Rep. Josh Gottheimer (D-N.J.) was one of the few congressional Democrats who actively searched for an alternative to impeachment. Given his district, it’s easy to understand why.
Gottheimer represents New Jersey’s 5th congressional district, which was represented by a Republican every year between 1933 to 2017. It’s also a district that’s supported the Republican presidential ticket in every recent election cycle, including in 2016.
And yet, like so many red-district House Dems, Gottheimer announced this morning that he too feels obligated to follow the evidence and vote for Donald Trump’s impeachment. His written statement declaring his intentions, however, added something a little different. It read in part:
“Having considered all of the evidence and its impact on our national security, and given the Administration’s efforts to prevent Congress from executing our Constitutionally-mandated oversight responsibilities, I must, for the sake of our country, support the Articles of Impeachment.
“I believe there is nothing more important to our country than our national security and the rule of law. I agree with our Founders that the President cannot – and must not – abuse his power. No one is above the law.
“Given the deepening partisan divide of our country, and the all but certain dismissal in the Senate, I would have considered a different course – including censure – if it would have resulted in a strong, bipartisan refutation of the President’s actions. I worked to find Republican colleagues willing to hold the President accountable. However, not a single one was willing to support censuring the President.”
It’s that last part that stood out for me: Gottheimer didn’t necessarily want to impeach Trump. He knew the president abused the powers of his office, and he knew the rule of law requires some kind of accountability, but he was perfectly open to alternatives.
And so the moderate New Jersey Dem from a red district went looking for GOP allies – and came up empty.
This touches on an underappreciated parallel between Trump’s impeachment and Bill Clinton’s: in 1998, plenty of the Democratic White House’s allies were prepared to acknowledge the president’s misconduct, but they saw impeachment as an improper remedy. More than a few Democrats were prepared to accept an official congressional censure – the activist group MoveOn.org got its name from the “Censure and Move On” effort during Clinton’s impeachment saga – but Republicans balked.
This was a dynamic, GOP leaders said at the time, in which lawmakers faced a binary choice: impeachment or nothing.
More than two decades later, it’s a Republican president being impeached, with at least some Dems making a familiar pitch, opening the door to censure as an alternative to impeachment. But GOP leaders are again committed to the binary choice, in large part because they’re not prepared to do what Democrats were prepared to do in 1998: acknowledge that their party’s president did something he shouldn’t have done.
For someone like Gottheimer, if the choice is impeachment or nothing, the former is the obvious choice. We’ll never know what might have happened if Republicans were willing to concede that Trump went too far and offered Dems a substitute remedy.