By William S. Becker
She is third in line to the presidency and arguably the most powerful woman in America. She’s widely regarded as a political genius. But nobody should envy Nancy Pelosi right now.
As Speaker of the House in the age of Trump and the wake of Mueller, Pelosi is walking a high-wire between politics and principle. The principle is that the House of Representatives has a constitutional responsibility to keep a president of the United States from abusing the powers of that office. The political issue is Pelosi’s concern that her party would lose control of the House if the American people believe that impeachment is not justified.
I am not remotely qualified to offer Pelosi advice on how to walk the tightrope. But I will do it anyway:
First, principle should trump politics. The House’s most important responsibility is to carry out its constitutional mandate.
Second, rather than waiting for the House to finish its many investigations of Trump’s performance in office, Democrats should take the case of impeachment home to the American people. Members should be in their districts helping voters understand what Mueller found and why Trump’s actions are so egregious. And by egregious, I mean contrary to law, rule, or the nation’s well-being.
Few voters spend much time trying to understand what’s going on inside the congressional bubble, especially on questions as complicated as obstruction of justice, collusion with foreign governments, what it means to ignore a subpoena, what high crimes and misdemeanors are, the point of impeachment without the chance of conviction, or how to see through Mueller’s finesse about whether Trump is guilty of a high crime or misdemeanor.
But as John Oliver explained in his latest R-rated televised rant, many Americans would be appalled if they better understood even a few of Trump’s transgressions. The Democrats’ job right now is not to hold a lot of hearings in hopes that they’ll sway public opinion. Their job is to take the case to the people so that public opinion is much better informed. It would likely change the political equation.
In regard to the House’s constitutional duty, Pelosi and company should point out that Trump’s offenses go well beyond the two topics covered by the Mueller investigation. For example, is Trump faithfully executing the laws of the United States? It does not appear so. Former U.S. Sen. Gary Hart has written Articles of Impeachment related to the protection of America’s natural heritage. In less formal terms, it might go like this:
- In his oath of office, Trump swore that he would “faithfully execute the Office of President of the United States, and will to the best of my Ability, preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
- Article II, Section 3 of the Constitution – commonly known as the “take care” clause – requires that the President take care that the nation’s laws be “faithfully executed…”
- Among our laws are many designed for environmental protection. Trump is not “faithfully executing” them. As Hart points out, Trump is using his office to “delay, impede and obstruct” the enforcement of environmental protection laws.
- A specific example is the Administration’s new regulation allowing power plants to emit larger amounts of carbon dioxide (CO2) pollution mainly responsible for global climate change. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2007 that EPA must regulate CO2 under the Clean Air Act if the agency determined that the gas threatens public health and welfare. Citing overwhelming scientific evidence, EPA made that determination in 2009.
- In 2015, the Obama Administration issued the Clean Power Plan (CCP), a regulation that established the first-ever national limits on carbon pollution from power plants. But after Trump’s election, former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt set the wheels in motion to repeal the regulation.
- This week, Trump’s EPA replaced the CPP with a much weaker new rule, the “Affordable Clean Energy Plan”. The Administration’s own math found that the rule would result in the deaths of 1,400 more Americans each year from air pollution. That makes it pretty hard for Trump to claim that he’s protecting the people’s health and welfare.
As I pointed out in a recent blog, the Trump Administration also has modified how the government counts the social costs of carbon, how it estimates pollution-related deaths and several other methods it uses to evaluate the benefits of environmental rules. The changes are designed to make Trump’s reduction of environmental safeguards look less dangerous.
Trump is waging his war on the environment even though 62% of Americans believe the government already is doing too little. Most Americans today consider environmental protection to be more important than economic growth, according to a recent Gallup poll. Nearly 60% told Gallup that climate change is already affecting their communities. Nevertheless, U.S. carbon emissions are rising again under Trump’s policies after several years of decline.
Congressional Democrats should explain to their constituents in person that Trump is not keeping his oath and how serious that is. In many cases, he is doing this to benefit the oil, gas and coal industries whose worldwide pollution is the principal cause of climate change. There is more to come. The next item on Trump’s chopping block is Obama’s rule to reduce CO2 by boosting the fuel efficiency of vehicles (see chart).
If voters understood all this, it would almost certainly change the political equation to reduce the political risks of impeaching this president. Republicans in the Senate, whose votes would be required to remove Trump from office, might finally realize that they are risking their own political careers by being accessories to the president’s failure to do his duty.