After a majority vote in the House of Representatives to begin an inquiry into impeaching US President Donald Trump, one that likely will last until the end of the year, Trump and his supporters are on the war path against Democrats who want to expand the investigation beyond the telephone call between Trump and the Ukrainian president on which the Democrats based their decision to seek impeachment.
Trump persists in accusing Joe Biden and his son of abuse of power when Biden Sr was vice president to former US president Barack Obama, and is publicly asking China to investigate if Biden’s son profited from deals involving the company he worked for there in 2014.
Democrats are trying to extend the investigation to include Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, promising to bring forward more people willing to accuse Trump of abuse of power to scupper Joe Biden’s candidacy for president in 2020.
Democrats are also trying to convince Republican public figures and members of Congress to join them in campaigning against Trump.
Trump’s attacks on his Democratic Party opponents is built on three pillars. First, addressing US public opinion through Twitter, where he is followed by nearly 65 million people.
He tweeted that the US’s future is on the line, and accused Democrats of seeking to overthrow him. He warned Americans that Democrats want to take their guns, healthcare, votes, freedom and that he would never allow that to happen.
Trump’s talk about health, guns and freedom resonates well in many circles in US society that do not support the Democrats’ plans of extending healthcare to millions or poor Americans through increased taxes, especially on the middle class. The gun lobby and the American belief in the freedom to bear arms strongly oppose proposals by some Democrats to review gun policies in light of the increasing number of mass shootings in recent years.
Conservatives and Republicans believe violence and crime has increased due to illegal immigrants, or immigrants who were naturalised without integrating into US culture. It seems Democrats are unable to appease Trump on this issue, and have decided to ignore it altogether so he does not use it to his advantage.
The second argument Trump is focused on in his attack on Democrats is portraying his conversation with the Ukrainian president as normal and not breaking any laws. As if to underline the point, he publicly called on China to investigate Biden’s son. “China should start an investigation into the Bidens, because what happened in China is just about as bad as what happened with Ukraine,” Trump told reporters outside the White House. Democrats immediately responded that the president “cannot use the power of his office to pressure foreign leaders to investigate his political opponents”.
“His rant this morning reinforces the urgency of our work. America is a Republic, if we can keep it,” tweeted House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, (Democrat-California).
Third, and most important in Trump’s defence, is focusing on the support he has from the Senate, which is controlled by Republicans. Several have expressed their support of the president. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel (Republican-Kentucky) asserted that even if Trump is impeached by the House, he’ll likely be safe in the Senate, which would be responsible for holding a trial if the House votes to impeach. Several Republicans agreed with Senator Marco Rubio’s (Republican-Florida) that Trump’s call on foreign leaders to investigate Biden can’t be taken seriously.
Nonetheless, Trump should be a little worried because several Republican senators expressed concern about the accusations levelled against him, including senators Mitt Romney (Republican-Utah), Ben Sasse (Republican-Nebraska) and Susan Collins (Republican-Maine).
Meanwhile, Democrats are trying to pressure Trump on three fronts. First, by focusing on winning influential public figures to galvanise public opinion. Last week, pro-Democrat media highlighted the support of more than 300 former officials in national security agencies and the State Department, including the former director of the National Counterterrorism Centre and a former deputy secretary of state, to investigate Trump on the road to impeachment. In a joint statement, they said the signatories served in the administrations of both parties, and their observations are “that President Trump abused his powers and the resources of the highest office in the land to call for more foreign interference in our democratic process”.
The second issue Democrats are focusing on is polls. House Speaker and Democratic Majority Leader Nancy Pelosi said polls show that more people support Trump’s impeachment. A poll on 3 October published by USA Today revealed that a plurality of Americans now supports impeaching Trump and removing him from office.
The same poll showed, however, a growing chasm between those supporting his impeachment in Democratic and Republican circles.
The partisan divide is huge: 74 per cent of Democrats but only 17 per cent of Republicans back impeachment. The poll is not entirely in the Democrats’ favour, and could also put them on the spot. By 2-1, those surveyed said there are valid reasons to investigate Joe Biden and his son for their behaviour in Ukraine. Americans by a 45 per cent to 38 per cent plurality now support a vote by the House of Representatives to impeach Trump, as allegations continue to swirl around an embattled White House.
Third, Democrats are focused on indirectly responding to Trump’s accusations against them that they stirred up the issue of Ukraine not for the sake of the public good but only to take revenge on him and prevent him from running for a second term. Pelosi said Democrats will proceed with impeachment but will not rush it, and that she personally is not happy about prosecuting the president of the United States because it means there are Americans who are willing to violate US values and principles.
The issue will not be settled anytime soon, and it is likely that more information will surface that will turn the tables against Trump or his opponents in the coming weeks.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 10 October, 2019 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.