That House Speaker Nancy Pelosi finally decided to announce a formal impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump over improper conduct in a phone call to Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky is a watershed moment for this generation.
Here in Hawaii, our congressional delegation has been unanimously supportive of impeachment proceedings, with the exception of Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, who first expressed opposition, then reversed course and now supports an inquiry.
All four members of Hawaii’s D.C. delegation now support an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s actions.
Flickr: Matt Johnson
Hirono’s campaign also dispatched a fundraising email, with the subject “I commend Speaker Pelosi” in which she wrote, “This lawless president needs to be held accountable, and one of the best ways to fight back is to donate to progressive candidates you believe in, which is why I’m asking: Will you make a donation now to support my work to remove Donald Trump from office, one way or another?”
Sen. Brian Schatz likewise announced his support in a press release that paralleled the theme of lawlessness, mentioning, “The president is breaking statutory and constitutional law every day, and he is abusing his inherent power as president with regularity, enthusiasm, and most troublingly, impunity.”
Rep. Ed Case was the least threatening in his response to the impeachment inquiry, though still ultimately supporting it. Case’s official statement contained no accusations of President Trump, instead referring to “allegations” which “fully justify Congress reviewing potential impeachment.”
Initially, Gabbard appeared to be a moderating voice. Immediately after the release of the July 25 Ukraine transcript, when Gabbard was asked on The Hill’s “Rising” program whether the document had changed her mind about impeachment she flatly replied, “It hasn’t.”
“I think when you step outside of the bubble here in Washington and you get to where most folks in the country are … I think most people reading through that transcript are not going to find that extremely compelling cause to throw out a president that won an election in 2016,” Gabbard told The Hill, suggesting people would characterize the inquiry as “another attempt” by Democrats to get rid of Trump.
Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard initially opposed an impeachment inquiry. She switched positions last week, saying it would set a “dangerous precedent” if Congress didn’t go through with the inquiry.
Cory Lum/Civil Beat
Two days later, by Friday morning, Gabbard would be in lockstep with the Hawaii delegation, issuing a statement that said “after looking carefully at the transcript of the conversation with Ukraine’s President, the whistleblower complaint, the Inspector General memo, and President Trump’s comments about the issue, unfortunately, I believe that if we do not proceed with the inquiry, it will set a very dangerous precedent.”
A lot went into the calculus of what changed Gabbard’s mind, but she should have already known from the beginning the gravity of what was being alleged and the traditional pattern of Trump dismissing wrongdoing. So what changed?
Gabbard’s original hesitancy to impeach showed great independence, because it appeared to give deference to general election voters to determine Trump’s future. It was a maverick play, considering the fact that she is seeking her party’s nomination, and yet, her district is one of the bluest in the nation and among Democrats, a recent Politico/Morning Consult poll showed 79% of Democratic voters supported impeachment.
A minimum of 218 votes are needed in the Democratic-majority House to pass articles of impeachment, and when early counts suggested that Pelosi might come up short, some bemoaned the fact that Gabbard might be the one to stop the process. As of the writing of this article, 225 members of Congress support impeachment.
The logic behind Gabbard’s initial reluctance still holds, though.
Outside of the Democratic “bubble,” the same Politico poll shows Americans are evenly split, with 43% opposing and another 43% supporting impeachment. In a Business Insider poll, 37% said that impeachment “was the wrong thing to do” and would hurt Democrats in 2020, while another 38% said it would help Democrats.
With Gabbard realigned with the Hawaii delegation and her party, she may appear to be a team player just in time for the Oct. 15 presidential debate, but she loses the halo of being an independent leader. Hawaii, as small and isolated as it is, gets more visibility and credibility with local-grown presidential candidates and congressional members who buck the mold, rather than submit to it.
In 1970, while still a member of Congress, Gerald Ford said, “An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.” I suspect that deep down, Gabbard must know that impeachment is more about politics than it is about justice.
These are dangerous and unstable times to be living in. Impeaching a president when Iran is accused of attacking one of the world’s largest oil suppliers, when markets are volatile and easily spooked by provocative events, and when Americans are more divided and angry than ever before, is risky. Congress is supposed to uphold domestic tranquility, not unravel it.
Gabbard should strongly reconsider her position. However one feels about President Trump, this close to an election, the most honorable way to remove a president is the same way he was put in office — at the ballot box.
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Danny de Gracia is a resident of Waipahu, a political scientist and an ordained minister. Opinions are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Civil Beat's views. You can reach him by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on Twitter at @ddg2cb.