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Long IslandColumnistsDan Janison

"No time like the present" explains House impeachment vote

Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) speaks as the House

Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) speaks as the House debates articles of impeachment on Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019. Credit: AP

Since the House impeachment articles appeared doomed in the Senate from the outset, a strategic question remains as to why Democrats in Congress chose last week to move against President Donald Trump.

After all, on the very day of the party-line impeachment vote, a Gallup Poll showed Trump's overall approval rating up six points from the start of the House inquiry.

One answer may lie in the timing of their own congressional races in tandem with the presidential contest.

To maintain power, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) must rally a majority that is barely a year old and perhaps shaky in some districts.

Among Democrats — the key audience for this exercise — Trump's approval rating is only 8 percent. This impeachment vote creates a national declaration of party solidarity.

Months ago, Pelosi resisted impeachment calls from hard-liners in her conference. But last Wednesday she rationalized that Trump left them “no choice" but to proceed.

“If we do not act now, we are derelict in our duty,” she said before the big vote.

Clearly Pelosi & Co. found Trump’s Ukraine scandal better suited to the purpose than whatever obstruction case could be crafted from the Mueller report in April.

Trump's push to get a foreign government to muddy up Joe Biden differs from his passively enjoying the fruits of Russian hacks and propaganda against Hillary Clinton. This time it's about Trump using the clout of his public office for political gain.

For unity's sake, Democrats cast impeachment in the House debate as a patriotic act. 

"We must defend the Constitution from a domestic enemy of the rule of law, Donald Trump," said Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.).

"His conduct continues to undermine our Constitution and therefore our next election," said Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan).

The timing of this was also on Republicans' minds.

Rep. Mike Johnson (R-La.) said Democrats were "trying to meet their own arbitrary, completely reckless and Machiavellian timeline to take down a president that they loathe."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) called it "the most rushed, least thorough and most unfair" impeachment inquiry.

Given that timing is key, Pelosi's threat to delay sending impeachment articles to the Senate could throw off Trump's desired schedule for an assured acquittal.

Even some anti-Trumpers said House Democrats should have taken time to develop a wider case, one that involved the president's attempts to derail the Russia probe, or evade campaign-finance laws, or keep his financial conflicts.

Also, the House could have shaken loose more documents and testimony if they'd waited for courts to enforce subpoenas defied by the administration.

But this is the first impeachment of an elected first-term president, and it comes 11 months before the nation votes. So the political schedule differs from that of past proceedings against second-termers Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.

Remember: Legislatures embody clashing parochial and factional interests.

This isn't only about who will win the White House. House Democrats' own elections, and their current control of the chamber, help explain their "no-time-like-the-present" thinking.

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