“Can we please start the impeachment process now?” Rashida Tlaib asked a month before she was sworn in as the representative from Michigan’s 13th congressional district.
It was the right question at the right time—a moment in December when President Trump was casually announcing, “I will shut down the government.” And Tlaib was the right person to ask it: a lawyer with a firm grasp of the Constitution and deep regard for the oath she was about to swear to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” and to “bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”
Yet, Tlaib got only a little notice when she spoke up in December. She got more attention in January when, after being sworn in, she employed some salty language in an enthusiastic declaration of her determination to hold the president to account. Trump labeled her “disgraceful” and “highly disrespectful to the United States of America.” But Tlaib was undeterred. She consulted with experts on the system of checks and balances and advanced a proposal rooted in a savvy recognition of the fact that impeachment is a process.
Now, as political and media figures who once eschewed discussions of the “I” word are suddenly talking about nothing else, it is time recognize the wisdom of Tlaib’s proposal.
Trump is rejecting the system of checks and balances. He is abusing his executive authority in an effort to thwart congressional review of the full Mueller report, and his attorney general has refused to cooperate with the House Judiciary Committee.
The Democratic majority on the committee has taken necessary and appropriate action, voting last Wednesday to recommend that the full House hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for refusing to share the unredacted report from special counsel Robert Mueller III with the committee. Yet, Barr is still refusing to cooperate. And what of Trump? Committee chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY) says, “the President is disobeying the law, is refusing all information to Congress.”
“The phrase constitutional crisis has been overused,” says Nadler, “but certainly, certainly it’s a constitutional crisis, although I don’t like to use that phrase because it’s been used for far less dangerous situations.”
This is a dangerous situation and its should be addressed with the response that the founders of the American experiment identified. “If we do not engage in the impeachment process, we set a dangerous precedent for all future presidents—that they can defy the law and trample on our constitution, taking us on the road to autocracy,” says Free Speech for People’s John Bonifaz, a lawyer who has been working with Tlaib on accountability issues.
The key word is “process.”
Before formal articles of impeachment are written and voted on by the House, information must be gathered, hearings must be held, efforts must be made to provide the American people with a full sense of why accountability is necessary, and outreach must be made to those constitutionally inclined Republicans who might recognize the danger of allowing a president—even a president with an “R” after his name—to dismiss checks and balances and disregard the rule of law.
This process of applying the cure for a constitutional crisis, as established by the founders of the American experiment, moves the discussion of accountability toward concrete reality.
Tlaib is proposing to begin the process with legislation resolving that:
(1) the Committee on the Judiciary shall inquire whether the House of Representatives should impeach Donald John Trump, President of the United States of America;
(2) the Committee on the Judiciary or any subcommittee or task force designated by the Committee may, in connection with the inquiry under this resolution, take affidavits and depositions by a member, counsel, or consultant of the Committee, pursuant to notice or subpoena; and
(3) there shall be paid out of the applicable accounts of the House of Representatives such sums as may be necessary to assist the Committee on the Judiciary in conducting the inquiry under this resolution, any of which may be used for the procurement of staff or consultant services.
Tlaib’s proposal is on point. Her resolution does not outline specific articles of impeachment. It simply signals that the time has come to begin the necessary process. It is this process that will identify the offenses that might form the basis for articles the Judiciary Committee and the House could consider.
While many in Congress remain cautious, the American people understand the wisdom of Tlaib’s proposal. Last week, she and Representative Al Green, the Texas Democrat who has been a stalwart champion of presidential accountability, accepted a flash drive containing 10 million signatures on digital petitions calling for an impeachment inquiry. MoveOn, CREDO Mobile, Need to Impeach, the Women’s March, By the People, Change.org, Democracy for America, and Free Speech for People have supported the call, which will be amplified this week by activists in DC and nationwide.
“Ten million people said that we need to hold this president accountable. I think that speaks volumes,” says Rashida Tlaib. “Ten million people want us to uphold the United States Constitution.”
John Nichols wrote the foreword for the book The Constitution Demands It: The Case for the Impeachment of Donald Trump (Melville House) by Ron Fein, John Bonifaz, and Ben Clements.