The Sleeves From Her Vest

As all who care are aware, last week Special Counsel Robert Mueller vocalized his Report’s implied call upon Congress to conduct an impeachment inquiry addressing President Trump’s activities related to the Special Counsel’s investigation — a process that, if the inquiry’s findings merited, would culminate with a House impeachment vote and likely Senate Trial. Given his derogatory comments about the Special Counsel following the statement, it is apparent that the President himself interpreted Mr. Mueller’s remarks as a call for impeachment proceedings.

The practical difficulty with the Congressional approach urged by Mr. Mueller is manifest: there aren’t 20 Republican Senators who have the political courage to vote for the President’s removal from office even if they privately agree that his behavior warranted it. The political calculus is equally obvious. Any such efforts to remove Mr. Trump from office will: arguably play into his hands, enabling him to wage a straightforward crusade — against “the Dems,” “the Deep State Coup,” and “the Media”; result in an almost certain and outwardly vindicating Senate victory for the President; create a perhaps-unequaled way to galvanize his supporters for the 2020 election; and – to me most importantly – leave the centrist voters upon whom the election’s outcome will rest with the unfavorable impression that the Democrats engaged in an inappropriate partisan spasm intended to undo the results of the 2016 election. I would submit that for Democrats, an impeachment initiative is a sucker’s choice.

The two primary players in this constitutional chess match are obviously the President and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi. Mr. Trump is reported to recognize the strategic political advantage he may gain from an impeachment inquiry, but to be at the same time understandably wary about the inquiry’s outcome and its effect on the public. For her part, Ms. Pelosi is reportedly facing intensifying calls from members of her House caucus to begin an impeachment inquiry that she clearly considers a practical and political loser. She seemingly will soon need a way to appease pro-impeachment House Democrats while avoiding the political pitfalls that her instincts tell her lie in impeachment proceedings.

Rather than embark upon a struggle which Ms. Pelosi knows she can’t win, she could consider an approach that might enable her to maintain the upper political hand and help the country as well. House leadership might draw up a list of its top priorities and have staff draft bills that, if passed, would implement those priorities. Given our need to thwart future election meddling, the highest priority (at least for me) would be a comprehensive, amply funded bill enabling the safeguarding of our federal, state and local election systems from interference by state/non-state actors, combined with the imposition of legal duties upon significant social media providers to identify and remove fraudulent presences from their platforms. Other potential priorities could range across health care, the environment, immigration, infrastructure, repeal of some 2017 corporate and personal high-income tax cuts, etc., etc. Congressional Democratic leadership would then decide which one or two of the various priorities might (1) given the right incentive, be palatable to the White House and (2) be considered sufficient exchange by progressives intent on impeachment.

When this effort was completed, Ms. Pelosi and Mr. Schumer could approach the President and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell with this proposal: if Sen. McConnell garnered sufficient Republican Senate votes to pass the House-drafted bills virtually “as is” and the President thereupon signed such bills, the House of Representatives would, after the bills had been passed and signed, suspend its investigations of the President for the remainder of the current Congressional term. This would not be an offer to “start discussions” of the Democrats’ priorities in return for the suspension; the quid pro quo for the suspension would be the prior enactment of the Democrats’ priorities “as is.” An ancillary, but crucial point: the House’s pledge to suspend its investigations would expire if the President claimed vindication related to the House’s discontinuance.

One might surmise that depending upon the priorities Democrats selected and how progressively the enabling legislation was cast, Mr. Trump, given his lack of grounded policy principles, might be very tempted to agree to the deal. Although Mr. McConnell would probably be less enthusiastic, I suspect that he might warm to the notion if the President suggested that he would otherwise endorse an alt-right Republican to compete against Mr. McConnell in the 2020 Kentucky Republican Senatorial primary.

There would obviously be nuances to be worked out and potential ramifications to be weighed; among them, that each side would have to agree to share the credit for whatever bills were passed, that there would be no assurance for the President that he wouldn’t be subject to the criminal justice system the day he left office, and that the deal might steady Mr. Trump’s politically-listing ship. Democrats would be gambling that Mr. Trump’s divisive and exhausting behavior would still be his 2020 undoing.

In October, 1986, President Ronald Reagan and U.S.S.R. Communist Party General Secretary Mikhail Gorbachev met in Reykjavik, Iceland, desirous of reducing ballistic missiles and nuclear weaponry. During their discussions, Gen. Sec. Gorbachev proposed eliminating all nuclear weaponry, but added a condition – accounts I’ve seen varying a bit – that either field testing or deployment of the U.S. Strategic Defense Initiative (“SDI”) be delayed for a significant number of years. Mr. Reagan demurred, and the discussions ended (although they are generally credited with laying the groundwork for the 1987 Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces Treaty). When asked about Reykjavik years later, Mr. Reagan’s Secretary of State, George Schultz, recalled, “[W]hat we did was use [as bargaining chips] things like an agreement not to deploy [SDI] for a certain number of years, which I remember arguing with the President, that’s like giving them the sleeves from your vest. There’s nothing we’re going to deploy in seven years anyway [my emphasis].”

There is admittedly no indication that the President, Senate Republicans, and Democrats are capable of contemplating any “grand bargain.” Even so, given the overwhelming likelihood that Democrats will never garner sufficient Senate votes to remove the President from office following an impeachment trial, if Ms. Pelosi was able to leverage the President’s uneasiness with impeachment proceedings (in turn caroming through Republican legislators’ evident fear of politically crossing Mr. Trump) to achieve substantive policy goals, while enabling the Democrats to escape the political box in which they are increasingly finding themselves, it would be a significant accomplishment in return for … the sleeves from her vest …

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