The Standing Committee on Impeachment

You might think that what House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called the “sad” and “solemn” pre-Christmas impeachment special was a one-off. The Democrats owed it to the country, you see—they had (are you sitting down?) a “duty to the Constitution” to impeach Donald Trump, otherwise (as Representative Al Green of Texas put it) he might well be re-elected. We certainly can’t have that! Hence the show of those “sad, very sad” faces Pelosi described and the memo from headquarters with the instructions, “Don’t cheer. Keep it solemn.”

The Washington Post didn’t get that bulletin right away, so some of their staff posted an image with the words, “Merry Impeachmas from the WaPo team!” amidst smiling faces at an impending feast. Someone must have thought that impugned the paper’s sterling reputation for impartiality. The image was deleted, but not before some enterprising souls saved and posted it for posterity.

I do not claim any special insight into the collective mind of the Democratic Party. I freely confess that their decision to follow through with their threat to impeach Donald Trump seemed to me bizarre. I wondered, in fact, whether it was at least partly inadvertent. The boy keeps crying “Wolf!” when there is no wolf. What happens when a real wolf shows up?

Remember, the Democrats had been talking about impeaching President Trump—when they weren’t fantasizing about assassinating him—since before he took office. The Washington Post—always a good barometer of the prevailing pressure in the fruitier districts of the Democratic fiefdom—waited a full 19 minutes after Donald Trump was inaugurated on January 20, 2017 before announcing that “the campaign to impeach President Trump has begun.”

Don’t cheer. Keep it solemn.

As I say, I do not understand what “cunning plan” they have in the works. Despite the round-the-clock media barrage against the president and the “sad,” “solemn” assurances by Nancy Pelosi and others that Donald Trump was guilty of some hideous offense (“Oh, do not ask what is it, let us go and make our visit”), the president’s approval rating had actually been ticking up while that of Congress remains in the tank.

The public didn’t much like the Impeachment Carol, but who cares about the public? It is not as if they’re voters.

Oh, wait . . .

Anyway, sometimes sequels outperform their originals. So, all things considered, it was not really a surprise to learn that the Democrats are considering impeaching the president again. According to the Washington Post, not only might it happen, but it might be “absolutely necessary” if we (we?) are to understand “just how deep our governing crisis could get if Trump wins a second term in office.” It’s not just the Post, either. Politico reported that “The House is open to the prospect of impeaching President Donald Trump a second time, lawyers for the Judiciary Committee said Monday.”

Don’t cheer. Keep it solemn. And whatever you do, don’t laugh.

I doubt this will happen, but then I doubted they would go through with the impeachment the first time. With nary a high crime (or, between us, any crime) or misdemeanor insight, without a hint of treason or bribery in the neighborhood, it is hard to see how a second impeachment could fare any better than the first, which everyone from Nancy Pelosi on down knows was a flop.

Nevertheless, I begin to see some rationale for the procedure given some of the changes that the House is making to its standing committees. There are currently some 20 standing committees dealing with the core business of the House. There are committees on everything from appropriations, armed services, and the budget, to the judiciary, “ways and means” (my favorite title), and veterans affairs. Some of these committees clearly have outlived their usefulness. The House Budget Committee, for example.

From the mid-1970s—when the current budget process was inaugurated—until 1998, the House passed a budget every year. Since 1998, however, it has been hit or miss. More often than not, the House refuses to pass a budget. Why? Well, one reason is that it would put down in black-and-white (and more to the point, lots of red) just how profligate the House is with your money.

So I was not really surprised to learn that the House had decided to get rid of the Standing Committee on the Budget and replacing it with a new Standing Committee on Impeachment. You have to admire the logistical savvy of Nancy Pelosi in framing the idea. (It isn’t clear that the idea was originally hers, but it would have never passed the House without her support.) It will obviously save a lot of time and will doubtless be a much sought-after post.

Current rules stipulate that, without special dispensation, any member of Congress can serve on only two standing committees. Rumors are that both Rep. Adam Schiff (currently chairman of the House Intelligence Committee) and Jerry Nadler (currently chairman of the House Judiciary Committee) are vying for chairmanship of the new committee. It will be interesting to see if either gets it or whether it will go to some fresher face.

The genius of the Standing Committee on Impeachment is partly psychological. Pelosi understands perfectly that the committee would be more or less moribund on those occasions when Republicans happen to have a majority in the House. As a rule, Republicans do not understand or play political hardball as effectively as Democrats. There is, for example, no Saul Alinsky that Republicans can call their own. They dither. They lack the instinct for the jugular. Thus it is that the gamble that the Democrats have wagered is probably a safe bet.

It is possible, of course, that the Standing Committee on Impeachment might be weaponized against Democrats. But for that to happen there would need to be a revolution of sensibility—to say nothing of an abandonment of traditions and conventions—on the part of the Republicans. I do not see much prospect of that happening, at least not in the near term, which is why it is probably a good thing that there is in fact no Standing Committee on Impeachment—not yet, anyway. (But there remains, nominally at least, a Standing Committee on the Budget.)

It hardly matters, though, because the Democrats really haven’t needed to make it official in order to pursue policies that are tantamount to the same thing. Start talking about impeaching a president 19 minutes after he is inaugurated, go on talking about it at every opportunity, regardless of whether there are any grounds to deploy this most serious of political rebukes. Could a Standing Committee on Impeachment do any better? I doubt it.

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