A veteran political reporter who covered the Clinton impeachment offered me some good advice this afternoon: “Don’t predict impeachment politics.”
It’s something to keep in mind as we head into this highly consequential week.
Political prognosticators, like yours truly, have been telling Americans for months that the outcome for President Trump is all but preordained: Party-line impeachment by Democrats in the House, a party-line vote against removal by Republicans in the Senate.
But how it all goes down could have big ramifications, particularly in such a deeply divided electorate.
On the one hand, there’s a sense of impeachment fatigue, the idea that voters aren’t quite as riveted by this process as those of us in Washington. Why watch episode three, after all, when you already know what happens in the finale? And the hearings haven’t moved public opinion: Polling released over the past few days by Fox News and Quinnipiac University shows opinions on impeachment largely unchanged from October.
Yet, at the same time, this is a process that clearly taps into some deep emotions. (Check out the signs that greeted Representative Elissa Slotkin, a Democrat from Michigan, at an acrimonious town-hall-style meeting this morning.)
Those dynamics are why this week is so important politically. Whether House Democrats lose two votes or, say, six votes on Wednesday will shape the political narrative around impeachment.
So far, according to our New York Times whip count, only two House Democrats oppose impeachment — including one, Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, who has indicated he will switch parties over his decision to break with Democrats. No Republicans support impeaching Mr. Trump (though Justin Amash, who left the party this year and became an independent, does).
Nearly four dozen Democrats have yet to commit, including 12 of the 31 Democrats who won last year in districts that Mr. Trump carried in 2016.
If a number of House Democrats, particularly those from swing districts, vote against impeachment, you’d suddenly have the image of a party divided over whether this fairly drastic measure was the right approach. That would be good news for Mr. Trump and Republicans, who have spent months arguing that the whole process is a half-baked sham.
Even before the vote, they’re not holding back when it comes to blasting Democrats from swing districts.
“Joe Cunningham’s political career is over,” said Joe Jackson, a Republican National Committee spokesman, after Mr. Cunningham, a South Carolina Democrat, announced his support for impeachment today.
In the Senate, purple-state Republicans who are up for re-election this year — like Susan Collins of Maine and Cory Gardner of Colorado — must navigate their own tricky political crosscurrents.
Already, they’ve struck a far more open tone to the trial process than, say, Senator Lindsey Graham of South Carolina. (“I don’t really need to hear a lot of witnesses,” he told CBS News over the weekend.)
Senator Chuck Schumer, the Democratic leader, hopes to force their hand by calling for four top White House officials who have not previously testified — including Mick Mulvaney, Mr. Trump’s acting chief of staff, and John R. Bolton, the president’s former national security adviser — to appear as witnesses. He’s betting those swing-state Republicans will feel squeezed by his request.
So how do all these dynamics play out in November? Who knows!
All we know is that with impeachments come political surprises.
As Republicans impeached President Bill Clinton, they were the ones who bore the biggest consequences: They lost seats in the House in the 1998 and 2000 elections, and both Speaker Newt Gingrich and the Republican poised to succeed him, Representative Robert Livingston, wound up losing their leadership posts.
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How Bloomberg could get on the debate stage
The fight over the qualifications for the next few Democratic primary debates exploded into public view last week. We checked in with our colleague Reid Epstein to find out more about the party battle to be included in the party battle.
The next Democratic debate is scheduled for Thursday night — stay tuned to see if it goes on as planned — but the dispute over the party’s January and February debates is already underway.
Just seven candidates qualified for the stage in Los Angeles this week, and of those, only Andrew Yang is a person of color (he is Asian-American). So over the weekend, Senator Cory Booker, who did not make the cut, organized the other major candidates to send a letter to Tom Perez, the chairman of the Democratic National Committee, asking him to lower the thresholds to make the debates after the new year.
“For some of these stages, we’ve had as many as 36 polls, and you needed to get 2 percent in four of them. And with all due respect, that’s not a high bar,” he told me last week. “Whenever there was a question, ‘Should we take an inclusive approach,’ we have done that. We’ve done it in a number of ways. But at the end of the day, you do have to demonstrate that you’re making progress.”
There is one candidate out there who is demonstrating a lot of progress, but it isn’t Cory Booker. Former Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg of New York, who has spent more than $100 million of his own money on television ads, shot up to 7 percent in a Quinnipiac University national poll released Monday afternoon, enough for fifth place in the field.
Under the current rules, Mr. Bloomberg won’t make any debate stages, since the D.N.C. has required candidates to meet both polling and donor thresholds, and Mr. Bloomberg has said he won’t take contributions from anyone. But Mr. Perez told me he just might scrap the existing thresholds once primaries and caucuses begin and there are results to go by — a back door for Mr. Bloomberg to make the debate stage if real-life Democrats vote for him.
Of course, the party’s Jan. 14 debate might get canceled anyway: It’s smack in the middle of the time when everybody thinks the Senate’s impeachment trial will be taking place.
“I thought he was just a fine fella, and I didn’t mind his looking over my shoulder,” she told The Washington Post in an interview.
John and Charlotte Henderson will celebrate their 80th wedding anniversary this week, winning them the title of the oldest living married couple.
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