“When I use a word,” Humpty Dumpty said in a rather scornful tone, “It means just what I choose it to mean – nothing more nor less.”
“The question is,” said Alice, “Whether you can make words mean so many different things.”
– Lewis Carroll, Through the Looking Glass
It appears that via “Local Rule 57.6” and “pursuant to Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e)” that Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee may be trying to impeach President Trump.
Or they may not.
The clauses stated above are among the first lines in a petition the committee filed late last week in federal court “FOR AN ORDER AUTHORIZING THE RELEASE OF CERTAIN GRAND JURY MATERIALS.” Those documents pertain to the Mueller Report. They could help lawmakers set the stage for impeachment.
So are Congressional Democrats trying to impeach the President or not?
“An impeachment inquiry is not an official thing,” said one Judiciary Committee counsel.
Instead, lawmakers on the committee say the court filing is just part of a Democratic inquest "to determine if they should recommend articles of impeachment."
Perhaps Congressional Democrats are attempting to hold paradoxical postures. Impeaching Mr. Trump. But not really. It’s like the duality of superposition in quantum mechanics. Things which simultaneously occupy two linear states.
Is this possible?
Could the St. Louis Cardinals also be the Chicago White Sox? Is chocolate ice cream also Jamoca caramel fudge? Was Dick York also Dick Sargent playing Darren on Bewitched?
Democrats on the Judiciary Committee tried to straighten this all out for reporters at a puzzling press conference Friday. But they may have inadvertently muddied it for everyone.
“Too much has been made of the phrase ‘impeachment inquiry,’” protested House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY). “We are doing what our court filing says we are doing. What I said we are doing.”
Nadler added that the objective of the exercise was to determine “whether to recommend articles of impeachment.”
“Impeachment isn’t a binary thing that you either are or you aren’t,” said Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA). “We’re engaging in an investigation to see if we should recommend articles of impeachment.”
“We are now crossing a threshold,” said Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-TX). “We are now officially entering into an examination of whether or not to recommend articles of impeachment.”
If Democrats can’t make clear what they’re doing on impeachment, Congressional Republicans are more than happy to explain things for them.
“Democrats want to convince their base they’re still wedded to impeachment even after this week’s hearing,” said Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), the top Republican on the Judiciary panel.
In other words, Republicans are more than happy to deem this gambit as impeachment. Apply the duck test. If it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck….
The public doesn’t have the time to parse the language of “Federal Rule of Criminal Procedure 6(e).” If voters keep hearing that Democrats are pursuing “impeachment,” well then, they’ll perceive this as impeachment.
“From my personal standpoint, I think we are in an impeachment investigation,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD).
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) noted that there is no written roadmap to handle impeachment. Swalwell observed that the House took divergent approaches with the effort to impeach President Nixon compared to President Clinton.
“When you look at different Congresses and the way they’ve addressed it, they’ve done it in different ways,” said Swalwell.
The articles of impeachment against the President drafted by Rep. Al Green (D-TX) never wound their way through any committee. Green tried to force an immediate vote on the floor two weeks ago. It’s conceivable the House could have impeached Mr. Trump on the spot had the House not blocked Green.
Therein lies the problem for Democrats. All the public hears is “impeachment.” They don’t understand the steps and the nuances. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) really isn’t ready to impeach the President – telling as much to Nadler and other committee chairs following the Mueller hearings last week.
Initially there was but a trickle of Democrats who reoriented themselves into the impeachment camp following Mueller’s less-than-convincing testimony. There are a few more now. But there’s concern that some Democrats are now supporting impeachment because they fear a primary challenge from the left. Announcing one is “for” impeachment helps inoculate Democrats who could find themselves out of alignment with the Democrats’ leftist base.
Rep. Lori Trahan (D-MA) was one of the first House Democrats to come out in favor of impeachment following the Mueller hearings. Trahan served as an aide for former Rep. Marty Meehan (D-MA) during the impeachment of President Clinton in 1998.
“My experience as a staffer during the Clinton impeachment puts a different lens on it. I know how disruptive it will be to the country,” said Trahan.
When asked if she felt she was on an island, Trahan replied “I think there were a lot of people on the island before I made my announcement.”
But Democrats from swing states and swing districts started to declare their support for impeachment, too.
Freshman Rep. Mike Levin (D-CA) is one now pushing impeachment. Levin just flipped a district from red to blue last fall after former Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) retired.
Rep. Annie Kuster (D-NH) announced she was for impeachment last week. Kuster’s from a battleground state. Her district has been a swing district in the past. Freshman Rep. Chris Pappas (D-NH) also added his voice to the impeachment cavalcade. Pappas’s district has been one of the “swingiest” districts in the country, dating back to 2006.
It’s easy to be for impeachment in liberal districts. It’s another matter in “purple” districts. Democrats from the Judiciary Committee are sketchy at best as to whether they are “in” an impeachment investigation - or inquiry - or not. So Republicans will clean up the nebulousness for them. They’ll say that Democrats are conducting an impeachment probe – and moderate Democrats from those swing districts will have to address it.
Moreover, Democrats must define this over the all-important August Congressional recess. The House skated out of town a day early last week, not to return until September 9. Nothing exists in a vacuum. President Trump can fill the space while lawmakers are on their August respite. And the message to fill the August void from Judiciary Committee Democrats? That they were kinda-sorta-maybe trying to impeach the President.
This is not the portrait rank-and-file Democrats need for six weeks. That’s especially the case when polling consistently reveals impeachment to be a losing political proposition for Democrats.
In fact, one attorney on the Judiciary Committee even suggested Democrats appear to mean different things when they say they support or don’t support an impeachment inquiry.
So, this is pretty hazy for Democrats – and not the narrative they need in battleground districts. Reporters will likely spend most of the month asking Democrats where they stand on impeachment. That consumes a lot of oxygen from bread and butter issues on which Democrats would rather focus. Just before the break, Pelosi sent a “Dear Colleague” letter to Democrats, imploring her foot soldiers to “OWN AUGUST.” Pelosi hoped Democrats would focus on paycheck issues, health care and the costs of prescription drugs.
But instead, Democrats may burn valuable time clarifying their stances on impeachment.
Are we in an impeachment inquiry or investigation? Let’s go to Humpty Dumpty. When it comes to impeachment, it may just mean what Democrats “choose it to mean.”
And, how the public interprets it.