There are three things happening in America: first, a constitutional crisis between the executive and the legislature that will slowly but surely wind its way to the judiciary; second an impeachment move by Democrats in the House of Representatives that is steadily gathering momentum with the people, both Republican and Democrat; and third, the President, Donald Trump, getting down to new lows in his rhetoric that has rarely been seen in American history, even by his own standards. And adding to the woes of a beleaguered Presidency is the noticeable drift in foreign policy as in the abandonment of the Kurds in Syria that has left allies in the Middle East, Europe and even in America fuming and for good reasons.
America is yet to recover from the rancor in the aftermath of the 2016 Presidential election where nearly everyone, excepting of course the President, was convinced of Russian meddling to the advantage of Trump. The “neither here nor there” Mueller Report did not clear the air of misgivings and in the midst of all this comes the news that the President has once again elicited foreign help by way of Ukraine to nail down one of his chief election opponents in November 2020, the former vice-president and currently a Democratic front-runner, Joseph Biden. The “dirt” Trump is looking for against Biden also involves his son, Hunter Biden, who had served on the Board of an Ukranian gas company when Biden was the vice-president under President Barack Obama.
Trump phones a friend in Kiev
All this is said to have transpired in a telephone conversation between President Trump and his newly elected counterpart in Kiev Volodymyr Zelensky and observed with alarm by an officer of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) working at the White House who has now come to be known as Whistleblower 1. Subsequently another whistleblower has emerged who has by and large confirmed what the first had to say and has added even more powerful ammunition. The conversation that President Trump had with Zelensky was said to be “crazy”, among other characterisations. If Zelensky did not comply with the demands of the American President, then some US$ 400 millions in military assistance would not find its way to the Ukraine, Trump and his officials are said to have alluded to. And as if to legitimise all this, Trump publicly called on China also to “investigate” the Bidens.
The brazen fashion in which the President has gone about, first in his threat to Kiev to either come up with dirt against Biden or face a freeze in allocated funds and later on trying to turn the tables on Democrats by saying that the whistleblowers were either spies or agents of his political opponents, only made matters worse. It hardened the Democrats, including those running for the Presidency in 2020, especially Biden who had maintained a stoic silence on whether a President should be impeached or not. Now with Trump coming out with blazing guns and accusing Democrats of anything and everything under the sun, House Democrats led by Nancy Pelosi, the Speaker are determined more than ever to proceed the impeachment route. And Biden has fallen in line as well.
Trump’s loose lips
Trump’s response to all this was well below even his standards of decency. At a rally in Minneapolis he lashed out at Democrats as “very sick and deranged people”; called Pelosi as “either really stupid or she’s really lost it, or maybe there is a certain dishonesty in there”. But he reserved his “best” insult for Biden: “He was only a good vice-president because he knew how to kiss Barack Obama’s ass”. But other than Trump and his ragtag supporters of the far right, few seem to be enjoying the invectives knowing full well the political consequences of getting out of control. The President’s loose lips seems to be apparently correlated to the string of subpoenas the House of Representatives is issuing on a daily basis. But the President and the White House have made it very clear that they will not be appearing before any committees and have warned individuals against going before the panels.
Even Fox News backs impeachment
If Trump seems to be losing his temper and indulging in new lows of American politics, it is not on account of Biden, Pelosi or Hunter; and certainly not the small handful of Republicans like Senator Mitt Romney expressing anguish and disgust. A lot of Trump’s outburst has to do with the raft of opinion polls that say the President has to be impeached and removed from office; particularly so from the President’s favorite network, Fox News, that till very recently he maintained could do no wrong. The conservative network that in many ways was the lone ranger supporter of Trump had a poll that showed 51 per cent of the respondents wanting to have Trump impeached and removed from office; and a further 4 per cent saying that the President should be impeached but not removed from office.
Worse for Trump, the Fox News poll showed 66 per cent saying that the President should not have approached Ukraine for digging up dirt on Biden and 51 per cent taking the view that Trump is more corrupt than previous Presidents. The Fox News poll also revealed that support for impeachment has risen among the key allies of Trump — evangelical Christians, rural whites, white men without college degrees and especially in swing counties that has shown a 10 per cent rise for impeachment. As is his wont, Trump was furious at his Fox poll. “Whoever their pollster is, they suck”, going on to lament that Fox News anchors were not as they once were.
Bringing back memories of Bill
At this time both Democrats and Trump are digging in and America knows the trauma of going through with the impeachment process, the last of which was seen in 1998 involving President Bill Clinton. There are six Committees of the House of Representatives — Intelligence, Judiciary, Oversight, Ways and Means, Financial Services and Foreign Affairs — that are investigating the conduct of the President. The articles of impeachment could come in any number of ways such as an individual member, a committee or committees or from the House Judiciary Committee. The article(s) of impeachment are then brought before the House for a simple majority vote. The Democrats have the numbers as there are 235 members with 230 said to be in favor of Impeachment. The Republicans have 197 members with one independent and one vacancy.
If the House Democrats vote to impeach the President, the articles of impeachment move to the Senate for trial with the Chief Justice of the US Supreme Court presiding over the proceedings. In the Senate a two-thirds vote is required to convict and remove a President from office. There have been two impeachments in American history but no convictions — Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998. In the face of impeachment proceedings, Richard Nixon resigned in 1974. Hence if the numbers game stays, Trump will be impeached in the House but acquitted in the Senate where Republicans have a 53 to 47 majority (two independent Senators caucusing with Democrats) as 20 Republican Senators would have to switch sides to remove Trump from office, seen as an unlikely scenario at this point of time.
But all the numbers are up for grabs and is very much tied down to the movement in opinion polls, especially in the swing states. And President Trump is very much aware of this shifting scene in American electoral process. The President’s confident outward posture coupled with his rants against Democrats are to humor and keep his mainstream supporters in line; yet at the same time the nervousness of the President is also reflected in his calling the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell of Kentucky two to three times on a daily basis (according to reports) expressing anger and apprehensions on a small group of Republican Senators who have been critical on the Ukraine issue. Trump knows full well that should this number rise, he is surely in trouble, BIG TIME! Veterans in the Grand Old Party are aware that on November 3, 2020 they will be defending 23 seats in the Senate as opposed to 12 by Democrats and that the Opposition need to wrest only four to become the majority party in the Senate.
(Dr. Sridhar Krishnawami, former senior journalist in Washington D.C. covering North America and the United Nations)
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