Make a note of August 1, 2018, the day when President Trump tweeted: “This is a terrible situation and Attorney General Jeff Sessions should stop this Rigged Witch Hunt right now, before it continues to stain our country any further. Bob Mueller is totally conflicted, and his 17 Angry Democrats that are doing his dirty work are a disgrace to USA!”
The president is urging the attorney general of the United States, who more than a year ago recused himself from involvement with the investigation of allegations of wrongdoing by the Trump campaign and the Trump White House, to extend and amplify the aggressive obstruction of justice that began with the May 2017 firing of FBI director James Comey. If any serious attempt to remove Mueller is made, the August 1 tantrum by an increasingly desperate president would necessarily figure in an impeachment inquiry. Even Republicans who profess their loyalty to Trump tell us that the unwarranted firing of the special counsel could be an impeachable offense. As Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) says: “To stop [the Mueller-led] investigation without cause, I think, would be a constitutional crisis.”
But the firing of Mueller is not required to justify an impeachment inquiry. Trump’s lawless presidency—with its repeated obstructions of justice, its disregard for the emoluments clause, and its open disdain for the freedom-of-the-press protections outlined in the First Amendment to the founding document—has already crossed the lines that call for a constitutional remedy. The problem is that most members of Congress, no matter what their partisanship, no matter what their ideology, do not know how to talk about impeachment.
This is a particular problem for congressional Democrats, the opposition party that should take the lead when it comes to holding the president to account. Democratic voters want their representatives to act; 65 percent of Democrats say that if their party wins control of the House of Representatives in 2018, it should begin the impeachment process. The idea is most popular among women, people under the age of 35, and people of color—precisely the potential voters that Democrats must mobilize this fall. Yet House Democratic leaders such as Nancy Pelosi and Steny Hoyer keep saying they want to keep the issue off the table.
That’s one of the many reasons Congress needs new blood.
There are Democratic contenders for Congress who do know how to talk about impeachment, and the ablest of their number is Kaniela Ing, a Hawaiian state legislator who is running in a crowded August 11 primary for an open US House seat. Ing is a progressive, whose campaign platform details his commitment to fight in Congress for a Medicare for All health-care system, tuition-free college, a reinvigorated commitment to protect civil rights and civil liberties, a $15-an-hour minimum wage, strong unions, and “100% Renewable Energy by 2035.” It also calls, as a listed agenda item, for immediate action to “Impeach Donald Trump.”
Ing does not have to be dragged into the discussion of presidential accountability. He highlights it, arguing that “From Russian collusion to obstruction of justice, we have the grounds for impeachment. We just need the will.”
What distinguishes Ing’s argument is his recognition that impeachment is about more than holding Trump (and scandal-plagued Vice President Mike Pence) to account. It is about getting beyond the chaos that surrounds Trump “so we can finally focus on progress beyond resistance.”
As long as the constitutional crisis that Trump has already created remains unaddressed, it will be difficult to focus forward on addressing the real issues facing America, argues Ing, who says, “Democrats can flip the House in 2018. When that happens, our first order of business should be impeaching Trump and Pence, so we can begin to take America back to the future.”
What Ing is proposing is not just a morally and legally necessary response to a president whose actions must be checked and balanced. It is a bold move to shift the debate away from the “questions of fear” that have dominated the discourse since Trump became president and toward “questions of hope: like how do we achieve universal health care and employment, truly affordable college and housing, a 100-percent renewable future nationwide; how do we protect women’s health, reform our criminal justice system, end all those reckless wars abroad, insure equal rights for all of us, build a future economy that leaves no one behind and gets big money out of politics.”
As he urges congressional candidates across the nation “to make impeachment part of their platform,” Kaniela Ing argues, correctly, that “It’s a winning issue, and it’s time to be bold.”
(John Nichols wrote the foreword to the upcoming book The Constitution Demands It: The Case for the Impeachment of Donald Trump, by Ron Fein, John Bonifaz, and Ben Clements. It will be published August 14.)