It’s an indicator of our times that U.S. Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan may be the most popular Republican among Democrats in the nation this week.
Because he took a stand — albeit nearly alone among his party peers — against President Trump’s abuses of power, and said publicly that he believes the leader of his party, and of the country, has committed impeachable offenses.
But the solitary nature of Amash’s stance among congressional Republicans, who early on ceded the heart and soul of the party to a newbie politician who threatens to destroy it, is both why Amash stands out, and why his comments will affect nothing.
Beyond that, Trump’s efforts to circumvent the will of Congress on funding for a border wall, among other issues, challenge the integrity of constitutional separation of powers. And Congress, as an institution, should be unified in opposing Trump’s power grab to avoid accruing even more power to a man hungry to use it.
But as long as Amash stands alone among congressional Republicans, and as long as American voters remain divided over the issue, initiating impeachment proceedings against Trump not only will fail to remove him from office, it will increase the likelihood that he wins a second term.
Senate Republicans are Trump’s firewall. And he knows it. In fact, the partisan firewall predates Trump. It became obvious when Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) cynically refused to consider President Obama’s appointment of Merrick Garland for an open Supreme Court seat, leaving it vacant for 11 months in hopes that a Republican would win the presidency and then fill the slot with a more conservative jurist.
Trump knows McConnell et al. will protect him in a Senate trial should the Democratic-controlled House vote for impeachment. And Trump’s recent actions and personal insults seem designed to lure Democrats into that political trap. Impeachment would let the bully portray himself as the victim as he moves closer to election day.
The time to have impeached Trump was months ago, when it became clear that he had: fired FBI Director James Comey to try to undercut investigations into connections between his campaign and Russian agents; warned Mueller against investigating the Trump family business; and used the presidency to promote his branded properties, from golf courses to the Trump International Hotel down Pennsylvania Avenue from the White House, in defiance of the constitutional ban on emoluments.
Impeachment then, as now, needed to have been a principled, bipartisan move that put the integrity of the White House, the rule of law and the best interests of the nation ahead of party loyalty and Washington gamesmanship.
That didn’t happen. As I wrote last month, for the Democrats to start impeachment proceedings now would be foolish. It would seek to stand on principle, belatedly, in a political environment in which principles have been packed away in mothballs. Moving now would be viewed as a partisan maneuver, not a courageous stance.
Unless, of course, outraged Americans — especially Republicans and independents — pressure congressional Republicans to stand up for their institution, for the rule of law, and for the nation, and confront Trump.