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Seth Moulton: Mueller Showed Us Why House Leadership Is Failing on Impeachment

Democrats pride ourselves on being the party that chooses the hard right over the easy wrong. Whether it’s health care, civil rights, climate change, or the economy, we fight for what we believe in—not for what the polling tells us.

But we’re failing to do that today by not impeaching Donald Trump.

People often say that Democrats need to stand for more than just standing against Trump, and that’s true. But when it comes to impeachment, standing against the president is standing for something more—it’s standing for our values and for the rule of law. And, just as importantly, failing to hold him accountable would be a failure of our own—a mistake that could define the history of our party and our country.

The past two weeks alone are evidence of that. Special Counsel Robert Mueller in his testimony last week confirmed that the Trump campaign welcomed Russia’s offer of help in 2016 and then lied to cover it up. Trump’s deportation raids have stolen people from their homes across the country; his tweets have seethed with racist white nationalism; and his crowds have followed his lead by chanting “send her back,” calling for an American congresswoman to be sent back to Africa.

The case for impeachment grows even more irrefutable if you look at Trump’s presidency through a wider aperture. The past three years have seen Trump use his office for self-enrichment and be named by Michael Cohen as a co-conspirator in a federal crime. There is an abundance of evidence that he obstructed justice. He has been accused of sexual misconduct by more than 20 women. He said there were “very fine people on both sides” of a demonstration in which the two “sides” were Nazis and those standing against them—and during which a white nationalist killed a counter-protester. He has continually labeled the free press the enemy of the people, even as his words inspire violence against reporters. He has tried to ban an entire religion from a nation founded upon freedom of religion. And when our country was attacked by Russia in 2016, he didn’t defend us—he asked Russia to keep up the good work

Some of Trump’s actions are crimes, including emoluments, obstruction of justice, and campaign finance violations. Others are failures to meet the standard expected of a president—which Congress can interpret as high crimes or misdemeanors. All are impeachable offenses. 

I could run through even more of Trump’s offenses, but what’s the point? We all know these things. Everyone does. But our laws are meaningless unless they are enforced, and Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors will not matter unless we make them matter. That’s why I voted for impeachment a year and a half ago, and that’s why we must act, as a party, today.

Now I understand that people are afraid impeachment will backfire—afraid the Democratic Party will lose what we won in 2018 and must win in 2020. But I believe the political wisdom against impeachment is wrong, and history proves it. When the Watergate proceedings started against Richard Nixon, only 19% of Americans believed he should be removed from office. The numbers supporting Trump’s impeachment are far higher today, with 45% of Americans already believing the president should be impeached. But the lesson from Nixon is not to follow the polls, but to bend them in our favor.

That’s what Democrats did during Watergate. They showed the public, day after day, hearing after hearing, that the president was a criminal. By the time Nixon resigned, support for impeachment had skyrocketed to 57%.

We must do the same with impeachment today: show everyone who Trump really is, just in time for them to vote against him in 2020. And if the House sends an impeached president to the Senate, I’m just fine with the American people getting to watch Mitch McConnell—who is up for reelection in 2020—covering for Trump while Democrats stand up for justice.

Adam Jentleson, Harry Reid’s former deputy chief of staff, explained the fundamental politics of impeachment very simply: “Getting impeached is bad.” He’s right. But ultimately, bringing down his presidency is not the main reason to impeach Trump. At the end of the day, this isn’t about winning in 2020; it’s about doing the right thing. 

Every member of Congress swears an oath—not to support and defend the politics of our party, but the Constitution of our country. It’s the same oath I swore as a Marine. And the Constitution says the president “shall be removed from office on impeachment for, and conviction of, treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” In other words, if a sitting president breaks the law, they must be impeached.

That responsibility falls to us, and leaves our party with a choice that will define our legacy for generations. Our children and grandchildren will either remember us for cowering before a criminal, or for upholding the rule of law and defending the Constitution.

The right choice is clear. I hope dearly that our party will find the courage to make it.

Seth Moulton is the U.S. representative for Massachusetts’s 6th District and a Democratic candidate for president.

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