Last week, the U.S. House approved a resolution setting procedures for the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump. The vote was largely split along party lines — two Democrats joined every Republican in voting against the resolution, while one Republican-turned-independent voted with the Democrats in support.
It’s a historic vote, we are told — only the third time in modern history that the U.S. House has formalized an impeachment process for a sitting president.
I noticed something peculiar in the weeks leading up to the official impeachment resolution. While the prospect of the president’s removal has dominated the national media, Iowa’s federally elected representatives were none too eager to talk about it.
U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst, a Republican ally of the president, has been criticized by her detractors for not coming out strongly enough against Trump’s apparent misconduct.
During a visit to Cedar Rapids last month, a CNN reporter asked Ernst whether it was appropriate for the president to ask a foreign leader to investigate a political rival, as Trump appears to have done in his July phone call with the president of Ukraine.
“We have a picture that’s painted by media and we don’t know what’s accurate or not,” Ernst said, declining to answer the question with a simple yes or no.
When Democratic U.S. Rep. Cindy Axne held a town hall meeting in Waukee last month, some Trump supporters in the audience pressed her about the impeachment inquiry, Iowa Starting Line reported from the event. At one point, an Axne staffer reportedly offered to discuss impeachment in the lobby. Perhaps it was too touchy of a subject for the representative to discuss in detail in front of constituents.
Axne said she supports the impeachment inquiry, but pivoted to discussing her other priorities.
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“I’m sure we could sit here all night talking about that, but that’s the answer to the question,” Axne said, according to Iowa Starting Line. “That’s what I support. Also, I want to talk about the other issues the people in this district are facing.”
The “other issues” line acts as an escape hatch for Republicans and Democrats who don’t want to exert too much political capital on the impeachment discussion. With a competitive U.S. Senate race and as many as four competitive U.S. House races — including three swing districts that voted for Trump in 2016, then elected Democrats in 2018 — politicians correctly calculate that taking a bold stance on impeachment is a no-win situation.
But maybe now that the U.S. House has formalized the impeachment inquiry — you know, that very historic and very important vote last week — our elected leaders will rise above political calculus.
Not so much. Statements published by Iowa’s political elites were painfully boring, leaning heavily on the same talking points they have been crafting for weeks.
Democrats support the investigation, but won’t speak too strongly or specifically about presidential misconduct. Meanwhile, Republicans continue to dismiss the process as “the far-left’s witch hunt,” to borrow a term from Iowa GOP chairman Jeff Kaufmann.
Some Americans maintain a fantasy about historic moments such as this, holding out hope that our elected leaders will rise to the challenge and be statesmen instead of politicians, guided by the law and their legacies rather than by electoralism. That, I’m sorry to say, will never happen.
Impeachment, like everything Congress does, is a purely political process. Lawmakers will support or oppose it only insofar as it benefits their own careers.
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