as his supporters have done in House hearings in the past weeks. He feels he is best served by big rallies and extreme statements and absurd antics that dominate the news, and he wants to see that approach in the Senate. White House Counsel Pat Cipollone appears to agree with that decision. Their hope is to make the whole impeachment process seem so farcical and make it so painful to watch that it blows up in the Democrats’ face and helps Trump get reelected.

Senators, meanwhile, have warned Cipollone not to “turn the Senate into a circus.” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) wants Republicans to keep control of the Senate. He knows that the crazy antics of Trump and his supporters puts that control at risk: even The American Conservative said today that “the case for impeachment is overwhelming.”

Unlike Trump, who can win by gaming the Electoral College, or Representatives, who can win by gerrymandering, Senators have to compete in their entire state. So while Trump and Republican Representatives can rely on ginning up their base, Senators cannot afford to alienate more moderate voters. If there is a trial, they want it quick and quiet.

Meanwhile, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has kept the articles simple to make the issue easy to understand and moved them quickly to keep the nation’s attention. An early vote in the Senate will also force Senators to declare their support (or lack of support) for Trump while there is still time for primary challengers to jump into the 2020 race. Senators who vote to convict Trump can expect to have pro-Trump challengers, whom Trump has already made it clear he will support over those who turn on him, while those who vote to exonerate him will have a terrible time in a general election. It's a pickle.

Then, less than an hour after the unveiling of the impeachment articles, Pelosi announced a new trade deal to replace NAFTA. The USMCA (United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement) was a top priority for the White House, but was negotiated largely by Pelosi’s team, and has crucial labor protections in it, demanded by the Democrats. The AFL-CIO labor organization has endorsed the agreement, which is huge. Trump tried to spin the announcement of this deal as a sign that Pelosi was trying to bury the impeachment story, which he insists is hurting the Democrats (polls say the opposite), but in fact the announcement of the first victory for workers since Trump took office undercuts Republican arguments that Democrats have ignored the country’s business to focus on impeachment (which is not true; the House has passed tons of legislation, but McConnell kills it in the Senate).

And over all this—Ukraine, impeachment, the 2020 election—the elephant in the room remains. Why is Trump so cozy with Russia, and why are Republican leaders enabling that coziness as it undermines our own geopolitical interests?

Trump’s service on the side of Russia continues even in the midst of this crisis in his own government. Today, he met with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov in what was an unprecedented second visit between the two. Also today, Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky met in Paris with Russian President Vladimir Putin, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, and French President Emmanuel Macron in the first day of talks to end the three-year Ukraine war. That war started when Ukraine tried to break away from Russian oligarchs and align with Europe, prompting Russia to invade eastern Ukraine and start a war that has caused 13,000 deaths.

America took the side of democracy in Ukraine, which was why it was such a shock when the Republicans bowed to Trump’s wishes and weakened the plank supporting Ukraine in their 2016 platform. America’s support for Ukrainian democracy in the face of Putin’s aggression is also why State Department officials were so horrified by Trump’s withholding of almost $400 million in military aid to Ukraine, and why, for Zelensky, a meeting with the American president was so very important. It would show to Ukrainians and Russians both that America stood firmly with democracy in Ukraine.

Now, on the very day that talks began between Zelensky and Putin, Trump met not with a Ukrainian but with Lavrov, in a meeting reports say Lavrov wanted. This sends an unmistakable sign that Ukrainians rank lower with Trump than Russia does, and the relative positions of the two countries in peace talks will shift accordingly. American is siding with Russian oligarchy rather than Ukrainian democracy.

At the meeting with Trump, Lavrov denied that Russia had attacked the 2016 US election and asked for more documents for proof.

Reading his words, it hit me: he sounds like a Republican.