The release of the Mueller report by Attorney General Barr on the eve of both Passover and Easter did call to mind an old story told by Jews about the senior rabbi and his understudy junior rabbi who were visited by two people immersed in a quarrel. The first person sat with both rabbis and gave his side in the dispute. The senior rabbi said, “You’re right.”
Then the first person left the office and the second person came in and gave his side of the dispute. The senior rabbi said, “You’re right.” And the second person left the office.
The junior rabbi said to the senior rabbi, “I don’t understand. You told the first man that he was right, and then you told the second man that he was right. But they both can’t be right.”
To which the senior rabbi replied, “You’re right!”
In the last few weeks, if you have been listening to both sides of the debate over whether President Trump should be impeached by the U.S. House of Representatives, and that includes listening to the differing voices within the Democratic Party, you may find yourself in the same position as the senior rabbi. Both sides have compelling arguments.
Those in favor of impeachment, including Yoni Applebaum in The Atlantic, Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), maintain that there is ample evidence to show that Trump obstructed justice. They believe Congress has a duty to impeach Trump. Moreover, they believe that impeaching Trump serves many positive national ends, including depriving him of an unobstructed path to campaign for reelection and damaging his credibility while he tries to promote an agenda which is offensive to the moral sensibilities of most Democrats.
Those on the other side, ranging from Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) believe that impeachment is not in the best interests of the country. They believe we should get on with the business of addressing our nation’s problems, including jobs, immigration reform, and the ongoing struggle with North Korea.
Pelosi and Democrats opposed to impeachment may favor censure or other ways to publicly chastise Mr. Trump, but they do not think it will serve the best interests of their party in 2020 if impeachment is the focus for Democrats the next year and half.
The decision for the House Democrats is more complicated than the decision for the senior rabbi from the old Jewish story since Democrats do not have to decide right now whether to impeach President Trump or not. They can, as former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton argued in The Washington Post, pursue a thorough investigation, without making any commitment to impeach or not at this point.
But at a certain point House Democrats will have to decide whether to impeach President Trump or not, and even if they find more evidence from their investigation that points towards impeachment the decision to impeach is going to be very difficult to make.
Given that impeachment must come from the House, though conviction must come from the Senate, House Democrats should reflect on their special relationship to the public. House members have a tighter connection to voters than Senators. Yet House members still are supposed to reflect the thoughts and sentiments of the voters more than Senators, who are supposed to think more holistically about their entire states and the country overall.
Since any House impeachment and Senate trial would ratchet up the presidential campaign to the highest conceivable level, House members should be asking themselves today whether this would be in the best interest of their party and the nation overall. Is this what their own constituents really want from them, even just the Democrats and Independents they represent who voted for them?
There are times in a representative democracy when the legislators need to look to the people and ask them what we should do.
The Democrats can investigate, censure, scrutinize Trump and fight with him. But they should ask the people they represent, Democrats, Republicans and Independents, to decide whether Trump should be removed from office.
House Democrats should let voters decide on November 3, 2020.
Dave Anderson taught at the University of Cincinnati, Johns Hopkins University, and The George Washington University. He ran for Congress in the 2016 Democratic Primary in Maryland’s 8th District.