Large numbers of House Democrats, including a number in high leadership positions, are now openly calling for the impeachment process to begin, or leaning toward it in their public remarks. That means it’s going to happen sooner rather than later. But what does invoking the word “impeachment” actually change?
The answer is going to be one that you may not like. House Democrats are currently fighting a number of court battles against Donald Trump, in the name of obtaining evidence and testimony. If and when the Democrats officially open an impeachment inquiry, those court battles will still have to be fought and won. Despite the claims of some Twitter pundits, invoking the word “impeachment” does not cause evidence and testimony to instantly fall out of the sky.
The big question is the impact that opening an impeachment inquiry will have on those court battles. Thus far, House Democrats are winning those battles, both in terms of the rulings, and the pace with which those rulings are being fast tracked. Could the courts decide that an impeachment inquiry means these cases are even more important than they are now? Yes. But because these cases are already receiving the utmost fast track treatment possible, nothing would necessarily change. That said, in the unlikely event that these court battles stop going the Democrats’ way, an impeachment inquiry could potentially shift things back in their direction.
But the upshot is this: as things stand right now, opening an impeachment inquiry probably won’t change things in any substantive way. House Democrats would still be fighting the same court battles, over the same witnesses and evidence, at the same speed, and the eventual public hearings would take place at the same pace. It’s unlikely that anything would change, beyond the impact of invoking the word “impeachment” itself.
That said, the mere invocation of the word “impeachment” could change things. Over the past two weeks we’ve seen pro-impeachment poll numbers climb from the 37-40% range to the 45-49% range. Those numbers should keep climbing as Donald Trump keeps being viewed increasingly negatively for refusing to cooperate with the investigations. If the House Democrats open an impeachment inquiry, will that prompt people to favor impeachment more quickly? Keep in mind that this will be based strictly on the use of the word impeachment, as hearings and testimony won’t happen any faster than they were already going to. It’s not about his base; they’ll never want him impeached. It’s about the people out there who aren’t impressed with Trump, but aren’t sure if something as severe as impeachment is warranted. Those are the minds to be changed.
There’s also the question of how invoking the word “impeachment” would impact Donald Trump. If he takes it as a serious threat, he’d likely escalate his deranged, illegal, and harmful antics. This kind of behavior would help make the case for impeachment, and drive those numbers higher. But in such case, Trump would do more damage to the country, more swiftly.
Finally, there’s the cold hard reality that once the Democratic House is done with impeachment hearings, the Republican Senate will absolutely not vote to remove him – unless the House hearings damage him so badly, his approval rating drops below 30%. At that point GOP Senators would have to consider selfishly ousting Trump in the hope of preserving their own reelection chances. But short of that, impeachment would be all about exposing and damaging Trump heading into 2020.
In such case, House Democrats would want to extend their part of the impeachment process for as long as possible. Six months to a year wouldn’t be surprising. So even if the impeachment process begins any day now, it’ll likely be a very long and very slow process that – in the earlier portions of it at least – won’t look much different than if it weren’t being called “impeachment.”
Bill Palmer is the publisher of the political news outlet Palmer Report