Democrats Aren’t Feeding the Impeachment Trolls

(Bloomberg Opinion) -- As the House Judiciary Committee continues to consider the articles of impeachment, many close observers are saying that Democrats are all too content to sit on the sidelines while Republicans slam the proceedings as a sham. 

That’s not entirely true, of course. When Republicans argued that Congress should always defer to the courts when presidents defy House subpoenas, California’s Zoe Lofgren gave an extremely strong defense of the rights of Congress, while also noting that President Donald Trump’s refusal to cooperate with the investigation was made without raising any particular privilege. In other words, Trump and the House aren’t arguing over a particular point of constitutional interpretation; Trump is simply asserting that he doesn’t have to cooperate if he doesn’t want to. That’s something, as Lofgren argued, that’s up to Congress to remedy. 

But in several cases, Democrats are letting thing go. Journalist Marcy Wheeler, who knows this material as well as anyone, is among those frustrated. She recently tweeted, “Dems are really acting negligent here. There’s so much to respond to this one.”

Is she right? Are Democrats being negligent or simply getting rolled? Or have they made a strategic choice?

There is some upside to allowing Republicans to rant on and on — especially the ones who prefer to shout. At a certain point, the objections begin to sound like white noise, or the mumbly adults in Charlie Brown’s world. If Democrats were to challenge them, it would elevate the Republican points and bait the news media into presenting bland reports about “both sides” of the debate — a debate that they would rather not have. 

Instead, Democrats are typically using their time to make their case for impeaching Trump. That’s not a bad strategy given the alternative. 

The media loves to do political analysis — how the impeachment is playing, what the electoral implications are — rather than just saying what happened. And especially when the likely outcome in the Senate is an acquittal, the House procedures are likely to produce stories about the futility of the Democrats’ actions, rather than about what Democrats see as the extent of Trump’s malfeasance and the importance of impeachment. 

At the same time, Republicans appear to be mainly concerned not with convincing anyone, but in producing talking points for Republican-aligned media. That’s why they don’t mind repeating entirely discredited assertions, such as the claim that former Vice President Joe Biden was attempting to stop an investigation into his son’s company by getting a Ukrainian prosecutor fired when in fact Biden was — as the witnesses all said — trying to get Ukraine to replace a corrupt prosecutor who wasn’t investigating that company with one who would fight corruption. What this means is that even when Democrats do counter Republican points, it won’t change anything.

Granted, it is very frustrating to those who are watching along at home and seeing opportunities for their side to score debating points. For better or worse, that’s not how anyone keeps score of these kinds of events.

Not that I'm complaining; that's a lot of what I do here at Opinion. It can be valuable!

This column does not necessarily reflect the opinion of the editorial board or Bloomberg LP and its owners.

Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist covering politics and policy. He taught political science at the University of Texas at San Antonio and DePauw University and wrote A Plain Blog About Politics.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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