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Congress

Democrats Gonna Democrat

The party's decision to cave over its own impeachment witness plan is classic.

democrats impeachment witnesses
PBS Newshour

Today, Democrats did just about the most Democrat thing you can possibly imagine.

Just as Donald Trump’s impeachment trial was wrapping up, Rep. Jamie Raskin, the lead Democratic impeachment manager, dramatically announced that he wanted to call Republican Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler as a witness. Beutler had issued a damning statement about Trump’s discussions with House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy in the wake of the Capitol attack of January 6, and Raskin and the Democrats apparently wanted to hear from her about it. The full Senate then voted to allow witnesses in the trial—something that instantly raised the stakes of the proceedings and opened the possibility of a longer, more intense, and potentially more incriminating case against Trump.

Republicans got mad about this, since they definitely do not want people having to testify under oath about the events of the 6th.

So the stage was all set for Democrats to do something big. And then Democrats decided, whoops, never mind!

And that is where things stand. Democrats poked their heads above the line and then remembered a few things. They remembered that they don’t like it when Republicans get mad at them. They remembered that extending the trial would be time-consuming and annoying, and might cut into their other vital business, like going on vacation next week and figuring out ways to weaken their COVID relief plans (though even those things likely would have not been derailed). They remembered that, at the end of the day, they favor grubby little backroom deals that keep the Senate—the system—chugging along, rather than bold moves that would actually change anything.

Mostly, though, Democrats remembered that they don’t really want the impeachment trial to be happening either. Joe Biden has made it clear he sees the trial as a distraction from his agenda, and has taken every opportunity to signal that he has other things on his mind. The trial, as chilling as some of the evidence presented was, was as pro forma as it gets: two sides hustling to get this thing done, two sides phoning it in in their own way. Everybody knew that Trump was going to get acquitted, so why bother trying too hard?

Of course, by raising the prospect of doing something bigger, and then backing down within the space of an hour or so, Democrats threw that strategy out the window. They came up with a new plan, got people excited about it, then caved on their own idea. The story now will be about a party that, as it did so often during the Trump years, flirted with a deeper level of accountability and decided that it would prefer a quiet life instead. Would Republicans have ever given Democrats the courtesy—the protection—that Democrats just extended to them? You already know the answer to that question.

Update, 3:50 p.m.: In the end, seven Republicans voted to convict Trump—Richard Burr, Bill Cassidy, Susan Collins, Lisa Murkowski, Mitt Romney, Ben Sasse, and Pat Toomey—but Democrats needed 17 Republicans to flip, so Trump was acquitted. So that’s that.

Now that the supposedly huge blockage of the impeachment trial is over, those stimulus checks better be in the mail really, really soon!