Amid internal squabbles, Democrats present anti-Trump tactics as ‘something for everyone’

There some members in the House of Representatives who want to impeach President Trump.

The House is poised to hold Attorney General William Barr and former White House Counsel Don McGahn in “civil contempt” for failing to respond to House subpoenas. Most everyone refers to the resolution as “civil contempt.” After all, the House plans to go to court to enforce the subpoenas through civil action. Yet the resolution itself is bereft of the word “contempt.”

And we haven’t even discussed the debate among some Democrats about pursuing “inherent contempt.” That’s where Congress executes contempt itself and sometimes arrests persons.


Meantime, the House Oversight Committee is threatening some form of contempt for Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross for failing to comply with subpoenas for information about the 2020 census.

Others just want to investigate. Probe. Conduct inquiries.

It’s hard not to talk impeachment when the House Judiciary Committee schedules a hearing for Monday afternoon with President Nixon’s White House Counsel John Dean.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., berated the press corps last week for suggesting Democrats are all over the place on what they want to do.

“I see in some metropolitan journals and on some TV that we are trying to find our way or are unsure. Make no mistake, we know exactly what path we’re on. We know exactly what actions we need to take. And while that may take more time than some people want it to take, I respect their impatience,” said Pelosi. “There is no controversy, or ‘try this. Try that.’ We are on a path.”

Impeachment. Civil contempt. Inherent contempt. Investigations. Probes. Subpoenas.

Maybe House Democrats could make everyone happy and just have this end in an eight-way tie. Like the National Spelling Bee.

There are questions as to whether these internal squabbles divide Democrats and inhibit their ability to legislate. The proverbial “walk and chew gum” mantra.

Maybe. Maybe not.

The House just passed the latest version of the “DREAM Act.” It grants an avenue to citizenship to 2.5 million undocumented persons, many of whom were brought here by their parents as infants. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., won’t touch the plan in the Senate.

Meantime, as the House Rules Committee prepares the dual, civil contempt citation for Barr and McGahn, it will also ready a combination spending bill for debate later in the week. The package funds the legislative branch, energy & water programs, the Pentagon, the Departments of Labor & Health and Human Services along with the State Department. The plan accounts for five of the 12 annual spending bills for the year.

Other appropriations bills are in the works this month in the House as well.


These conversations about impeachment, contempt and investigations are all-consuming. They permeate the public consciousness. It could be argued that the Republican impeachment effort of President Bill Clinton in 1998 devoured attention from other issues in Washington at the time. But, is the debate over trade and tariffs also not exhausting a lot news oxygen as well? Wait until they get to the debate about avoiding a shutdown this fall. Or raising the debt ceiling.

It’s argued that Congress didn’t accomplish anything during the impeachment of President Clinton. Independent Counsel Ken Starr submitted his report to the House in early September, 1998. From September 9, 1998 through early 1999, President Clinton signed 159 bills into law. Most were mid-range items. Not major legislative lifts. That said, things did grind to a halt for the first quarter of 1999 as the Senate conducted a trial for the President. Mr. Clinton signed no bills into law until later in the year. Some of that was because the trial ground the legislative process to a halt. Secondly, the trial came during the start of a new Congress, so there weren’t many bills even available to sign.

Maybe Democrats relish this impeachment/contempt/subpoena/investigations gambit because it’s all things to all people. Granted, those who want to impeach President Trump will never rest until he’s impeached. But Pelosi and others are trying to satisfy those appetites. As long that the possibility lingers that he could be impeached – and that Congressional committees are investigating, then fine.

Certainly House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., and others seem at odds with the Speaker on this issue. Some may even make the case that the contempt resolution on Monday isn’t contempt – since the word contempt never appears in the resolution. The resolution Monday is similar to contempt resolutions moved years ago against Bush Administration White House Chief of Staff Josh Bolten and White House Counsel Harriet Miers. And, formal, internal Democratic leadership email traffic even characterizes the action as “civil contempt.”


What we have here is a “chameleon” approach. Democrats are presenting their tactics against the President as “something for everyone.” It’s impeachment. It’s not. It’s contempt. It’s not. It’s hard-nosed investigation. It’s not. It’s just proper Congressional oversight.

In fact, Pelosi felt compelled to educate the public on what impeachment is – and what it’s not.

“Do you know that most people think that impeachment means you’re out of office?” asked Pelosi. “They think that you get impeached and you’re gone. And that is not completely true. I have thought that myself 50 years ago. But you get impeached and it’s an indictment.”

That’s why it’s up to the Senate to conduct a trial. Only a conviction in the Senate means someone is sacked.

“So when you’re impeaching somebody, you want to make sure you have the strongest possible indictment,” said Pelosi.


This is the Speaker mirroring her assertion that impeachment must be “ironclad.” Her argument is that any effort pursued by the House must unquestionably result in a conviction and removal in the Senate.

So, Democrats are talking impeachment – and everything else. It’s not just the chameleon approach. It’s also the kitchen sink approach. Throw in everything so there’s something for everyone. Every member can then contour what House Democrats are doing to their liking. But that also leaves room for interpretation. If what Democrats are pursuing isn’t defined, then the public may just presume everything is about impeachment. That means some voters probably think impeachment means – much to Pelosi’s dismay – removal from office.

That perception likely helps President Trump and harms Democrats.