As American politics grow more divisive and confrontational, many on the left are calling for President Trump’s impeachment and removal from office. One of the main arguments I’ve heard against impeachment is that it would empower the current vice president, Mike Pence, and would prompt a resurgence from the religious right. But Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-MD) convinced me that empowering Pence shouldn’t be a barrier to making the decision to remove the president if he proves unfit or has engaged in illegal activity.
Raskin spoke recently at the American Humanist Association’s annual lobby day on Capitol Hill, and while the bulk of his remarks focused on topics like the Johnson Amendment and his bipartisan work to protect religious freedom abroad, the congressman also touched on a bill he introduced in April, the Oversight Commission on Presidential Capacity Act, which would create a commission of medical advisers to evaluate the president and determine if he is physically and mentally able to carry out the job. Raskin was not dissuaded by the argument that a President Pence would actually be worse for the United States than keeping Trump in office, as he demonstrated how Pence is already getting what he wants in terms of the policy that comes out of the Trump administration. As things stand Pence is getting his way and staying clear of most of the negative fallout from those policy decisions, since “tacky Trump” is an adhesive for criticism to a similar extreme as “Teflon Ron” Reagan was known for repelling it.
Thinking back over the past year, it’s clear that Raskin is spot-on regarding Pence’s influence on policy. On essentially every issue that matters to him, Vice President Pence has gotten his way. Discriminating against transgender members of the military? Check. Threatening women’s autonomy and limiting their access to contraception? Check. Moving to repeal the Johnson Amendment and weaken the separation between church and state? Check. Proposing to defund Planned Parenthood? Check. Pushing aside the Clean Power Plan that got in the way of Pence’s coal company funders? Check. Getting a religious extremist on the U.S. Supreme Court? Check. And the list goes on.
None of these regressive policy positions should be surprising, as Pence made a name for himself while still governor of Indiana as a religious extremist who was willing to push a state RFRA bill at the expense of his state’s economy. There’s little doubt that a President Pence would be antithetical to humanist values, but there’s something to be said for forcing the issue now, getting his extreme ideas unveiled, and thus exposing a possible future Pence presidential run.
If Trump is impeached, either on the recommendation of a medical commission or because it’s proven that he illegally colluded with Russia to win the election, Americans shouldn’t expect a significant departure from the current administration’s policy agenda. And it’s also fair to say it shouldn’t get any worse. As a bonus, at least Pence isn’t as likely to antagonize dictators like Kim Jong-un with tweets. By boldly pushing forward we can minimize the immediate danger, serve justice, and pave the way for a better future.