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Democrats Win a Pyrrhic Victory in the House
Opinion

Democrats Win a Pyrrhic Victory in the House

T P Sreenivasan

The Democrats in the US House of Representatives finally took a decisive step to impeach President this week, when the Impeachment Inquiry was put to a vote and it was carried by 232 votes for and 196 against. The stark division in the vote made clear that the inquiry will be partisan all the way. No Republican supported the measure and only two Democrats crossed the floor to support it. It was a pyrrhic victory because it is not likely to lead to the removal of the President, despite the many points he has earned to be impeached.

“Democrats are now faced with the challenge of mounting a compelling case to the public that can cut through the political noise and generate even the barest of bipartisan consensus, knowing that the greater likelihood is that Mr. Trump will be acquitted in the Republican-led Senate,” wrote a New York Times analyst after the vote. Trump himself became more defiant and announced that he would not cooperate in the inquiry. He said that the move would boomerang on the Democrats. He maintained that there was nothing illegal in his conversation with the President of Ukraine.

According to the U.S. Constitution, the House has “sole power” to impeach a President, and if impeached, a President is tried by the Senate and removed only if convicted there. The President is likely to be impeached given that the Democrats have a 234-197 majority over the Republicans. But the Republicans are in a majority in the Senate. In this situation, the merit of the case for impeachment is irrelevant. Among the three cases of impeachment, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton survived by narrow margins, while Richard Nixon escaped removal by resignation. There is very little chance of Trump being removed from office through impeachment.

The impeachment moves against Trump had gone on throughout his first term, but many believe that he might be re-elected. For this reason as well as the comfortable majority he enjoyed in the Senate, the Democrats were half hearted in their effort to impeach him even after the Muller Report had virtually indicted him for seeking Russian assistance in getting elected. If telling lies is a serious misdemeanour, he has earned many points for impeachment. The Democrats kept talking about impeachment, but no decisive move was taken till Trump hit where it hurts most, when he tried to get the leading Democratic candidate, Joe Biden disqualified by colluding with the Ukraine Government.

An impeachment inquiry against Trump was initiated on September 24, 2019, by Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. It began after a whistle-blower alleged that President Trump and top government officials had pressured the leaders of foreign nations, most notably Ukraine, to investigate political opponents of Trump, abusing the power of the presidency to advance his own personal interests. These allegations have been corroborated by testimony so far by the U.S.Envoy to Ukraine, the top Pentagon official who was overseeing U.S. policy regarding Ukraine, and at least seven White House administration officials and many other witnesses.

The reports implicated Trump, his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani and other individuals as part of a quid-pro-quo campaign to pressure the Ukrainian government to take actions which would be helpful to Trump's 2020 presidential campaign. Additional allegations of misconduct emerged in the days after the announcement of the impeachment inquiry.

The House vote on the rules and procedures guiding the impeachment investigation was a reminder of one big difference between this inquiry and previous impeachments.There is no independent counsel to gather documents and interview witnesses for Congress, so lawmakers are doing it themselves. The weekend will be hectic to prepare for important hearings next week.

The legal rigmarole will drag on, both sides claiming tactical victories, but the impeachment, even though approved by the House of Representatives, will have an impact on the Presidency only if twenty Republicans in the Senate cross the floor to ditch the President. But instead of pleasing the fellow Republicans – allowing them, perhaps, to air light criticisms of him for the sake of credibility in exchange for their promise to protect him with their votes – Trump has resorted to threats and shaming, declaring Republicans who oppose him to be “human scum.” He also said he would read out the minutes of his conversation with the Ukrainian President in a fireside chat on television.

Analysts believe that Trump’s real problem is that the facts are against him and they are indefensible. “President Trump’s substantive defense against the ongoing impeachment inquiry has crumbled entirely – not just eroded or weakened, but been flattened like a sandcastle hit with a large wave,” wrote the Brookings Institution senior fellow Benjamin Wittes.

No one knows how long the Chairman of the House Intelligence Committee will hold public hearings, in addition to the closed-door interviews and gathering of evidence he has already done. The case will then go to the Judiciary Committee, which has the right to seek additional information. Once they determine that the evidence is sufficient, they will recommend formal articles of impeachment to the House to vote on. These procedures have a tendency to drag on and the President is not restricted in any way in carrying out his responsibilities.

The Democrats know well that the whole exercise is futile in terms of removing the President as the Republicans will not abandon their own President, however unhappy they might be with him on his unconventional and unpredictable behaviour. The President is also enjoying enhanced popularity on account of the performance of the economy and his recent success in eliminating Abu Bakr Baghdadi. The purpose of taking a serious view of the Ukraine episode is to impress upon the Ukrainians that any quid pro quo they work out with Trump to hurt Joe Biden will have far reaching implications, though the failure of the impeachment exercise is a foregone conclusion.

President Donald Trump claimed recently that he had done enough for world peace to deserve several Nobel Prizes for Peace, if only the Norwegian Academy had been fair and added that the Academy had awarded the Prize to Barack Obama, much to the consternation of Obama himself. In actual fact, the demand among his own people is not for the Nobel for him, but for removing him from the Presidency through impeachment for “high crimes and misdemeanours”. The moves to impeach him came even before he was sworn in, as his victory at the polls was largely unexpected. But impeachment is not determined by popular sentiment, but on the arithmetic in the House and the Senate.

As the Capitol Hill braces for the hearings, a new Washington Post/ABC News poll found that Americans are evenly divided on impeachment: 49 percent say the president should be removed from office, while 47 percent say he should not. Among Democrats, 82 percent are in favour of removing Mr. Trump and 13 percent opposed. For Republicans, it’s almost the reverse: 82 percent opposed, 18 percent in favour. But the pendulum is likely to swing in the President’s favour as the hearings drag on.