WASHINGTON — Robert Mueller’s disastrous testimony has taken the wind out of the sails of the Democratic impeachment drive. That is a victory for President Donald Trump. But it also was good news for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
For most Americans, the Mueller investigation was about whether the president of the United States conspired with Russia to steal the 2016 election. Americans were told that the president was a traitor who had colluded with Vladimir Putin to subvert U.S. democracy. So, when Mueller released his report in April finding that “the investigation did not establish that the Trump campaign coordinated with the Russian government in its election interference activities,” the country breathed a sigh of relief and was ready to move on.
A Harvard-Harris poll in May found that 65% of Americans said Congress should not begin impeachment proceedings against Trump, and 80% of Americans said they wanted their “congressional representatives working more on infrastructure, health care and immigration” instead of investigating the president. Pelosi was listening and tried to steer her caucus away from the suicidal push for impeachment.
But many Democrats refused to listen to her or the American people. Instead of focusing on substantive issues, they kept focusing on investigating Trump. Despite Mueller’s public declaration that he did not want to appear before Congress because “the report is my testimony,” they insisted he appear — even threatening to subpoena him. As a result, the prospect of Mueller’s testimony loomed over the country for months.
That was a huge risk. The Washington Post reports that Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee conducted focus groups in key battle grounds that showed “the public’s impression of the new House majority is bound up in its battles with Trump, not in its policy agenda” and the party’s preoccupation with investigations was “overshadowing the party’s agenda, threatening its grip on the House in 2020.” Rep. Charlie Crist, D-Florida, a DCCC vice chairman, warned that “it seems like there is a preoccupation with what’s happening as it relates to the White House, and so everything else sort of gets drowned out.”
Democrats took the House in 2018 by focusing on kitchen-table issues such as health care and prescription drug prices to flip districts Trump won in 2016. But the impeachment obsession is threatening vulnerable freshman Democrats in those Trump districts. Rep. Ben McAdams, D-Utah, who won in a Trump district, complained that “I’m spending zero hours per week, zero minutes per week on investigations and impeachment, and I’m spending a lot of time on the issues that my district sent me here to work on . ... But it doesn’t break through.”
Many of McAdams’s colleagues were unmoved by such entreaties. While pushing for Mueller to testify might overshadow their policy work, they calculated that it would also provide sound bites that would be politically devastating for the president. Their bet did not pay off. Mueller sounded fragile and confused, and gave Democrats no new ammunition to use against Trump. To the contrary, when he was asked by Rep. Douglas A. Collins, R-Georgia, “At any time in the investigation, was your investigation curtailed or stopped or hindered?” Mueller replied, “No.” It’s hard to make a case for obstruction when the special counsel says he was not obstructed.
Democrats’ impeachment drive was never going to work. Even if they did pass articles of impeachment, the Senate is not going to convict him. The only way they’re going to get Trump out of office is by beating him in the 2020 election. But instead of focusing on things they need to do to defeat Trump at the ballot box — such as a policy agenda to win back working-class voters who voted for Obama but defected to Trump in 2016 — they’re focused on impeachment. Not only is that not winning back those Obama-Trump voters, it is pushing them away, because it is perceived as an effort to invalidate their votes.
So, the Mueller debacle was a gift to Pelosi. She gave her Democrats a shot at making their case for impeachment, and it blew up in their faces. Yet despite the obvious failure of the Mueller hearings, some pro-impeachment Democrats are undeterred. Politico reports that in a closed-door meeting after Mueller left Capitol Hill, Jerry Nadler, D-New York, House Judiciary Committee chairman, pushed to launch impeachment proceedings. Talk about a tin ear.
Pelosi understands that if Democrats run in 2020 on impeachment and socialism they could lose not just the White House race but also their House majority as well. The question is this: Does her caucus now finally get it — or will they continue their suicidal impeachment drive?
Distributed by The Washington Post Writers Group.