Home/Daniel Larison/Impeachment and the ‘Best Interest of the Country’

Impeachment and the ‘Best Interest of the Country’

David Brooks admits that Trump has committed impeachable offenses, but thinks impeachment is a bad idea anyway:

Donald Trump committed an impeachable offense on that call with the Ukrainian president. But that doesn’t mean Democrats are right to start an impeachment process.

Remember, impeachment is a political process, not a legal one. There is no obligation to prosecute. Congress is supposed to do what is in the best interest of the country.

Brooks starts from the wrong assumption that the House isn’t obliged to impeach when the president abuses his power. If the House members actually meant what they said when they swore to defend the Constitution, they are obliged to check the president’s abuses when they find out that he has committed them. No doubt many members of Congress have failed to fulfill their obligations when previous presidents have done blatantly illegal and outrageous things, but those past failures don’t free current members from their responsibilities. Checking executive abuse is one of the things that Congress is here to do. If they blow off that responsibility because it is politically inconvenient, there is effectively nothing to stop presidents from behaving however they like in between presidential elections. The purpose of checking presidential abuses is not just to hold the current president accountable for what he has done, but to warn future presidents that there are real consequences for overreaching and abusing their powers.

Once you say that Congress has to do what is in the “best interest of the country,” things get very fuzzy. Is the “best interest of the country” to avoid political confrontation over an obvious abuse of power, or is it to challenge the abuses of a corrupt president? Perhaps politicians will decide that the “best interest of the country” just so happens to be whatever suits their short-term political interests, and so they will shirk their constitutional duty in the hopes of exploiting an incumbent’s corruption at the next election. Maybe they will decide that pursuing impeachment is too much of a liability and they would prefer the path of least resistance that they can pretend is “best” for the country. Brooks worries that impeachment “could be very bad” for the country. This is a bit like saying that treating a serious disease “could be very bad” for the patient. Perhaps there will be unpleasant side-effects to the treatment, but is that worse than simply allowing the disease to continue unchecked?

Brooks appeals to cynicism:

This will probably achieve nothing. To actually remove Trump from office, at least 20 Republican senators would have to vote to convict him. If you think that will happen because of this incident, you haven’t been paying attention to the Senate Republicans over the past two and a half years.

It is a virtual certainty that there won’t be enough Republican senators in favor of removing Trump from office. Not only do they lack the integrity to do the right thing, but they will assume that it is to their political advantage to stick with Trump in order to avoid a primary challenge in the near future. Impeachment will probably not lead to Trump’s removal from office, but that misses the point. The fact that the Senate GOP is useless doesn’t free the House from its responsibilities.

Brooks makes other dubious arguments. He cites a poll that shows that impeachment doesn’t have much support. Well, the most recent polling shows that support for impeachment has increased as the public has learned new information about the president. Incredibly, Brooks attacks an impeachment effort for its elitism when there is normally almost no one more enamored with elitism in politics than he is. It is true that most voters are primarily concerned with issues that most directly affect them, but it doesn’t follow that members of Congress shouldn’t do their duty.

The least convincing argument is that impeachment plays into Trump’s hands. No president has run for re-election while under the cloud of impeachment, but it stands to reason that a daily drumbeat of negative news about an incumbent is anything but good for that candidate. It has only been a few days since the impeachment inquiry was announced, and the president is practically melting down under the pressure. Negative partisanship can buoy the president for a while, but it isn’t enough to win him a second term. The president will likely go into the election next year significantly weakened, and a year from now we will probably marvel that anyone thought that Trump would actually benefit from being impeached.

Trump committed an impeachable offense, and Brooks doesn’t dispute that. The House has no choice but to do its job and impeach him for that misconduct. To argue for anything less is to tolerate a flagrant abuse of presidential power committed for personal gain. I fail to see how that is in the best interest of the country.

about the author

Daniel Larison is a senior editor at TAC, where he also keeps a solo blog. He has been published in the New York Times Book Review, Dallas Morning News, World Politics Review, Politico Magazine, Orthodox Life, Front Porch Republic, The American Scene, and Culture11, and was a columnist for The Week. He holds a PhD in history from the University of Chicago, and resides in Lancaster, PA. Follow him on Twitter.

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