The deal between the House of Representatives’ judiciary chairman Jerry Nadler and the Justice Department over the Mueller report documents means that, at least for now, Washington’s two main political parties are no longer on a collision course that would have left both sides with a serious headache.
The temporary truce allows everything to slow down, with impeachment proceedings looking like the only destination at points during the tense negotiations over the last few weeks.
Donald Trump has not stopped tweeting his disgust about Robert Mueller’s inquiry into Russian election meddling and possible obstruction of the investigation by the president, with his latest missives including: “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!” He would rather the whole issue just disappear. But while Republicans know that impeachment is the last weapon that Democrats have to try to bring down the Trump presidency, they do not want to face the indignity of it yet.
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Trump believes he is bulletproof, his supporters will follow him through thick and thin – and the last two years have somewhat proven that. But Republican leaders have to think about the party, how long and drawn out hearings will affect other races in 2020. Yes, there is a decent chance Trump would be saved by the Senate, but the risk might not be worth the reward.
Court fights to enforce subpoenas for White House officials to appear before congress would not look good, neither would attorney general William Barr being held in contempt by the House. Those prospects are off the table, at least for now.
Republicans may believe Democrats are overstepping the mark but, the uglier the fight gets, the more all involved look terrible ahead of an election year. For the Democrats, the use of subpoenas plays well to a decent amount of their electorate. For Republicans, if Trump’s support base erodes to any significant degree they may be in trouble in a general election.
The documents offer Democrats a different way out, and allow the various factions of the party to stay on the same page. White House blocking of staff appearing at judiciary committee hearings deprives the party of the blockbuster political theatre that they want in order to tie the Trump administration up for as long as they can. That leaves impeachment as the only game left in town and support has been building for it, particularly among the party’s 2020 candidates. Given that Democrat House leadership is still against impeachment, a rush to impeachment hearings could mean a damaging split. Nadler and others know that if the Democrats are to have a shot at the White House, they need to stay united. Division is Trump’s game.
The exact nature or usefulness of the documents is not yet clear, but Democrats would not have accepted a deal without knowing that it will offer some extra clarity on Mueller’s instances of possible obstruction by Trump and his reasoning. Nadler has said it will include “interview notes, first-hand accounts of misconduct and other critical evidence” collected by Mueller from the White House and former officials.
Nadler appears to be betting that the documents will help the Democrats continue the type of hearings they want to put on. While the Trump administration (and Republicans) have been able to stave off a potentially destructive opening of impeachment proceedings. Both sides may just breathe a sigh of relief.