Trump’s stonewalling of Congress: Savvy or self-sabotage?
The 360 shows you diverse perspectives on the day’s top stories.
President Trump and his administration have stepped up their battle against the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry taking place in the House of Representatives. On Tuesday, the White House announced it would refuse to cooperate with committees probing allegations that the president withheld aid money in pressuring the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.
A letter penned by White House counsel Pat Cipollone argued the administration doesn’t have to comply with Democrats’ requests for documents or in-person testimony from officials because the inquiry is “constitutionally invalid.”
The decision to defy all House Democrats’ requests going forward came hours after the State Department blocked European Union Ambassador Gordon Sondland from testifying. The administration has pushed back against individual congressional requests in the past, most notably by withholding documents from the Mueller investigation.
Why there’s debate:
Refusing to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry is a smart strategy, some argue, for a number of reasons. The most direct benefit is gumming up the works of the investigation, either by denying Democrats potential evidence or by forcing them into long court battles that will bring the process to a crawl. Even though legal experts broadly expect the courts to force the White House to comply with House subpoenas, Democrats might lose public support or risk having impeachment drown out the voices of their presidential candidates if the inquiry drags on too long.
Others see attacking the legitimacy of the inquiry as providing a unifying message for Republicans to get behind, rather than putting them in the uncomfortable position of defending Trump’s behavior with Ukraine.
Democrats, however, see some upside in Trump’s act of defiance. The clearly stated refusal to cooperate serves as “strong evidence of obstruction of the constitutional functions of Congress,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said. Obstructing Congress was one of the articles of impeachment filed against Richard Nixon. Democrats may choose to skip potential court fights over subpoenas and move quickly to an impeachment vote with this new argument to bolster their case.
Some have made the case that Trump’s challenging congressional oversight amounts to a “constitutional crisis.” This perceived attack on American political institutions could hurt the president’s standing with Republican senators in a possible impeachment trial or turn off voters in 2020.
House Democrats have said they plan to subpoena Sondland. If the White House still refuses to comply, as expected, the matter will move to the courts. Some Democrats have expressed an interest in completing their inquiry before the end of the year. If the House does vote to impeach, the Senate would then hold a trial. If two-thirds of senators vote to convict, Trump would be forced out of office.
It will be effective
Slowing impeachment down through court cases plays into Trump’s favor
“The House is overwhelmingly likely in the end to prevail in enforcing in federal court the various subpoenas it has issued. … But judicial proceedings, even expedited ones, move at best ‘with all deliberate speed,’ by which lawyers really mean ‘at a stately pace.'” — Lawrence Tribe, USA Today
The strategy puts Democrats at political risk
“Blocking witnesses and ending any cooperation with the probe threatens to bog Democrats down, which could bring them political peril. A number of rank-and-file Democrats have warned that a long-drawn-out impeachment investigation carries risks for the party in a high-stakes election cycle when they’re trying to protect dozens of vulnerable incumbents. And Republicans clearly see an advantage to running out the clock.” — Mike Lillis, The Hill
Questioning the legitimacy of the inquiry is a unified message for Republicans
“It could finally give the GOP a strategy to respond to a scandal that’s kept most of its rank-and-file on the sidelines, spooked about getting involved in the president’s sloppy defense.” — Eric Lutz, Vanity Fair
It’s possible a conservative Supreme Court could rule in Trump’s favor
“The House Dems will then take [subpoenas] to court, as they have other cases. And this issue, like the other cases, may end up with the Supreme Court. Then who knows?” — David Corn, Mother Jones
The Democratic response could be seen as overreach by 2020 voters
“If the general mood of the public is that opponents of President Trump never granted him the full respect for the office that he was due, and set out to destroy his presidency from day one, they will quickly tire of the spectacle of members of Congress in even higher dudgeon than usual.” — Jim Geraghty, National Review
It will backfire
The White House’s legal argument for not cooperating is invalid
“[The White House letter] cited the U.S. Constitution in defense of the president’s decision to undermine the checks and balances written into it.” — David Knowles, Yahoo News
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Trump is handing Democrats the ability to charge him with obstruction
“House Democrats are increasingly confident they have all the evidence they need to impeach President Donald Trump for obstructing their investigations.” — Kyle Cheney and Heather Caygle, Politico
Refusing to comply puts Democrats in the driver’s seat
“In a sense this is all a win-win for [Democrats]: They either get more evidence from those involved in the whole Ukraine debacle, or they go after Trump on obstruction.” — Alex Ward and Ella Nilsen, Vox
The move risks turning Senate Republicans against Trump
“By fighting against the inevitable, acting more illogical and unhinged than usual and refusing to give Senate Republicans reason to support him, his current strategy only makes it easier for more Senate Republicans to break with him in a trial for removal.” — Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post
Choosing to attack the idea of co-equal branches of government puts Trump at risk of being removed from office
“The fact that Trump has announced that he will NOT let the Constitution stand in the way of him remaining president of the United States of America is PRECISELY why his removal from office is more certain today than it was yesterday. Now more than ever.” — NBC News legal analyst Glenn Kirschner
The move kills any chance Trump might win an impeachment vote in the House
“For months, Trump administration officials have shown the back of their hands to congressional attempts to exercise oversight. Tuesday, that obstinance was ratcheted up to a point that makes impeachment all but inevitable. President Trump has no one but himself to blame.” — Editorial, New York Daily News
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Cover thumbnail photo illustration: Yahoo News; photo: Evan Vucci/AP