There are already plenty of grounds to impeach Donald Trump. The really interesting question is when key Republicans will decide that he’s more of a liability than an asset.
If Trump keeps sucking up to Vladimir Putin, it could happen sooner than you think.
The first potential count is Trump’s war with the courts. The Supreme Court is likely to give expedited review to the order by the 9th Circuit upholding Judge James Robart’s order that tossed out Trump’s bans on immigrants or refugees from seven countries, even permanent US residents and others with valid green cards.
It’s encouraging that the agencies of government, such as the State Department and the Department of Homeland Security, immediately deferred to the court order, not to a president who thinks he can govern by decree.
But suppose the Supreme Court finds against Trump? Will he try to defy the high court? That would be a first-class impeachable offense. Even Richard Nixon deferred to a Supreme Court order to turn over the Watergate tapes.
A second category of impeachable offense involves his mixing his personal profits with his official duties as president. That describes his bizarre romance with Vladimir Putin, who presides over a nation where Trump has extensive business interests, as well as Trump’s double standards in determining which Muslim nations were exempted from his executive order.
Republican alarm at Trump continues to increase at an accelerating rate.
What are the odds that Trump randomly excluded Muslim nations in which he has business interests? These were precisely nations that did send terrorists. The covered countries sent no terrorists, and had no Trump investments.
Meanwhile, the CIA investigation of Trump’s bizarre coziness with Putin continues.
I know, I know ― impeachment requires charges by the House, and then a trial by the Senate. And these chambers are of course controlled by Republicans.
However, Republican alarm at Trump continues to increase at an accelerating rate.
What is most appalling Republicans right now is Trump’s weird habit of apologizing for Putin. The dam broke Sunday morning, when Trump compared Putin’s Russia with America one time too often.
Even Bill O’Reilly pushed back: “Putin’s a killer,” O’Reilly said.
“You got a lot of killers,” Trump shot back. “What, you think our country’s so innocent?”
This claim of equivalence, usually limited to the far left in the Soviet era, was too much for even the most loyal of Republicans.
“He’s a thug,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said of Putin (though he could have been describing Trump.) Speaking on CNN’s “State of the Union,” McConnell added, “The Russians annexed Crimea, invaded Ukraine and messed around in our elections. No, I don’t think there’s any equivalency between the way the Russians conduct themselves and the way the United States does.”
It was also too much for the Wall Street Journal editorial page: “Trump puts US on moral par with Putin’s Russia,” the Wall Street Journal’s Bret Stephens tweeted. “Never in history has a President slandered his country like this.”
Several other Republican senators quickly followed suit.
Something is just plain fishy about Trump’s Putophilia. It can’t just be one thug’s admiration for another. Either Trump is looking to his business deals, or it’s a valentine for Putin’s help with turning the election, in expectation of more such help. Or maybe both.
Do we really want President Pence? Well, we certainly want to be rid of President Trump.
So here is an impeachment scenario that looks increasingly plausible:
Republicans stick with Trump for a while, as he delivers goodies like deregulation of gas, oil and Wall Street, tax cuts, school privatization, gutting of labor protection, and at least one rightwing Supreme Court justice. But at some point, the GOP leadership concludes that he is just too bizarre, too much of a hazard for setting off wars, both trade wars and hot ones, and too much of a risk for 2018.
So they decide to ditch him in favor of Vice President Pence, who is a more conventional far-right conservative and not a certifiable whack-job. I’m told by one source that this is already being discussed in senior Republican circles.
Republicans could do this either via impeachment, a protracted process that plays out while a wounded Trump can do even more impulsive and vengeful damage. Or they could move more quickly via the 25th Amendment to have Trump certified as impaired, and take him out in a net.
The wager is that Republicans would then get credit for ridding America of an unstable would-be dictator, and they could regroup under Pence in time to limit damage in the 2018 election. Trump was never their guy anyway.
Hold on, do we really want President Pence? Well, we certainly want to be rid of President Trump. That might actually be something the two parties could agree upon.
As for Pence, he took what looked to be the doomed job as Trump’s running mate, mainly because it offered him an exit from Indiana, where he was a monumentally unpopular and inept governor. Democrats could do a lot worse than having Pence as the opposition.
Also, the dwindling hard core of Trump zealots did not exactly vote for tax cuts for the rich and cuts in Social Security and Medicare when they voted for Trump. They didn’t vote for Goldman Sachs running the economic team, and they didn’t vote for Putin. Then again, neither did they vote for Mike Pence, not exactly Mr. Populist.
Replacing the impeached Nixon with the well-liked Gerald Ford in 1974 did not work out so for the Republicans, who lost record seats in that November’s mid-term.
This is totally uncharted territory, people.
Robert Kuttner is co-editor of The American Prospect and professor at Brandeis University’s Heller School. His latest book is Debtors’ Prison: The Politics of Austerity Versus Possibility. http://www.amazon.com/Debtors-Prison-Politics-Austerity-Possibility/dp/0307959805
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