Two perspectives on impeachment and northern Syria
A possible impeachment against U.S. President Donald Trump and the domestic implications of the situation at the border region between Syria and Turkey dominate the agenda on both sides of the Atlantic. We asked Peter Rough, Fellow at the conservative Hudson Institute and Young Leader 2018, and Michael Werz, Senior Fellow at the Democratic Center for American Progress and a member of the board of Atlantik-Brücke, for their views on these two issues which influence the election campaign toward the Presidential Election in 2020.
A potential impeachment against U.S. President Donald Trump keeps Washington in suspense. Has it become more likely due to this week’s developments?
Michael Werz: Yes, public support for an impeachment inquiry has grown by leaps and bounds over the past few weeks and is now at 58%. More interestingly, 49% of all Americans now want President Trump to be convicted in the Senate and removed from office. The Democratic majority in the House of Representatives will insure the initiation of the process. However, two thirds of the Senate have to support the motion to impeach a President. That means, in addition to the Democratic votes, 20 Republican Senators would have to vote against President Trump.
So, it’s unclear, as always. What is clear is that vulnerable Republican Senators who face reelection next November will have a near impossible choice: vote for Trump and alienate independent voters and some moderate Republicans or vote against him and potentially lose his hardcore supporters. This is important, since the Democrats need only four seats to win the majority in the U.S. Senate and vulnerable Republicans include Cory Gardner in Colorado, Martha McSally in Arizona, Thom Tillis in North Carolina, Joni Ernst in Iowa, and Susan Collins in Maine.
Peter Rough: The political fundamentals surrounding impeachment have not shifted over the past week. The Democratic party leadership, led by Speaker Pelosi in the House of Representatives, is overwhelmingly in support of impeachment. The Republican party, led by Senator McConnell in the Senate, vociferously disagrees. As things stand, this sets up a collision that will play out over the next year.
Prominent voices from the Republican Party have fiercely criticized the President‘s decision to withdraw U.S. troops from Syria. What does this tell us about the overall situation of the GOP?
MW: Several things: that there may still be some life left in the Republican Party; and that military retrenchment in the Middle East stirs more unease than putting Latino children into cages at the U.S.-Mexico Border, the reversal of important environmental protections, or the corrupt enrichment of the President and his family. It remains to be seen if this is a watershed moment for the Grand Old Party, if the past two and a half years and the massive support of registered Republican voters for Donald Trump are any indication, the latest crisis will pass and the party will only re-discover its traditional moral and political bearings when facing electoral defeat.
PR: So much for the criticism that Republicans in Congress are poodles of the president! In all seriousness, though, these objections show just how much esteem Turkey has lost over the past decade amongst both parties. The distrust of President Erdogan is visceral in Washington; by contrast, the Trump administration believes it has no choice but to lean on Turkey if it is to build a stable Middle Eastern order without large-scale American troops.
Many argue that from a strategic point of view it is highly risky for the Democrats to push forward with an impeachment. Does the Democratic Party fall victim to its internal dynamics with regard to the Presidential Election in 2020?
MW: It might or it might not—but that’s not the point. Congress has the obligation to defend the Constitution of the United States and sanction behavior by the President that defies the law of the land. Donald Trump openly asked for—and in the case of Ukraine, extorted—the help of foreign countries in investigating his domestic political rivals. He even asked China, perhaps the United States’ primary geopolitical rival, to meddle in American politics. By taking these steps, Trump crossed a line that made it impossible for Congress to stay silent.
Just as a reminder: Impeachable conduct is not limited to criminal behavior. There are several kinds of conduct that warrant impeachment, including 1) improperly exceeding or abusing the powers of the office; 2) behavior incompatible with the function and purpose of the office; and 3) misusing the office for an improper purpose or for personal gain. The Congressional Research Service notes that Alexander Hamilton described impeachable offenses as arising from “the misconduct of public men, or in other words from the abuse or violation of some public trust.” Such offenses were “political, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself.” Simply put: In a democracy, the sovereign may not act arbitrarily, nor abuse his office for his own personal gain.
PR: The Democrats are convinced that President Trump is a highly vulnerable incumbent on a glide path to defeat. If that assumption is correct, introducing a highly combustible external variable like impeachment is a risky proposition. In my view, the odds that the Democratic party overreaches is 100 percent. The extent to which that shapes the presidential election – and does so decisively – is anyone’s guess.