Representative Antonio Delgado held a town-hall-style meeting for Indivisible activists this week in Hudson, New York. The event was well attended with leaders from many of NY-19’s ten counties participating.
Rep Delgado has been one of the busiest, hardest working Congressional Reps in the nation in his first year in office. He’s held numerous town halls and has met with group after group in every county of our district. His travels have been tireless, and his main goal has been to listen to the concerns of everyone he represents and look for any way he can help solve their problems or ease their concerns. I’m a big fan of Rep Delgado, not just because we are fellow Rhinebeckers. We also attended rival colleges, both studied philosophy, and both studied at Oxford University (though I was not a Rhodes Scholar!). I’ve spoken to him on several occasions, both before and after he was elected, and I listened carefully to his remarks at the Hudson event.
Rep Delgado’s comments focused on what are understood to be the main areas of concern to Democratic voters in our district. He spoke about healthcare, jobs, climate change, rural broadband, guns, infrastructure and agriculture, and his thoughts on these topics seemed well informed and congruent with his campaign platform and prior statements. He also spoke about his Constitutional role to provide a check and balance on the Executive Branch, especially as it relates to the prospect of impeachment, and this was the one area that left me uneasy.
It’s fair to say that the top two issues in 2018 were healthcare and Trump, and based on the comments of the activists in Hudson, these haven’t changed. People want some version of healthcare-for-all, and people are horrified about what Trump and his corrupt administration are doing on a daily, sometimes hourly, basis. Many activists want to pursue impeachment, while Rep Delgado apparently does not.
When asked about the process of impeachment, and what it would take to get him to support impeachment hearings, Rep Delgado conceded that Trump had made all sorts of statements and taken actions as a candidate and as president that should be “disqualifying” but he felt we needed to gather evidence of crimes to support an impeachment charge and that Congress was in the process of doing just that. Various House committees had issued subpoenas and the justice system was moving forward in roughly the same way it would under an impeachment process. If he felt that the justice system was no longer moving forward, that we could no longer gather evidence through a traditional legal process, then it might be necessary to start impeachment hearings. His comments were made in the context of a story about a recent conversation at a public event with a Trump supporter and how happy she was that he was willing to dialog with her. He felt that our nation was too divided and implied that an impeachment hearing would only increase the division while doing little more than the current Congressional investigations, and after all, the Senate will never vote to impeach anyway.
I had several problems with Rep Delgado’s stance. First, we already have evidence of Trump’s crimes in the Mueller report, which Delgado claimed to have read. We may lack certain underlying detail, but the evidence in the Mueller report is clear, convincing and unambiguous–Trump obstructed justice. Second, our current House investigation process is not working. Trump and his regime are stonewalling every House demand and slow-walking the process. Not a single witness has yet testified in open committee about obstruction and no requested documents have yet been produced. Third, a House investigation and a House impeachment hearing are not the same process. An impeachment investigation carries more weight and, in the past, has produced faster judicial review and a broader scope of inquiry than a regular House process. So much of Rep Delgado’s framing of the impeachment question rested on these dubious assumptions.
More fundamentally, Rep Delgado’s initial focus on the “disqualifying” aspects of Trump’s personality and activity frames the impeachment question in terms of character rather than law. We all know Trump is a liar and an adulterer and a sleaze-ball. Some of those things might in theory be “impeachable” and a president can certainly be impeached without technically breaking the law. But surely if a president actually breaks the law he or she should be impeached. It shouldn’t matter if they are popular or powerful. Imagine a community where a popular citizen raped a woman in front of witnesses but the prosecutor declined to bring charges because “the town is very polarized and I don’t want to contribute to that atmosphere.” The prosecutor would be run out of office on a rail. But this is the exact situation we have with Trump. Investigations have already provided evidence of crimes. (1) Mueller’s report clearly details all of the criteria needed to bring obstruction charges. (2) The Michael Cohen trial clearly details felony campaign finance fraud perpetrated by Cohen and Individual 1, known by all as Donald Trump. Some of our prosecutors–the House members–don’t want to bring charges via an impeachment process because they don’t want to make Trump voters mad.
This brings us to another issue. Does it matter if Trump voters are made mad by an impeachment hearing? Will more Trump voters show up to the polls if the Democrats start an impeachment inquiry? Or conversely, will more Democrats and Independent voters stay home if House Dems don’t bring an inquiry? Rep Delgado seems to believe that support for impeachment will keep Trump voters in the district from voting for Delgado in 2020. Or he believes that supporting impeachment will bring a ton of voters out in 2020–who would have otherwise stayed at home–to vote for Trump and Delgado’s eventual challenger. But the best analyses of the 2016 and 2018 elections suggest that these two beliefs are wrong. Republicans came out in record numbers in 2018 even though there was no impeachment hearing. Democrats did well in the midterms because they turned out in even bigger record numbers. Trump supporters are going to go out and vote no matter what the Dems do. The electorate is so entrenched that there are very few Trump voters who are going to crossover and vote for a Democrat no matter who that Democrat is or what that Democrat does. BUT there are many left-leaning independent voters who didn’t vote in the past but WILL turn out if they are motivated. That’s what happened in 2018. They were motivated by their horror at what Trump was doing. And impeachment hearings will only serve to keep these voters motivated. The key is getting Democrats and left-leaning independents to turn out. If Rep Delgado thinks that his current stance on impeachment will not depress the turnout of his base, he is playing with fire, and the passion of the questions hurled at him on impeachment at the Hudson event prove the point.
Of his role as a Congressman, Rep Delgado said “I’m not an activist,” meaning he is now working for all of our district. Which is true. But his role cannot be divorced from his oath to support and defend the Constitution. If the Constitution doesn’t symbolize and represent the rule of law, and the fundamental notion that nobody is above the law, then what does it represent? If the president broke the law, it shouldn’t matter how many citizens want him to be left alone. And it shouldn’t require that a million citizens march on Washington to demand justice. After all, who would they be making their demands to? The members of Congress!
Impeachment isn’t about sleazy character, and it isn’t a popularity contest. It’s an imperative that rests on bedrock principles of justice and oversight. As the Department of Justice has made clear, impeachment is the only remedy to a criminal presidency. When those principles are ignored or denied in favor of a political calculation, our nation and our democracy are degraded and cheapened. Under Trumpism, the Republicans have jettisoned all of their values, principles, and ethics for the sake of political power. Democrats now own the moral high ground and should convene impeachment hearings if they believe evidence exists that the president committed crimes while in office–and how could they not? Impeachment is the right thing to do, it’s what justice demands, and it retains a claim to the moral high ground. Ask yourself this question: If Trump doesn’t merit impeachment, what president ever will?
As a byproduct, impeachment will energize and mollify the Democratic base, which is the key to victory in 2020.
Keep resisting Trump and keep working to “vote his ass out of office.”
PS – I’m traveling to a wedding this weekend and won’t post another blog until next Tuesday, Day 964. Have a great weekend.