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Right Opinion

The Impeachment Needle May Soon Move

The mood has shifted against Trump, but the House has to show good faith and seriousness.

Peggy Noonan · Oct. 19, 2019

Things are more fluid than they seem. That’s my impression of Washington right now. There’s something quiet going on, a mood shift.

Impeachment of course will happen. The House will support whatever charges are ultimately introduced because most Democrats think the president is not fully sane and at least somewhat criminal. Also they’re Democrats and he’s a Republican. The charges will involve some level of foreign-policy malfeasance.

The ultimate outcome depends on the Senate. It takes 67 votes to convict. Republicans control the Senate 53-47, and it is unlikely 20 of them will agree to remove a president of their own party. An acquittal is likely but not fated, because we live in the age of the unexpected.

Here are three reasons to think the situation is more fluid than we realize.

First, the president, confident of acquittal, has chosen this moment to let his inner crazy flourish daily and dramatically — the fights and meltdowns, the insults, the Erdogan letter. Just when the president needs to be enacting a certain stability he enacts its opposite. It is possible he doesn’t appreciate the jeopardy he’s in with impeachment bearing down; it is possible he knows and what behavioral discipline he has is wearing down.

The second is that the Republican leader of the Senate, Mitch McConnell, told his caucus this week to be prepared for a trial that will go six days a week and could last six to eight weeks. In September there had been talk the Senate might receive articles of impeachment and execute a quick, brief response — a short trial, or maybe a motion to dismiss. Mr. McConnell told CNBC then that the Senate would have “no choice” but to take up impeachment, but “how long you are on it is a different matter.” Now he sees the need for a major and lengthy undertaking. Part of the reason would be practical: He is blunting attack lines that the Republicans arrogantly refused to give impeachment the time it deserves. But his decision also gives room for the unexpected — big and serious charges that sweep public opinion and change senators’ votes. “There is a mood change in terms of how much they can tolerate,” said a former high Senate staffer. Senators never know day to day how bad things will get.

The third reason is the number of foreign-policy professionals who are not ducking testimony in the House but plan to testify or have already. Suppressed opposition to President Trump among foreign-service officers and others is busting out.

The president is daily eroding his position. His Syria decision was followed by wholly predictable tragedy; it may or may not have been eased by the announcement Thursday of a five-day cease-fire. Before that the House voted 354-60, including 129 Republicans, to rebuke the president. There was the crazy letter to Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, which was alternately pleading (“You can make a great deal… . I will call you later”) and threatening (“I don’t want to be responsible for destroying the Turkish economy—and I will”).

There was the Cabinet Room meeting with congressional leaders, the insults hurled and the wildness of the photo that said it all — the angry president; Nancy Pelosi, the speaker of the House, standing and pointing at him; and the head of Gen. Mark Milley, the new chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, bowed in — embarrassment? Horror? His was not the only bowed head.

The president soon tweeted about a constitutional officer of the U.S. House, who is third in line for the presidency: “Nancy Pelosi needs help fast! There is either something wrong with her ‘upstairs’ or she just plain doesn’t like our great Country. She had a total meltdown in the White House today. It was very sad to watch. Pray for her, she is a very sick person!”

As the Democratic leaders departed, he reportedly called out, “See you at the polls.” Mr. Trump is confident that he holds the cards here — he’s got the Senate, and the base of the party says all these issues should be worked out in the 2020 election. But he is seriously weakening his hand by how he acts.

That meeting will only fortify Mrs. Pelosi’s determination to impeach him.

The president tweeted out the picture of that meeting just as the White House made public the Erdogan letter — because they think it made the president look good. Which underscored the sense that he has no heavyweight advisers around him — the generals are gone, the competent fled, he’s careening around surrounded by second raters, opportunists, naifs and demoralized midlevel people who can’t believe what they’re seeing.

Again, everything depends on the quality and seriousness of the House hearings. Polling on impeachment has been fairly consistent, with Gallup reporting Thursday 52% supporting the president’s impeachment and removal.

Serious and dramatic hearings would move the needle on public opinion, tripping it into seriously negative territory for the president.

And if the needle moves, the Senate will move in the same direction.

But the subject matter will probably have to be bigger than the Ukraine phone call, which is not, as some have said, too complicated for the American people to understand, but easy to understand. An American ally needed money, and its new leader needed a meeting with the American president to bolster his position back home. It was made clear that the money and the meeting were contingent on the launching of a probe politically advantageous to Mr. Trump and disadvantageous to a possible 2020 rival.

Everyone gets it, most everyone believes it happened, no one approves of it — but it probably isn’t enough. People have absorbed it and know how they feel: It was Mr. Trump being gross. No news there.

Truly decisive testimony and information would have to be broader and deeper, bigger. Rudy Giuliani’s dealings with Ukraine? That seems an outgrowth of the original whistleblower charges, a screwy story with a cast of characters — Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, natives of Ukraine and Belarus, respectively, who make you think of Sen. Howard Baker’s question to the Watergate bagman Tony Ulasewicz: “Who thought you up?”

More important will be a text or subtext of serious and consistent foreign-policy malfeasance that the public comes to believe is an actual threat to national security. Something they experience as alarming.

It cannot be merely that the president holds different views and proceeds in different ways than the elites of both parties. It can’t look like “the blob” fighting back — fancy-pants establishment types, whose feathers have been ruffled by a muddy-booted Jacksonian, getting their revenge. It can’t look like the Deep State striking back at a president who threatened their corrupt ways.

It will have to be serious and sincere professionals who testify believably that the administration is corrupt and its corruption has harmed the country. The witnesses will have to seem motivated by a sense of duty to institutions and protectiveness toward their country.

And the hearings had better start to come across as an honest, good-faith effort in which Republican members of Congress are treated squarely and in line with previous protocols and traditions.

With all that the needle moves. Without it, it does not.


Republished by permission from peggynoonan.com.

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