OPINION — Every now and then, politics simply goes off the rails, plowing through the collective American psyche like a runaway train. It’s called impeachment, and there is nothing that has the potential to bitterly divide the nation further than this constitutional process.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi spent most of the past week bemoaning the need for the impeachment of President Donald Trump, calling it “a very sad day for our country,” and going so far as to claim she prays for him “all the time.” So the Democrats’ message to the American people seems to be that there is “no cause for joy” at impeachment but “no one is above the law.”
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries told Chris Wallace on “Fox News Sunday” that his party had a “constitutional responsibility” that it would undertake “with the seriousness and the solemnity that it requires.”
But events on Capitol Hill over the past week undercut the New York Democrat’s pledge. When House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler’s Mueller hearing and follow-up ones turned out to be more disastrous than determinative for Democrats, Pelosi handed responsibility for impeachment to Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff. The most important aspect of his job was to explain to the American people what his committee was doing and why. His obligation was to give people the facts upon which the impeachment investigation was launched.
That would have been the appropriate congressional response. But Schiff, who has spent the last two and a half years stalking Trump like a big-game hunter in search of the ultimate trophy, decided instead to present a parody of the facts. Americans were treated to a “humorous” interpretation of Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, leading to a misrepresentation of the facts and leaving voters without a rationale for impeachment.
Schiff, incredulously, chose to open what should have been a bipartisan hearing with what he later called a “parody” of the Trump-Zelenskiy conversation. Merriam-Webster defines a parody as “a feeble or ridiculous imitation.” I can’t think of two better adjectives to describe Schiff’s inappropriate performance.
Knowing the divisive nature of any impeachment inquiry, the Intelligence chairman could have worked with the minority to seek the kind of bipartisan investigation that would have lent credibility to the outcome and lowered the temperature in the room. But faced with a choice between an appropriate congressional impeachment process and theater, Schiff chose theater.
No laughing matter
No matter how you feel about Trump or the Democrats, Schiff’s decision to abdicate his responsibilities to the American people reflected badly on himself, the House in which he serves and on its leadership.
I’ve been through the impeachment process up close and personal as director of planning for former Speaker Newt Gingrich, and I can say definitively that the decision to move forward on the impeachment of President Bill Clinton was a sobering experience, not the stuff of parody.
But back then, when the president in question was a member of their party, Democrats saw things quite differently compared to today. Pelosi described Clinton’s impeachment this way: “It’s about a punishment searching for a crime that doesn’t exist.” Sound familiar?
Chuck Schumer said at the time, “My fear is that when a Republican wins the White House, Democrats will demand payback.”
Nadler said, “An impeachment of a president is an undoing of a national election.” And that goes to the very heart of the matter.
Our republic was founded on the dual ideals of equality and liberty, with government “deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.” To overturn the people’s electoral verdict without sufficient cause puts the country’s democratic foundation at risk and should be taken on only in the most dire circumstances and with seriousness and gravity.
In a focus group once, an independent voter described the “elites” as people who “get their say every day. We get our say once every two years. … They override my vote.” How many voters, who likely see Washington much like this independent, will feel betrayed by this impeachment process without the supporting evidence of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Whether you back or oppose it, impeachment overrides a vote — which is why it is an extremely serious undertaking with long-term implications.
I am not suggesting that Democrats don’t have the legal authority to act on impeachment if a situation merits this perilous path. What I am saying to Democrats, from personal experience, is be wary of choosing this path without bipartisan deliberation and recognize the responsibility to clearly lay out the rationale for impeachment. Without these two, they cannot expect the support of a significant majority of the country.
While Rome burns
But now, the nation has been forced to endure what has amounted to a three-year attempt by an unrelenting resistance to overturn the 2016 election because it cannot accept the Trump presidency and is willing to sacrifice progress on policy issues that people care about to carry on a partisan crusade. No United States-Mexico-Canada trade agreement. No immigration reform. No bipartisan solutions to fix health care or reduce gun violence. No focus on what the country wants and needs. All this when we’re just a short year away from letting the people decide whether Trump deserves another term.
But even now, as Americans grow increasingly impatient with Congress’ lack of action, Nadler and Schiff, directed by Pelosi, focus their legislative business on “investigative” hearings that have become little more than constitutional parodies by their own admission with a glaring lack of evidence.
Their latest operating model seems to be to demand documents and testimony that they know will likely not be forthcoming under claims of executive privilege and then cry “obstruction of justice” one more time. And while this next act plays out, the public wonders if Washington can get anything done.
In the days after the signing of the Declaration of Independence but before Pennsylvania had adopted its own state constitution, its most famous resident, Ben Franklin, noted that despite the lack of a formal government, most people were simply going on with their lives.
Then, he warned his fellow delegates, “Gentlemen, you see we have been living under anarchy, yet the business of living has gone on as usual. Be careful; if our debates go on too much longer, people may come to see that they can get along very well without us.”
David Winston is the president of The Winston Group and a longtime adviser to congressional Republicans. He previously served as the director of planning for Speaker Newt Gingrich. He advises Fortune 100 companies, foundations, and nonprofit organizations on strategic planning and public policy issues, and is an election analyst for CBS News.