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What Is the Order of Battle?

May 20, 2019 9:25 a.m.

TPM Reader EJ on what is to be done …

Regarding your response to TPM reader AB in the post “I8 Angry Democrats,” I respectfully think that you’re missing something that seems clear to me from TPM’s own coverage. But first we have to backtrack. I think there are a couple of key points we agree on: One is that even the redacted Mueller report presents evidence of impeachable acts. The other is that the biggest practical barrier to impeachment is the unification of Senate Republicans against it under McConnell’s control, regardless of that evidence. (I think we disagree on the conclusion the latter leads to, but I do agree about the significance of the fact itself.)

It looks to me like we’re seeing a two-pronged response to the Mueller report and specifically to Democratic investigations in Congress that build on it: Prong one is the Whitehouse’s stonewalling and attempting to run the clock out, which keeps critical figures from testifying and helps build public indifference and a general perception of Democratic weakness. Prong two is Barr running out Fox News talking points (and DOJ investigations) intended to paint a picture of the Mueller investigation as the corrupt product of conspiracy. Besides the obvious benefit of undermining a report that clearly shows the President as commissioning criminal acts, this also helps paint all further investigations as “attempts to relitigate the election” or “attempts at a soft coup,” etc. I don’t think that you need me to point out the synergy between these two strategies and how that helps Congressional (and especially Senatorial) Republicans remain allied with the President.

I think that this overall strategy also grows stronger the longer its successful. And this is where impeachment comes into my thoughts too. Going back to my first backtrack point, and objective reading of the (even redacted) Mueller Report establishes a more-than-reasonable basis for impeachment. But the longer that it sits there without being used as such, the less likely many people are to believe that’s true, and the weaker and weaker it becomes as the basis for a successful impeachment. Its very hard to convince people who are otherwise undecided that it’s a legitimate case if that case isn’t being made. In some ways this goes back to what you used to indelicately call “bitch slap” politics. Refusal to act is seen as weakness which becomes weakness in political terms regardless of what any objective set of facts might be. (I understand why you don’t want to use the phrase anymore. If I had a better substitute, I would use it.) If the Mueller report’s clear case for Obstruction of Justice isn’t actionable as impeachment, then how could these piddling little inquiries be a worthwhile use of taxpayer dollars? That’s where this whole strategy goes. The aim is to turn “exoneration” from a lie to a publicly accepted fact.

I’m to the left of Nancy Pelosi generally, but I also generally respect her judgment. Because of this, and because of my backtrack fact #2 up there about McConnell’s control of the Senate Majority, I do have some, slight, wariness about impeaching right exactly now. But taking it off the table in just about any way, shape, or form, is also clearly a problem. Saying “well, we could impeach him but that would rile his base up” isn’t helpful because it’s another admission of weakness. Maybe, maybe a case could be made that establishes that its only the corruption and malfeasance of Senate Republicans that’s keeping Trump in office, but that’s not the case that’s being made. I’d love to be wrong about this, but it really feels like the opportunity for the Mueller Report to have anything like the impact it should, and the opportunity for Democrats to do something besides fight the Whitehouse in court while the clock ticks out and voters come to accept as fact that Trump was spied on, is fading.

There are some very good points here. There are others where I should probably restate my points and positions. Because what’s being listed as what I’m saying actually isn’t what I’m saying. So I will try to follow up with a response hopefully later today.

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