Former vice president and probable 2020 presidential candidate Joe Biden did an interview which aired on Thursday’s CBS This Morning, in which he and host Norah O’Donnell discussed voting rights, running for president, and—of course—Donald Trump.
Even as Biden criticized Trump, he didn’t follow the lead of other Democrats who have called for impeaching the president should they win control of one or both chambers of Congress. “I hope they don’t [impeach Trump]. I don’t think there’s a basis for doing that right now,” Biden said. “There are so many things to attend to immediately. Let’s see where the investigation takes us.”
Biden isn’t the only prominent figure in the party to voice this opinion. Democratic House leader Nancy Pelosi, the frontrunner to be the next Speaker of the House, has been saying something similar all year long, much to the chagrin of some members of her caucus. Here’s what she told Rolling Stone in July:
This election cannot be about impeachment. I don’t think it’s in the interest of America’s working families to focus on that, unless we have more to go on, which we don’t at this time. You get the power of subpoena, you don’t know where it takes you. I wouldn’t not impeach the president for political reasons. But I wouldn’t impeach him for political reasons, either. That’s just not what it’s supposed to be about. I think it’s not unifying for the country.
Tom Steyer, the billionaire Democratic donor from California who has spent tens of millions on a campaign to impeach Trump—something that cannot happen by popular vote— took a different view from Biden:
In practical terms, Biden is right. Even if Democrats do win a House majority or even a Senate majority, impeachment requires two-thirds of the Senate to convict. Even if the Democrats were to win every Senate race this year—and they won’t—they’d still be about ten votes short.
It’s probably not the greatest idea politically, either. Because Congress is practically a graveyard at this point, a lot of members were around when Republicans impeached Bill Clinton. The results of that effort were a boost in Clinton’s popularity, unexpected Democratic gains in the House, and the resignation of Newt Gingrich as the Speaker.
Oh, and waiting in the wings in the unlikely event of a Trump impeachment is Mike Pence, someone who has been a willing partner in every horrible thing Trump has done as president (with a particular affinity for his policies and decisions aimed at driving social progress back decades), and who also has at least a rudimentary understanding of how Congress and the federal government work.
But however logical the case against Trump’s impeachment might be, it should be perfectly clear to Democrats why so many people within the party want it. He lies constantly. He’s overseen unconscionable human rights violations, including against children. He is nakedly and transparently against the interests of anyone in this country who isn’t a rich asshole.
Moreover, Democrats on both sides of the debate have painted Trump as a unique threat to the country’s institutions. That isn’t quite an acknowledgment that he’s exploiting vulnerabilities of those institutions which have existed for a very long time, but I’m guessing it sounds close enough to the truth for most people.
So the end result is that we’re at this place where a majority of the country is deeply unhappy with the decisions of a president it doesn’t like and didn’t vote for, and can clearly see that he’s abusing his power in a damaging way. His lawyers are open about the fact that if he’s ever called to testify under oath, he will absolutely commit perjury. Polls vary wildly on whether or not voters think Trump should be impeached, but considering there’s been little to no Congressional oversight of the administration, the fact that even a significant minority of people would be for it says something.
And yet we have no recourse to make him face the consequences for doing so.
This is the problem that people who have access to power deeply want to avoid talking about: there is no way out from this. For most of them, that’s fine. For the rest of us, it’s increasingly becoming unacceptable.