Two Gifts for Democrats, If They Will Take Them

Two Gifts for Democrats, If They Will Take Them
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
Two Gifts for Democrats, If They Will Take Them
AP Photo/Andrew Harnik
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President Trump was spared charges on Sunday that would have led to his impeachment, claimed “total exoneration” and angrily pledged retribution against Democrats and media figures he blames for feeding the Russian collusion story. On Monday his Department of Justice reaffirmed support for a lawsuit that seeks to invalidate the Affordable Care Act. For Democrats who can think straight, both of these events can be helpful to their party in the long run.  

To start with, they should accept that because Trump has largely been freed from the burden of doubt he has been under during the entirely of his presidency, next year’s election won’t be the referendum they had hoped for, but a choice election that the incumbent now has a far better chance of winning. And because the special counsel did not choose to charge him with obstruction of justice, something many of Trump’s allies and aides feared was likely, impeachment is -- for all intents and purposes -- now off the table. Without that charge from Bob Mueller or Attorney General Bob Barr, Senate Republicans would never go along with any Democratic impeachment. Democrats should see this as a good thing.

Smart Democrats will start by expressing their relief that a U.S. president has not been charged with conspiracy and was not found to have rigged his election with an adversarial government -- something that would have traumatized and likely irreparably damaged our country. Democrats should also thank Mueller for his integrity, and for a fair and lawful process. They are right to call for the full release of Mueller’s findings, as have many Republicans, including Sen. Chuck Grassley. House committees also have more investigations planned or in the pipeline -- and oversight of the White House’s security clearance process, Jared Kushner’s potential business dealings with the Saudi Kingdom and Qatar while deciding national security policy, the Trump Organization’s loans from Russians that may have made the president and/or his family members beholden to the Putin government, are all appropriate areas of inquiry. But attempts to keep the prospects of impeachment alive, no matter what Mueller’s findings reveal on potential obstruction of justice, will backfire on Democrats for certain.

House Democratic leaders, starting with Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has dismissed impeachment for months, affirmed Tuesday they want to focus on policy instead of probes. News of the administration’s support for ending all ACA protections has focused the minds of Democratic leaders, with Majority Whip Jim Clyburn telling CNN Tuesday morning that the Mueller chapter has “closed” and that health care is “the new chapter.” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said health care "was a defining issue of the 2018 midterm elections. We embrace this fight because House Democrats were given the majority in order to defend health care."

The leadership will, no matter the contents of the special counsel’s report, struggle to keep everyone in line. There are those who have been around forever -- such as impeachment advocate Rep. Al Green, who on Twitter promoted his lunch Tuesday with Tom Steyer in the members dining room of the House -- and those who are new to the House, such as Rep. Rashida Tlaib, who decided to call for a commission on the question as soon as Trump was cleared. In a letter to her colleagues, Tlaib wrote: "I, firmly, believe that the House Committee on Judiciary should seek out whether President Trump has committed 'High crimes and Misdemeanors' as designated by the U.S. Constitution and if the facts support those findings, that Congress begin impeachment proceedings.”

Democrats didn’t run on Trump’s troubles or the Mueller investigation in the midterms and little has changed out on the campaign trail where Democratic candidates running to be the party’s nominee in 2020 are being asked by voters about health care, climate change, gun control, college loan reform, immigration, taxes and jobs. Not only was health care the top issue in the midterms for Democrats, it was for most voters, and the candidates who championed coverage for pre-existing conditions and other Obamacare protections won those voters by a 75 percent-23 percent margin. During the midterms, Democrats cited, to great effect, a provision from one of the GOP replacement plans that never passed, an “age tax” that would allow insurers to charge patients age 50 and over five times more for coverage.

Health care remains the Republicans’ and Trump’s worst political liability, having failed since 2011 as a party to repeal and replace it, which Trump promised in 2016 and 2017 that they would finally do. After that failure, Trump and GOP candidates also promised voters in the 2018 election they would not allow insurers to deny coverage to people with pre-existing medical conditions, after they eliminated the ACA’s individual mandate to purchase health care as part of their tax reform law. But that will occur should a court ultimately overturn the law.  

Health care coverage, and other pocketbook issues, are likely the reason Republicans saw an erosion of support from white women without a college degree, a key to Trump’s 2016 voting base, in the midterms. Writing for CNN, political analyst Ron Brownstein identified non-evangelical working-class white women as a key target bloc for Democrats next year “in pivotal Rust Belt states such as Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania, where relatively fewer blue-collar whites are also evangelical Christians,” adding that nationwide nearly three-fifths of these women voted for Democrats last November and told exit pollsters they disapproved of Trump’s performance in office.

Those women may not have benefited from the tax cut, may see their communities suffering from Trump’s trade wars, may have not seen any factories moving back into town, and aren’t likely to see Trump fulfill his broken promise on health care, no matter how many times he rebrands the GOP as “the party of health care,” as he has this week.  President Trump is likely to spend a lot of time talking about the Mueller probe and collusion in his campaign next year, according to aides and advisers, and his allies are seeking an “investigation of the investigators.” If Democrats talk about Trump, or Mueller or Barr, these very same voters may sit 2020 out, but if the Democratic nominee talks about their challenges and the policy prescriptions that could alleviate their problems, the party is in the running to win them over and beat Trump.

A.B. Stoddard is associate editor of RealClearPolitics and a columnist. 

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