The headline on the front page of the New York Times yesterday read, “Divided on Impeachment, Democrats Wrestle with Duty and Politics.” The article that followed highlighted a contentious and pressing issue that the House majority is struggling with.
As Speaker Nancy Pelosi urges caution on impeachment, rank-and-file House Democrats are agonizing over the prospect of trying to oust President Trump, caught between their sense of historic responsibilities and political considerations in the wake of the special counsel’s damning portrait of abuses.
The Democrats – including more than 50 freshmen – are mindful that impeachment poses political risks that could endanger the seats of moderates and their majority, as well as strengthen Mr. Trump’s hand. They ran on kitchen-table issues dear to their constituents and do not want to be consumed in a partisan morass that might unite Republican voters in opposition. But some prominent members of the 55-member strong Congressional Black Caucus and a newly empowered progressive caucus are pressing for action – three Democrats have filed articles of impeachment against Mr. Trump and dozens of others have signaled a willingness to consider that path.
My concern is not that this report was wrong. It was perfectly accurate and it highlighted a real issue. Donald Trump’s possible impeachment is a real challenge for the House Democratic majority, and its members haven’t settled on a strategy – despite the fact that they’ll soon need one.
But reading the Times’ piece nevertheless got me thinking about the reports we haven’t seen since the release of Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report. The newspaper is right that Democrats are “wrestling with duty and politics,” but that only raises a question that’s gone largely overlooked:
Why aren’t Republicans “wrestling with duty and politics,” too?
Not to put too fine a point on this, but the Mueller report did more than just make Donald Trump look ridiculous; it also documented a series of incidents in which the sitting American president took actions that met the statutory thresholds for criminal obstruction.
It’s not unreasonable to think this should be a problem for the White House’s congressional allies.
Indeed, if it were a Democratic president faced with identical allegations, we’d expected to see Democratic leaders on Capitol Hill walking around despondent, with their faces in their hands, wondering what they’re going to do about their own party’s president being exposed as a suspected criminal.
And yet, Trump’s Republican allies seem quite content, indifferent to the special counsel’s revelations, and incurious about their president’s alleged felonies.
As Ezra Klein put it last week, “It’s a sign of the rot in our political system that all conversation about holding the president accountable takes the form of discussing ‘What Democrats should do,’ because Republicans have utterly abdicated their oversight role.”
We’re not seeing “Republicans Wrestle with Duty and Politics” headlines because there are certain assumptions that undergird our contemporary political norms. One of them is that GOP officials – leaders and rank-and-file members – aren’t struggling with the evidence of presidential wrongdoing because they simply don’t care what the evidence says.
Republicans made up their minds about the Mueller report long before there was a Mueller report.
But that’s not a posture that deserves broad acceptance without controversy. Yes, Democrats are grappling with a divisive debate, and sure, that’s newsworthy. But the GOP’s indifference to a historic scandal is controversy unto itself.