Opinions Live with Eugene Robinson: The Impeachment Week edition

Dec 17, 2019

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Hello everyone, and welcome to the Impeachment Week edition of our chat. As I write, the House Rules Committee is beginning the laborious process of establishing procedures for tomorrow's expected House vote on impeachment. Yesterday was not great for the soon-to-be-impeached president. A host of moderate Democrats who represent districts Trump won announced that they will vote for the articles of impeachment, apparently ending any question about the final outcome. Meanwhile, Rudy Giuliani helpfully offered a confession on behalf of his client, President Trump. Late tomorrow, or perhaps early Thursday, Trump will become just the third president to be impeached. Then focus will shift to the Senate, where the outcome also seems preordained. But Republican senators will have to explain whether they, like Lindsey Graham, have already made up their minds. That's not what voters want to hear, according to polls. Buckle up, everybody.


On a programming note, this will be our last chat of 2019. I'm taking a little time off for Christmas and New Year's, and then we'll resume in 2020. And if you missed it, here's my latest column. Let's get started.

Gene, love seeing you on MSNBC. Will Trump beat impeachment and get reelected in 2020?

Thanks! He won't beat impeachment, because that's what the House does, but he almost surely will not be removed from office by the Senate. I do not believe he will be reelected in 2020.

McConnell's protection of Trump and his refusal to recuse himself from the impeachment proceedings seem to be an obstruction of justice. Could you address this?

Senators will have to take an oath to impartially consider the evidence, but there is no penalty if they violate that oath. So no, Mitch McConnell's vigorous defense of President Trump is not obstruction of justice or obstruction of Congress or anything like that. It's craven, but not illegal or unconstitutional.

Please help debunk the notion that Democrats are better off waiting for Trump's "alleged" obstruction of Congress to get the imprimatur of the courts in order to be a legitimate article of impeachment.

Trump's blanket refusal to provide documents or witnesses is unprecedented, and getting the courts to intervene definitively would take many months. When the courts did rule, the president would then claim various privileges (he hasn't claimed any yet), which would then have to be adjudicated, taking many more months. The Constitution gives the House the "sole" power of impeachment, and a president cannot be allowed to usurp that power by refusing to participate in any way. If he were allowed to do so, impeachment would be meaningless.

The Senate will not convict under any circumstances and trump will preen about his exoneration. What do you anticipate the Democrats will do in response? They rolled over after the Mueller report. Can we expect more of the same?

Of course Trump will claim vindication and use impeachment to inflame his base. But he will still have been impeached. We have no data points to tell us what impact impeachment will have on a president's reelection chances. Seems awfully counterintuitive to me to think it will help him.

There have been some suggestions in the media (Jennifer Rubin and John Dean, among others) that the House can decline to send the impeachment articles to the Senate, leaving Trump impeached but not acquitted. The rationale is to keep it hanging until the Senate agrees to have a real trial with witnesses. Seems like Trump might not be able to stand the pressure, and will demand witnesses for his "side" which opens the door to Bolton and Mulvaney. What are the odds of this happening? Thank you for doing these! I look forward to them every week.

It's an interesting idea, but I'm not sure it would have the desired effect. I suspect McConnell would just wait as the weeks and months went by, and the Republican line that "it's too close to the election" would gain traction.

Mr. Robinson, what is your take of the latest Giuliani interviews with Fox and the NY Times? Mine is that Rudy is doubling down on what got us to this spot in the first place. His smearing of the former Ukrainian Ambassador is particularly troubling and smacks of Joseph McCarthy. Your thoughts?

Giuliani said on Fox that Amb. Yovanovitch was "corrupt" and I hope she sues his socks off. In the New Yorker and the NY Times, he essentially confessed to the whole Ukraine scheme to smear Joe Biden. History will record, I think, that he played the leading role in getting Trump impeached.

Senators have to take an oath to be impartial during an impeachment trial. Lindsey Graham boasts he's already made his mind up and Trump's innocent. It's the same for a number of other Republican senators. Can they be recused by Justice Roberts? If not, then this is a sham and our Constitution is meaningless.

I don't believe Chief Justice Roberts has that power. He presides at the trial, but it's still the Senate's show -- and his rulings from the bench can apparently be overruled by a majority vote. That does put endangered GOP senators like Collins, Gardner, McSally and Tillis in a tough position, though. I don't think they can afford the perception that the fix was in.

I do not trust polls much these days. Hillary Clinton was supposed to win, also! Do you think that the polls indicating that more than half of the U.S. wants Trump impeached and removed are correct? This is just all so discouraging.

The national polls in 2016 were very close to the actual result. (We should have had more and better state polls.) I see no reason to doubt the polls about impeachment. 

Mr. Robinson, the Senate rules regarding impeachment are precise on the oath that must be administered: "I solemnly swear (or affirm, as the case may be) that in all things appertaining to the trial of the impeachment of --------, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws: So help me God.'' Can you envision McConnell, Graham, et al., taking this oath after the pronouncements they've made this past week? Are they truly that entirely devoid of integrity l?

They will take the oath. And they will (almost surely) vote to acquit the president, as they have promised.

I want to believe you when you say in your column “there will be a reckoning.” But when? And how? Like many others, I’m feeling discouraged by the continued lack of accountability.

Impeachment is one reckoning. The November election is another.

Will Chief Justice John Roberts assert himself to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic” and “bear true faith and allegiance to the same” when he presides over the Senate impeachment trial?

The chief justice does not want the judiciary to be seen as political, and so I believe he will try to be even-handed. But his power is limited, as he can be overruled by the Senate.

I get that congressional Republicans fear the wrath of Trump's base, but when it comes right to it, wouldn't these same Republicans rather deal with a President Mike Pence, who is more ideologically aligned with their dogma? I would imagine they would sleep much better at night knowing they no longer have to make insane and unconstitutional excuses for the current occupant of 1600, and as such, that would make a compelling argument for going along with Trump's impeachment.

The problem is that the Republican base is overwhelmingly supportive of Trump. Members of Congress fear the wrath of the base.

There are eventually going to be a lot of people who will run for the presidential nomination, but not get it, but a question about one of them from right now. Saw Beto O'Rourke is campaigning as you read this for a special election in a Texas state house race in Fort Bend County. Seems despite not running for a specific U.S. Senate election in 11 months this 47-year-old man isn't done with public life and wondering what do you think is he move for him? Are you done with him or think he'd be a good candidate and public servant?

I wish he were running for that specific Senate seat, but that's not happening. I hope he has a future.

McConnell has been operating for the better part of a decade with no consequences to his evil machinations. So it's not a surprise that he feels like he can get away with anything. Maybe that's why he and Trump get along. Will he ever have to answer for the damage he's done to the country? I know he's unpopular even in KY, but is there really a chance he could get the boot next year?

There's always a chance. But despite his unpopularity in Kentucky, he always seems to find a way to win. Let's see what things look like when we get on the other side of impeachment.

Is this the election where Susan Collins finally gets put out of our misery? When the Republicans vote to excuse Trump's obvious corruption the Dems will have a huge point to keep hammering all campaign. I know that they will also need to be "for" something, but this election is going to be a referendum on Trump and his enablers first and foremost.

Could be. She's managed to walk that tightrope for years but can't do it forever.

Am I correct to be completely impressed with Pelosi's chess moves here? Before now I had thought it was a little strange that Democrats didn't fight harder to force Mulvaney and Bolton to testify, not even issuing a subpoena to them. But now it makes perfect sense. Since there's enough evidence to draw up articles of impeachment without their testimony, why get drawn into an unnecessary, long court battle? Impeach first, so that issuing a subpoena to them now carries a lot more weight, and the stakes of Mulvaney's willingness to lie just increased exponentially. None of this occurred to me before but now seems like exactly the right play. Is Pelosi really three steps ahead of Trump or is this my optimism getting ahead of me and I'm completely misreading this?

Three steps ahead? I think she's been ten steps ahead. And boy, does she get under the president's skin...

Does it only have to be a 51-50 vote (with VP Pence breaking the tie), or is it a 2/3 super majority?

My understanding is that on his rulings, which could be on subpoenas and witnesses and the like, he can be overruled by a simple majority. But are there 51 Senate votes to completely shut down any fair process and ram through an acquittal? I don't think we know.

Actually, we do sort of have a data point. Andrew Johnson failed to get re-nominated by the Democrats in 1868. He was a serious contender, finishing second in the first two ballots at the convention that year before fading.

Thanks! President Trump is indeed likely to be renominated, though, and will face the voters.

As the 2020 election is getting into full swing, what steps (if any) do you see journalists taking to be more mindful of how they cover the candidates-- in terms of the language they use or the stories they highlight about each one?

We just have to constantly challenge our own assumptions and avoid framing stories a certain way because we've always framed them that way. It's a real challenge, and I hope we're up to it.

After the House votes for impeachment, the Senate votes no; and Trump continues to ask for foreign governments to get dirt and nothing happens, will this have all been worth it? He's going to win re-election on the backs of closet racists and xenophobes and boomers thtat are more concerned with their 401k than anything else. So what's the point?

All I can do is use my voice and my vote. You can do the same. If you don't want Trump to be reelected, work hard to keep it from happening.

Talk about voter suppression, in several states. Will these actions be allowed by the courts to stand?

What's happening in Wisconsin and Georgia is outrageous. If the courts won't overturn voter suppression, we have to overcome it. We need to re-register those voters who have been purged and continue to expand the electorate. 

In this age of 24/7 news, and referring to everything as "breaking news", a gimmick to keep viewers watching and to boost ratings, do you think that the media does a good enough job of clearly explaining the severity of Trump's invitation to other nations to interfere in U.S. elections? Do you think that the news media, with all its profit-motive, the absence of fairness doctrine, and its drive to constantly entertain, may have lost some of its gravitas and ability to properly convey issues of major public importance? I suspect that Trump thrives under the current model of news reporting, with ever-changing news cycles driven by the aim to boost ratings. Disagree? If so, why? Thank you, sir!

We need to deal with the media landscape we have, not the media landscape we would like to have. Trump is very good at creating distractions and seizing control of the news cycle. Those who seek to oppose him must find ways to seize the news cycle back.

How alarmed are you that the Supreme Court agreed to hear the cases of Trump claiming absolute immunity from everything, rather than simply allowing the Appeals Court ruling of "Presidents are not kings" to stand?

Not alarmed. It's appropriate for the Supreme Court to speak on such an important point. As long as they say the right thing...

FBI Director Christopher Wray, or IG Michael Horowitz? Or will AG William Barr order Wray to fire Horowitz, but then if Wray refuses, Barr fires Wray and then sacks Horowitz himself? Can you tell I'm old enough to recall Nixon's Saturday Night Massacre?

It's hard to imagine that Trump will fire yet another FBI director. Not unless he gets reelected, that is.

Why haven’t the Democrats hammered home this idea: if they ignored the antics that led to the inquiry, wouldn’t they be knowingly jeopardizing the NEXT election, less than a year from now? It seems to me this fact made the need to go ahead with impeachment an imperative, regardless of the outcome. Isn’t election integrity sacrosanct? Or is election tampering okay so long as it favors Republicans?

Democrats have tried to make this point. Maybe they should try harder.


That's all for 2019, folks. Our time is up for today. Thanks for participating, as always, and I'll see you all next year! Happy Holidays!

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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