Texas Congressman Beto O’Rourke is one of the most impressive prospects Democrats have found in their quest to retake the Senate this fall. He’s mounting an energetic campaign and drawing impressive poll numbers in a high-stakes bid to unseat Republican Senator Ted Cruz.
So O’Rourke must be super-cautious about discussing the issue of impeachment when it is raised on the campaign trail, right? Wrong. Unlike Democratic congressional leaders, who imagine that serious discussions about holding President Trump to account must be “off the table” during the 2018 election campaign, O’Rourke understands how impeachment works—and he understands his role, as a member of the House, in checking and balancing presidents whose continued tenure poses a threat to the republic.
After President Trump’s disastrous trip to Europe, which culminated in Monday’s unprecedented display of official obsequiousness toward Russian President Vladimir Putin, O’Rourke said, “Standing on stage in another country with the leader of another country who wants to and has sought to undermine this country, and to side with him over the United States ― if I were asked to vote on this, I would vote to impeach the president.”
Amid the bipartisan outcry over Trump’s announcement that he was inclined to believe Putin’s denials of Russian attempts to interfere with the 2016 presidential election over the conclusions of the US intelligence community, O’Rourke’s was a rare voice of clarity.
The Texan did not pull punches. He did not mince words—as the president did on Tuesday, when he attempted to walk back some of his remarks, while continuing to cast doubt on the intelligence community’s conclusions regarding Russia meddling by claiming that it “Could be other people also; there’s a lot of people out there.”
O’Rourke refused to play the DC-insider game of condemning the president’s words while avoiding the bigger issue of countering the president’s neglect of dangers to democracy.
Cruz and his partisan cabal may complain about Trump—this week the senator was mumbling about how “I think it’s a mistake to be apologizing for Vladimir Putin…” But, as O’Rourke explained to The Dallas Morning News, “I heard him talk about Russia but I did not hear him say a word about the president’s conduct.”
What distinguishes O’Rourke is his understanding of the Constitution, and of the duties the founding document imposes on members of the House. Those members are not charged with removing the president from office. They are charged, in Article 1, Section 2, Clause 5, with making a determination about whether the accountability process should proceed.
After what has transpired since Trump took office a year and a half ago, only bleary-eyed partisans would imagine that Trump should remain above and beyond congressional scrutiny, or that impeachment should be “off the table” until it is politically convenient.
“Impeachment, much like an indictment, shows that there is enough there for the case to proceed,” says O’Rourke, “and at this point there is certainly enough there for the case to proceed.”
(John Nichols has written the forward to the upcoming book: The Constitution Demands It: The Case for Impeaching Donald Trump, which will be published in August by Melville House.)