WASHINGTON — When the history of the events of December 18, 2019 is written, two earlier moments will loom large.
The hinge decision was made by seven politically vulnerable House Democrats in September. Veterans of service in either the military or the intelligence agencies, they published a Washington Post essay endorsing the opening of an impeachment inquiry.
Let’s give all of them the recognition they deserve: Reps. Gil Cisneros of California, Jason Crow of Colorado, Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania, Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, and Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria of Virginia.
“The president of the United States may have used his position to pressure a foreign country into investigating a political opponent, and he sought to use U.S. taxpayer dollars as leverage to do it,” they wrote. “This flagrant disregard for the law cannot stand.”
And so they took their own stand.
They ignored the pundit chatter that impeachment would only help Trump. Instead, they insisted that their “oaths to defend the country” took priority. If this meant angry town meetings and, possibly, electoral defeat, so be it.
The other key date, of course, is Nov. 6, 2018, when America’s voters turned out in record numbers to elect a Democratic House majority — by a margin of nearly 10 million votes — that included Slotkin and her colleagues. Yes, health care, guns and economics mattered on that day. But it was revulsion over Trump’s many outrages that powered the surge to the polls.
Rep. Andy Kim, D-N.J., was an underdog in a Trump district when I spoke to him the summer before the election. He sensed something special was happening. The questions that “cut through” with voters, he said then, were these: “Do you feel like there is a steady hand at the wheel? Do you feel like you’re in good hands right now?”
It was thus not surprising that despite his very narrow 2018 margin, Kim, another a national security policy veteran, announced his support for impeachment. And his queries about the absence of a steady hand at the top seemed all the more appropriate after Trump’s unhinged letter on Tuesday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi denouncing impeachment.
The letter was the rant of an extremist. The president even accused Pelosi of “offending Americans of faith” by saying that she prayed for him. His words would, in normal times, have embarrassed a talk radio host, let alone a president. They were also, predictably, disconnected from the truth.
But the letter only underscored Trump’s determination to lie and bully his way to re-election. As a result, Wednesday’s push for impeachment must be seen in light of Winston Churchill’s celebrated declaration when the tide in World War II began turning in Britain’s favor: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”
Which means that what happens next will be decisive. Republican claims that this is purely a partisan process must be challenged at their core. It is partisan only because Republican politicians lack the guts to acknowledge the obvious: A president who presses a foreign power to smear a domestic political opponent is engaged in despotism. Period.
So when the issue comes before the Senate, Democrats cannot back down from their leader Chuck Schumer’s demand that witnesses be called in a real trial. Those Republican senators who have claimed independence from Trump — particularly those up for reelection — must be forced to go on record, repeatedly if necessary.
There is no middle ground. Either senators support a full accounting of the facts, or they are covering up for Trump.
For one sentiment in Trump’s letter was true. “The voters are wise,” he wrote. They are, and they deserve all the information that can be unearthed so they can exercise that wisdom.
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Writes for The Washington Post.