To impeach or not to impeach? Do Democrats win in 2020 with impeachment, or does Trump? Jeff Cohen and Kamau Franklin discuss the topic with host Jacqueline Luqman
NANCY PELOSI: Make no mistake. We know exactly what path we’re on, we know exactly what actions we need to take. And while that may take more time than some people want it to take, I respect their impatience. There is no controversy or “try this, try that.” We are on a path. So if it gives you some entertainment to make it look like–disabuse yourself of that. This is a very, very strong team that we have.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network. And welcome to Trending Topics, our weekly discussion of some of the major issues in U.S. politics.
In our first segment, we’ll discuss whether the Democrats should impeach Trump or not. And in the second segment, we’ll talk about Joe Biden and his record on unions. What is it really? First, even though no definitive declaration of guilt or charges came from the Mueller report, it was unequivocal about what should happen or what the response should be in regard to Trump’s acts of obstruction. From the report: “The conclusion that Congress may apply obstruction laws to the President’s corrupt exercise of the powers of office accords with our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.” Direct quote from the report. But Democrats seem to be divided on whether impeachment should be pursued or not. So our question is: to impeach, or not to impeach.
Joining me today to discuss this are Jeff Cohen. Jeff is co-founder of RootsAction.org and the founder of the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, or FAIR. He is also the author of Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media. Thanks for joining me, Jeff.
JEFF COHEN: Nice to be with you.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And Kamau Franklin. Kamau is an attorney and founder of Community Movement Builders, Inc. Hi Kamau, thank you for joining me.
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Thanks for having me.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So Jeff, I want to start with you. Your organization, RootsAction, has created a campaign with a list of reasons to impeach Trump that go far beyond just what was highlighted in the Mueller report in regard to obstruction of justice. Talk about that campaign and what that means in the context of impeaching Trump. And your thoughts on whether the Democrats should impeach him or not.
JEFF COHEN: Yeah. I think the Democratic leadership has been wrong on this. They’ve been obstructionists. They should have proceeded long ago. You had the Democratic leader saying for two years, “We’re waiting for the Muller report.” Then, “We’re waiting for the full unredacted Muller report.” Then, “We’re waiting for Mueller to testify” is what some of them are saying. It’s gotten beyond silly. As you pointed out, Jacqueline, at RootsAction we have 21 different grounds for impeachment.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: 21.
JEFF COHEN: Well, when the Democratic leadership and Pelosi have put all of their eggs in this basket of Muller report or obstruction of the Russia investigation, it’s sort of ridiculous because it normalizes the other things that Trump has done that is unprecedented in previous presidencies. For example, he refused to divest from his business interest. That’s a violation of two anti-corruption clauses in the Constitution. And corporate interests and foreign governments have been lining up at his Washington DC hotel and spending money, and the Democrats have talked about “Mueller, Mueller. Russia, Russia.” The Muslim ban violates the First Amendment. You can’t discriminate against a religion. He’s abused the pardon power. He’s politicized federal prosecutions.
He’s attacked freedom of the press, and more importantly, has threatened to use federal agencies against news outlets that have been critical of him. He’s twice invoked national security and emergency explicitly to get around the Congress’s authority to appropriate funds. So all this craziness where the Democrats whine and moan and say, “This isn’t good with the Constitution,” but they’ve never used the word impeachment in the context of all these other things, which is something they should have talked about all along. And then obstruction of Russia is just one more icing on the cake. So that’s the problem with the Democratic leadership. It’s just folk connecting impeachment to obstruction on the Russia investigation, allowing all these other things to not be considered impeachable offenses.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So Kamau Franklin, what are your thoughts on what Jeff just said? Not just that the Democrats should pursue impeachment of Trump, but they should pursue impeachment of Trump not just for what came out of the Muller report but for at least 21 other reasons.
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Well, I think on the first point, I actually agree with Jeff that the Mueller Report is the least of the reasons that Trump should–if he were to be impeached–should be impeached. His immigration policies have led to the separation of children from families which has led to six or seven deaths of young kids. His war tactics in Venezuela, his support for the war in Yemen, which has caused a humanitarian crisis, I think are far more impeachable offenses. However, I don’t think that the Democratic Party should impeach Trump, particularly around the Mueller Report issue or the Russians, because I think that’s a red herring for what’s needed in terms of wiping a clean slate. I think the Democrats need to focus on, instead of the Russians, on what is it that caused Trump to win in the first place and what is it about the weak candidate in terms of Hillary Clinton, and potentially the new weak candidates that they’re putting up, that they can’t beat Trump at the ballot box.
And so I think there are far more important issues for the Democrats to focus in on, particularly since an impeachment here, as in any indictment, won’t lead to him being thrown out of office because the Senate will never agree to that impeachment and they will just vote it down. I think the Democrats need to worry about why they can’t get their base out, why they can’t convince working class whites to vote for them as opposed to voting for an overt racist who is going after them with putting out ideas about demographic changes and if they’re going to be threatened. So I think the Democrats need to figure out what is it that they need to do to connect to more voters, as opposed to going down this rabbit hole of impeachment, which I think is a political stunt which won’t necessarily get them what they think it’s going to get them, anyway.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So Jeff, what is your response to what Kamau said, that the Democrats would do better to focus on why they could not beat a candidate like Trump going into 2020, as opposed to focusing on trying to impeach Trump in the environment in which a Republican Senate wouldn’t vote to impeach him in the first place?
JEFF COHEN: Yeah. Well, I agree completely with the criticism that the Democrats have to figure out how to reach voters. And I think it’s really illustrative that in November 2018 when the Democrats didn’t pick up all these congressional seats and they did exit polls and they asked people what were the issues that you voted on, and the Democrats won pretty soundly. They mentioned health care, they mentioned economic–you know, bread and butter issues. Almost no one mentioned Russia collusion. So my point is that if you’re looking to reach working class voters– including white working class voters as Kamau talked about–and you had talked for the previous two years instead of “Russia, Russia, Russia” from the Democratic leadership and the news outlets allied with the Democratic leadership like CNN, like MSNBC.
If they had been talking about here’s a president that refuses to divest his business interests and he’s engaging in corruption, self-dealing at the hotels that he owns, that’s something that everyone can understand. Every voter can get greed, can get self-dealing, self-interest, corruption. Whether Papadopoulos or Carter Page colluded with the Russians is a little more difficult, it’s a little more abstract. So I believe the Democrats have just bungled it by focusing on the wrong issues, and now they’re stuck. And if Pelosi waits any longer, then impeachment just won’t be possible. And I believe impeachment is a good thing. It’s an indictment, even if they–and it brings out all this information the U.S. public doesn’t know about, even if the Republican Senate does not convict. It still hurts Trump.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So on this note of hurting Trump, Kamau, Vice News reported that impeaching Trump–I know it might sound a little bit conspiratorial–but they reported that impeaching Trump might be a part of a plan or a trap that Trump is setting for the Democrats if they do pursue it. What are your thoughts on this idea that impeachment might not be a good strategy for the Democrats going into 2020, especially if they’re only going to focus on Russian collusion or obstruction of justice from the Mueller Report? But it might end up being a boost for Trump in 2020.
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Well, let me start by saying I don’t think Trump is smart enough to set a trap for anybody, so I don’t think it’s a trap that he’s trying to set. I think he ultimately wouldn’t want to be impeached because as a president and having sort of that hung over year legacy, I don’t think it’s something that he would want. And he wouldn’t want all that information that would come out about his financial history, his background, collusion in terms of his business interests, and potentially more information that would come out around international policy, and even his contacts internationally with the Russians and others would not be something that he’d want to spend the next year or two defending. However, I do think, similar to the Clinton era, that an impeachment would only stiffen the backs of his supporters. It would only make them think that, “Hey, look, they’re going after this guy not based on his record but based on just trying to push him out, and that’s not fair.”
So I don’t think it does a whole lot to convince those folks who voted for him the first time, or people who are on the fence who didn’t vote at all, that there is a good reason now to vote for someone else. So again, I think more time should be spent–as Jeff mentioned–on serious issues like healthcare, student debt, the wealth gap between average Americans and the billionaire class. I think there’s international foreign policy issues that may not be huge around voters, but I think they have huge interests in terms of saving lives that also can be focused in terms of the international arena. So I think there are other real issues that the Democrats can spin now up until election day going after. And I think it shows in their whole party that they’re not completely convinced about this idea anyway, although I think there’s a strong current for some Democrats in the House to say, “Let’s go after this impeachment.” I think the reason Nancy Pelosi has been heading off is because there’s also a split within her ranks of folks who don’t also want to impeach because they don’t want to give this platform to Trump that will again harden his support with his base.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: I’m glad you mentioned Nancy Pelosi and the seemingly disfractured or fractured coalition in the Democratic Party, because–and it speaks to what Jeff also said about Nancy Pelosi shouldn’t wait too long to impeach. Here’s what Nancy Pelosi has actually said recently about impeaching Trump at this point.
NANCY PELOSI: Do you know most people think that impeachment means you’re out of office? Did you ever get that feeling or are you just in a bubble here? But you get impeached and it’s an indictment, it’s an indictment. So when you’re impeaching somebody, you want to make sure you have the strongest possible indictment, because it’s not the means to the end that people think.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Now, that’s what Nancy Pelosi said. And Jeff, I want to ask you this question, and then Kamau, I want to give you the last word on this. Democratic presidential candidates–as you’ve both alluded to–Warren, Harris, Booker, and Gillibrand, were very clear in their support of immediate impeachment. Pelosi has alluded to having a plan, but even the head of the House Judiciary Committee, and Sanders and Biden, were not as committal on immediate impeachment. Jeff, does this disunity among the Democratic Party make the Democratic Party look weak at this moment?
JEFF COHEN: I think Pelosi’s leadership is one of the main reasons they look weak. They look vacillating to try to seem more militant than the progressives in the Democratic Party that want impeachment, and impeachment on issues beyond Russia and obstruction. To sort of outflank them, you heard Nancy Pelosi recently say he should be imprisoned, not impeached. That kind of thing is stupid. It makes you seem erratic, it makes you look unsteady when you need firm leadership. Again, if all they do is move toward an impeachment because of Russia, or obstruction of the Russia probe, that’s stupid. But if they go to these broader issues that Kamau and I have identified, that would I think raise consciousness, would get swing voters perhaps away from Trump, would hurt Trump. I don’t believe for a moment when Pelosi says, “Oh, Trump wants impeachment.” Trump absolutely is afraid of impeachment, does not want impeachment. If there is impeachment on the real issues, it hurts Trump even with his own base.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Kamau, what do you say to that?
KAMAU FRANKLIN: I mean, I think there’s truth to that. But again, I just don’t know if I think the tool of impeachment is going to get Democrats what they want in terms of those swing voters. I do think having–and I’m hard left on most of these issues, but I do think that it is important for the Democrats to be able to bring over a certain percentage of white votes in certain areas and to solidify their base in the black community. And I think we’ll probably talk a little about this later on, but I think the candidates that are currently running–except for a few–are particularly weak in terms of solidifying particularly the black base and the brown base of the Democratic Party.
So I do think there is a scramble for looking for different ways to get at Trump. He seems to be sort of Teflon when it comes to the base of support that he has, but I don’t know, again, if I think that impeachment somehow moves some of these folks who are on the fence over. I think Trump’s disruptive behavior may help to do that, I think the policy issues that Trump stands for, again, may also help to move folks over, but I think in some ways, the impeachment hardens the base and doesn’t necessarily lead to a rushing of voters in the middle over to the Democratic side.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Well, we have to leave this discussion here. Thank you both for joining me to talk about this issue that we will surely continue watching.
KAMAU FRANKLIN: Thank you.
JEFF COHEN: Thank you.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And thank you for watching. This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network in Baltimore.