Trump's presidency is threatened, and what we learned from "the transcript."
Today’s read: 8 minutes.
Impeachment, impeachment, Ukraine, impeachment and probably some more stuff about impeachment.
Gage Skidmore / Flickr
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Video of the night.
Donald Trump’s lawyer Rudy Giuliani was on Fox News last night and things got… interesting!
What D.C. is talking about.
Impeachment. Yesterday, around 5pm, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi held a press conference to say that Congress would be opening “an official impeachment” inquiry. This makes Trump the fourth president in U.S. history to have a formal impeachment inquiry opened against him. Pelosi has long resisted supporting impeachment proceedings in any way, but the dam seemed to break after a series of reports on how President Trump allegedly pressured the Ukrainian president to investigate his political rival, Joe Biden. MSNBC says 211 of 235 House Democrats now support an impeachment inquiry and 72 came out in support of it over the last 24 hours. Still, little has technically changed. Democrats have been in a state of “impeachment inquiry” for months, and this announcement has left some people scratching their heads as they try to figure out what’s different. In some sense, it’s only different politically — House Speaker Pelosi has always said starting an inquiry was only going to happen if Democrats had something tangible and had the votes to actually impeach POTUS, so this seems to indicate she believes they’ve passed a certain threshold.
Reminder: An impeachment inquiry means the launching of investigations. Impeachment proceedings mean the House (Congress’s lower chamber) votes on whether to impeach Trump. Democrats would need 218 votes to impeach Trump. Then, the Senate (the upper chamber of Congress) votes on whether to remove Trump from office based on the House’s investigation. That would require a two-thirds supermajority. The House has more Democrats than Republicans, and the Senate is the opposite. Right now, it’s not even clear Trump would be impeached in the Democratically-controlled House, so if you’re on “team impeach” you should probably pause the celebration.
What Republicans are saying.
Let’s see the goods. Some left-leaning news outlets covered the initial whistleblower complaint as if POTUS had explicitly offered financial aid to Ukraine’s president Volodymyr Zelensky in exchange for Zelensky investigating Biden. The initial Washington Post report said there was a “promise” to an unnamed foreign leader, but didn’t go as far as describing a quid pro quo. WSJ said POTUS asked Zelensky to investigate Biden eight times in one phone call. But early Wednesday morning, the transcript of the call was released. In it, Trump only mentions Biden’s name one time, and it’s to offer U.S. assistance in investigating his son. Republicans are already saying the “transcript” is the latest example of an overblown media story that didn’t pan out. Republicans say there were no eight mentions of an investigation, no quid pro quo, no floating financial aid in exchange for the investigation, and nothing illegal. Not only that, but Trump also mentioned in the call that he wanted help with the probe of the 2016 election interference, specifically as it relates to Ukraine’s role in the election. As details of Russia’s interference became known, pockets of conservatives had been pointing to Ukrainian efforts to help Hillary Clinton and wondering why those weren’t investigated. Trump’s call seems to indicate he is trying to surface that information with Zelensky’s help. Some Republicans are still quite troubled, knowing that the full whistleblower complaint may paint an even worse picture. The Trump loyalists are celebrating and screaming “fake news” while some more moderate Republicans are wondering why Trump thought this would help.
What Democrats are saying.
Enough is enough. House Democrats have been split on the issue of impeachment since the story around Russian election interference first broke. Pelosi has resisted it, thinking it would galvanize support for Trump and divide the party. But yesterday, something changed. The allegations that Trump pressured a foreign leader into investigating the Bidens pushed more moderate Democrats in purple districts (read: places where lots of Trump voters live) over the edge. Seven freshman Democrats who all have experience in national service like the Air Force, CIA, FBI, Army, etc. penned a joint op-ed saying this had finally crossed the line. Several of those Democrats are in districts they could easily lose in 2020, and each had resisted supporting an impeachment inquiry until yesterday. Prior to the transcript being released, lots of people on the left described it as a “trap,” saying Trump will release an edited transcript and would never agree to share anything that would be damaging. Now that the transcript is out, Democrats are saying that a) it was clearly edited and b) it actually is damaging. The call time on the transcript is 30 minutes, but it’s summarized in just a measly five pages. This proves, to Democrats, that the contents of the call were edited. Lots of Democrats are urging reporters not to call it a “transcript” but instead a memo or summary, much Attorney General Barr’s memo of the Russia investigation which was later viewed as misleading. On top of that, though, the contents of what was released don’t exactly absolve POTUS. “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution and a lot of people want to find out about that so whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great,” Trump says in the transcript of the call the White House released. “Biden went around bragging that he stopped to prosecution so if you can look into it… it sounds horrible to me.” That line alone seems to prove the Democrats’ point, and it comes as Trump and Zelensky are also discussing military aid, which could be viewed as the quid pro quo. A few of members of Congress have told reporters they are shocked the White House simply released it. Even some reliable conservatives are saying it looks bad, and they are not quite sure why Trump thought this would help.
First, on impeachment: it is dangerous waters for both sides. A popular take on television right now, and from political pundits, is that opening an impeachment inquiry is dangerous for Democrats. That might be true. Trying and failing to get Trump out of office could deflate the base. Impeaching him at all might cost Democrats some independents or suburban voters who will see it as divisive (impeachment, right now, is not widely supported). And, of course, trying to impeach POTUS is going to light a fire under his base. To the base, it will prove all his grave warnings true that Democrats would never accept the 2016 outcome. But I wouldn’t be so sure impeachment proceedings are something Trump wants. Several reporters have cited sources close to POTUS who say he actually fears impeachment, knowing it will damage him politically and give Congress more avenues and levers to investigate him. And, obviously, if Trump thought impeachment was such a great thing for him — why would he be fighting it tooth and nail? The truth is impeachment could just as easily galvanize Democratic voters, especially if it moves to the Senate and a bunch of establishment Republicans side with Trump and keep him in office.
Second, on the transcript: It’s bad. I’m not sure why Trump released it and I’m not sure why Trump-friendly media is in such a celebratory uproar. My best guess is the people in Trump’s orbit are so consumed in Trump-friendly media they thought they could easily play this off as a “fake news greatest hit.” Regardless, it’s clear the transcript is really an edited summary of the call. Whoever released it included the time of the phone call at 30 minutes and the entire thing is transcribed on 5 pages, which is absurd. Five pages is about 10 minutes of conversation, by my count. A call of that length would be at least 25 to 30 pages long. Which makes you wonder: if this is what they released, what could they actually be keeping from the public? Further, this is just step number one. Yesterday, in a very troubling sign for Trump’s camp, the Senate voted unanimously (100-0) to release the full whistleblower complaint to Congress. That means every single Senate Republican voted for a motion that was drafted by Democrat Chuck Schumer to get their eyes on this complaint, which will almost certainly include more than just the contents of this call. I hardly think that is a sign Trump is out of the woods.
Trump is at the U.N. today, where he’ll be meeting one-on-one with President Zelensky. Pretty amazing timing.
Your questions, answered.
Q: Since the Mueller investigation could have actually sent people to jail, does the impeachment really have any ramifications other than political? If and when Trump beats this, does this just embolden and make him more dangerous and more unlikely to be ousted from office? If he gets impeached, who takes over, and does that mean that the Republicans are a shoe in for re-election?
- Reed, Pittsburgh, PA
Tangle: Hey Reed, thanks for the question! And cheers to my college city of Pittsburgh, PA! I’ll try and tackle these in the order you sent them in.
For starters, no — impeachment does not have any ramifications other than the political ones. Impeaching a president does not mean removing him from office, either. It’s essentially a statement of his alleged crimes or abuses of power. If a president is impeached by the House, then the Senate gets to “convict” him. Impeachment is really similar to an indictment, while the Senate’s vote on the crimes or abuses is basically the trial. But the only thing at stake is whether the person being impeached is removed from their position or whether they stay. The vote is not a criminal proceeding, and would only remove him or her from office. That being said, in the case of Trump, being removed from office would make him more vulnerable to criminal proceedings, as several states and cities are trying to go after Trump for various crimes.
To your second question, if Trump were to beat a formal impeachment proceeding and get re-elected, I can only imagine that he would feel emboldened to the extreme. Love or hate POTUS, it’s a simple fact that he’s pushed the boundaries of what’s acceptable as a president and what we expect of our presidents. A lot of reporters have noted that he’s felt emboldened after not facing any concrete repercussions after the Mueller inquiry, and some have even said that’s why he had the gall to ask Ukraine’s president to help investigate the Biden family. My suspicion is if this impeachment proceeding were to move forward, if Trump were to beat it and if he were then to get re-elected… we’d be dealing with an entirely new animal. That’s tough to imagine given how some people feel like there already are no guardrails, but I do think Trump legitimately fears impeachment and beating it once would all but eliminate that fear.
Finally, to your last question. The order of succession for the president is: Vice President (Republican Mike Pence), Speaker of the House (Democrat Nancy Pelosi), president pro tempore of the Senate (Republican Chuck Grassley), Secretary of State (Republican Mike Pompeo) and Secretary of the Treasury (Republican Steve Mnuchin). So that’s who would take over in that order. I assume the liberal pipe dream here is that Pence would go down with Trump in any impeachment inquiry, thus leaving Pelosi as president, but that is nothing more than a pipe dream. The odds of Trump being removed from office are exceedingly low, and the odds of Pence being removed alongside him even lower. That being said, if it were to happen, I think the voter reaction is basically a toss-up. If Trump were actually removed from office before 2020, my gut instinct is that Democrats would lose some enthusiasm (the No. 1 reason for Democrats to vote in 2020 right now is to beat Trump) and Republicans would pour gasoline on their base (a lot of conservatives would turn out to avenge Trump). That could mean a big red landslide, but it’s all conjecture and there isn’t enough polling to make an educated guess on something like that. It’s also important to see how this whole Ukraine story plays out. There isn’t much support for impeachment right now, but the transcript of this call was released a couple of hours ago and it’ll be weeks before we know how American voters feel about it.
A story that matters.
Lost in all the impeachment news was a major climate report from the U.N. In it, scientists say that our oceans are in quite a bit more trouble than previously expected. The U.N. report says climate change is already having “staggering” effects on oceans, resulting in the death of coral reefs, increased severity of storms, and ocean warming that’s killing off records amount of sea life. The loss of sea ice, too, poses a major threat for coastal cities globally. Two stunning notes: extreme floods that used to be once in a century will be expected annually by 2050, and marine life could decline by as much as 15 percent in that same time period. You can read the report here or The Washington Post’s summary here.
Have a nice day.
Speaking of climate change, banks are starting to pay attention. 130 banks announced yesterday that they would join the United Nations to launch a new initiative to combat climate change. Through the new Principles for Responsible Banking, banks holding $47 trillion in assets committed to aligning their goals with the Paris Climate Agreement. Some of those banks will begin unveiling the carbon impact of their investments and apply a global carbon accounting standard to their assets, meaning they will be responsible for judging whether their portfolios are compatible with the Paris Climate Agreement. It’s the largest ever carbon disclosure initiative within the financial sector. You can read more here.
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