Eugene Robinson Live: The I-Word

Sep 24, 2019

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Hi, everybody. No time for preliminaries today -- let's get started.

Here's my latest column, if you haven't read it already.

The more I think about it, the more I'm coming around to Speaker Pelosi's point of view. I want to defeat Trump in the next election. I REALLY want to defeat Trump in the next election. But the only thing I want more than that is to make absolutely, 100% sure that he never has control of the White House and the Senate and the House of Representatives again. There were a few adults in the room the last time. They are all gone. The use of administrative powers is horrific, and who knows if the courts will hold them back at all, but adding legislative power to it is unthinkable. Whatever it takes to keep the House seems like it is essential at this point. Since she can't (and shouldn't) control who is the presidential nominee and how likely that person is to win, making sure the new House democrats get re-elected, seems like the most important thing she can do.

This is the big question, isn't it? And perhaps this is the big day. My view is that President Trump has essentially forced Speaker Pelosi's hand. The Ukraine thing is so egregious that I don't see how members of the House can do their duty without opening an impeachment inquiry. Like, yesterday. My own view is that politically it's probably a wash and maybe a negative for Trump, but in any event I think it now has to happen.

Dear Gene, I'd love for you to revisit and update the importance of flipping the Senate if any progressive bills have a chance of getting passed post 2020. With the majority of the news focusing on the presidential candidates and Trump's crimes, this often gets lost. (I live in NC and plan to work hard to get rid of Tillis.) Your loyal fan, Linda.

What you say is true. If Democrats hope to actually enact the policies they advocate, they will need to take the Senate -- and that means running the best candidates for all the contested Senate seats. 

Is it possible Trump is trying to manuever the Democrats into impeaching him because he thinks it will help energize his base and help him get re-elected? Or give him cover to steal the election?

I have never believed that Trump wants to be impeached. I think the humiliation and stigma would drive him crazy. Then again, I may be wrong -- he may want it, or think he wants it. I don't think trying to figure out what he wants should be uppermost in Democrats' minds. They have to do what they have to do.

I am thoroughly dismayed at the Democrats' inability to come to a decision about impeachment. I understand all the arguments -- how it might impact the election by supercharging Trump supporters and voters who have heretofore been on the fence; how it would be a pointless exercise because the Senate would never, ever vote to remove Trump. In the meantime, anger on the Left (where I sit) is getting more and more directed at party leaders. In the end, though, I keep coming back to this: If THIS President, with his phonebook-sized record of offenses and examples of corruption, isn't impeached, then impeachment is essentially removed from the Constitution as a safety feature. I know you have no crystal ball, but if you were to bet -- IF -- would you bet on impeachment hearings formally beginning, or would you bet on continued indecision until it's too late for the House to act and the 2020 election becomes the de facto impeachment trial?

Today's op-ed in the Post by seven freshman Democrats, saying they believe this latest offense is impeachable, signals a change in the weather, impeachment-wise. Seriously, if you don't impeach this president, then that clause in the Constitution has no meaning.

has anyone asked Ukraine if they have a transcript that they would be willing to share?

I'll do it: "Ukraine, if you're listening..." Seriously, you have to feel sorry for those Ukrainian officials. They didn't ask for any of this. They don't want to cross Trump but they also don't want to cross Democrats and they definitely don't want to interfere in our election. So I doubt they'll be volunteering any transcripts.

If Nancy Pelosi is correct that Senate Republicans won't back up the House to impeach or censure the president, won't their votes speak for themselves as they try to seek re-election? Will it be a huge talking point for Democratic candidates, to point out (repeatedly) how the incumbent Senator supported this person who regularly disregards laws, the Constitution, and his oath of office? Or am I very naïve? Thank you

That's what Democrats will say, in the eventuality you describe. I don't know what impact it will have one way or the other. My bottom line is that I just can't imagine how being impeached is a plus for a president seeking reelection. It might not cost him anything with his base, but it's hard for me to imagine it bringing independents over to his side.

Hi Gene -- thanks for taking questions today and for chatting. Romney went out on a limb and was critical of Trump and the Ukraine situation and not surprisingly Trump replied in his typically juvenile fashion by reminding Romney of his 2012 loss to Obama. Do you see any indication, however slight, that Republicans have had enough of Trump's antics and we might see a microscopic crack in the red wall of support for him? Or is does the possibility of retribution similar to what Romney got sufficient to keep them cowed for the time being?

No, I don't see any such indication. And yes, they're still scared of risking an angry tweet. I've given up hoping for profiles in courage on the GOP side.

Why are the Dems so afraid of impeachment? This entire last 3 years is so completely different from Bill Clinton. It's not a popular president being impeached over a sexual encounter with an intern - as bad as that was. These are continuous attacks on the rule of law and the Constitution. Failing to impeach is more likely to depress Democratic turnout than anything. Trump's cultists are going to support him no matter what. But that is a much smaller share of voters than those who are already in the D corner. Impeaching also puts all of those Republicans on the record as supporting Trump's corruption. That can't be bad for the Dems.

I agree with everything you say except the last line. Everyone should understand that sure, it's possible that Democrats would suffer political damage. I really doubt it, but -- this will shock you -- I'm not always right. But I look at it this way: If you face a choice between doing what you know you should do, and not doing what you know you should do, and each way carries risks, why not just do the right thing? 

...can Speaker Pelosi be far behind?

Not far at all, I'm guessing.

I'm convinced that leaving Trump "twisting, twisting slowly in the wind" is Pelosi's MO, so that (mixing metaphors) he doesn't when the sword of Damocles might fall, may be the savviest strategy against Trump.

I think Pelosi's first imperative was to protect her swing-district members. Her second imperative was not to get out in front of her caucus. She is a dyed-in-the-wool vote counter, and it appears to me that there are probably the requisite 218 votes for an impeachment inquiry. If that's her assessment, that's where she will lead the House.

That's what I think he wants to do. We can all sit in ivory towers and and declare that the House is now "obligated" to do its duty on impeachment, but the fact is that it will be a nasty street fight and one that Trump might win. And what would happen if it was wildly successful? The Senate would laugh it out of the room, and Trump may end up looking stronger.

See, I'm still having trouble trying to figure out how Trump looks stronger for having been impeached. First of all, if we ever get to the point where Pelosi brings articles of impeachment to the House floor, you can be assured that she -- not Trump -- will win that vote. She counts the votes before she brings anything to the floor. Second, it's fair to assume that the Senate will not vote to remove Trump from office. But the Constitution doesn't give the House the power to do anything about that. All the House can do is bring charges, if they are warranted. 

One assumption is that the House will impeach, but the Senate won't, but I wonder what happens if the House also doesn't vote to impeach? I mean blue dog Democrats have left the party down on other big issues.

If there aren't 218 votes for impeachment, the question will never get to the floor for a vote.

What do we make of Sen. Murphy's claims about his conversations with Ukraine's president that he felt extorted (basically) by Trump? They don't seem to have gotten a lot of play yet. Could the President of Ukraine be called on to testify in the impeachment trial?

I don't think Congress can subpoena the Ukrainian president. But I'd definitely like to hear more about Murphy's conversations with him.

Not. I'm old enough to remember the senior Republican pols who went to the White House and convinced Richard Nixon to resign rather than be impeached. In 2019, I'm hard pressed to think of any Republican who would take the the same courageous step?

Apparently, there is none.

I recently saw a photo online of someone holding a professionally printed "Trump in 2024" sign (i.e., not homemade). At the time it was implied that Trump would want a third term. But I'm more worried that even if Trump loses in 2020, he'll "do a Grover Cleveland" and try to come back later (even though he'd be 78 by then).

The "Trump in 2024" stuff is just trolling. I'll admit that it has occurred to me, though, that if he loses he might want to try to come back. Maybe the Southern District of New York will have other ideas...

Any indication that Senate Republicans or ANY Republicans are upset about the law breaking and talking about it secretly? What will it take to get them to move on the rule of law in this nation?

None that I can see. I gather they will not move until they are no longer afraid of Trump -- or until they are more afraid of being seen to blindly support him.

Today's Supreme Court ruling seems to be breaking new ground--amending the UK's unwritten constitution. Would you agree that plaintiff Gina Miller may be remembered as the UK's version of William Marbury?

It might be, and thanks for the question. You're referring to the ruling that Prime Minister Boris Johnson acted illegally when he shut down Parliament in an attempt to ram through his version of Brexit. The Supreme Court is a relatively new thing for Britain, which used to have a panel from the House of Lords serve as the nation's highest judicial authority. This is by far the most consequential decision in the Supreme Court's brief history, and I believe it sets a precedent for judicial review. Or seeks to. We'll see how BoJo reacts.

I, like others here, have long thought impeachment is the right thing to do, regardless of short-term political calculation. But I'm now wondering about how involved Biden actually has been in this Ukraine affair. Trump makes a lot of noise, so I'm not listening to him. I've read there's nothing wrong with Biden's involvement with his son and the gas company. But is there something there?

No. It's a long story, but basically everything Trump and Giuliani say about the Bidens and Ukraine is a lie. 

Nixon resigned; Trump hangs on and on successfully. Does this mean he's actually demonstrating how a person in his situation should successfully defend himself while in the White House?

No, because if any subsequent president tries to act like Trump, we'll know how to deal with him or her. Our political system has never had to deal with someone so utterly shameless. We're learning, but unfortunately it takes time.

Is it possible that at some time in the remote past, when they were still friends, that Bill Clinton told Trump there was an upside to being impeached, like it boosted his popularity or something?

It's not the case, in my view, that impeachment boosted Clinton's personality. It did give him some sympathy in the short term, but I think his popularity rose primarily because people decided that -- aside from his personal failings -- he was a good president.

Bibi loses and will likely face indictment, the UK's highest court rules against Boris... with the tide turning on these political bullies, is Trump next?

From your lips to God's ear.


And that's all for today, folks. Our time is up. Thanks for participating, and I'll see you again next week!

In This Chat
Eugene Robinson
Eugene Robinson is an Associate Editor and twice-weekly columnist for The Washington Post. His column appears on Tuesdays and Fridays. In a 25-year career at The Post, Robinson has been city hall reporter, city editor, foreign correspondent in Buenos Aires and London, foreign editor, and assistant managing editor in charge of the paper's award-winning Style section. In 2009, he received the Pulitzer Prize for Commentary for his columns on the 2008 presidential campaign that focus on the election of the first African-American president. In 2005, he started writing a column for the Op-Ed page. He is the author of "Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America" (2010), "Coal to Cream: A Black Man's Journey Beyond Color to an Affirmation of Race" (1999) and "Last Dance in Havana" (2004). Robinson lives with his wife and two sons in Arlington.
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