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Should Democrats just give up on investigating Trump?


Yesterday the Times ran a story indicating that the Democratic congressional leadership has decided that there’s little point in trying to continue to investigate Trump’s malfeasance, and that instead the party should focus on policy differences between Democrats and Republicans, particularly those surrounding health care (apparently whether it’s OK to have a proto-fascist career criminal as president doesn’t count as a policy dispute):

House Democrats, recovering from their failed push to remove President Trump from office, are making a sharp pivot to talking about health care and economic issues, turning away from their investigations of the president as they focus on preserving their majority.

Top Democrats say that oversight of the president will continue, and they plan in particular to press Attorney General William P. Barr over what they say are Mr. Trump’s efforts to compromise the independence of the Justice Department. But for now, at least, they have shelved the idea of subpoenaing Mr. Trump’s former national security adviser, who was a central figure in the president’s impeachment trial.

In a series of private meetings over the past week, and in written instructions she distributed to lawmakers Thursday before a recess this week, Speaker Nancy Pelosi made clear that the emphasis must shift.

Health carehealth carehealth care,” the speaker said, describing the party’s message during a recent closed-door meeting, according to a person in the room who insisted on anonymity to reveal private conversations. She said they had to be laser-focused on getting re-elected: “When you make a decision to win, then you have to make every decision in favor of winning.”

The move is particularly striking given how aggressively Mr. Trump, emboldened by his acquittal by the Senate, has moved to take revenge on his perceived enemies and push the limits of his power. But just as they did before the 2018 midterm elections, Democrats appear to have decided that focusing on Mr. Trump’s near-daily stream of norm-shattering words and deeds only elevates him, while alienating the swing voters they need to maintain their hold on the House and have a chance at winning the Senate.

Given that the House has already taken the most powerful step a Congress can take to hold a chief executive accountable — impeachment — Democrats reason that there is little more they can do. Some say Mr. Trump brings enough attention to his conduct all on his own.

“His erratic, corrupt, unconstitutional behavior speaks for itself at this point,” Representative Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said in an interview Friday.

I have no opinion on how much sense this does or doesn’t make from a purely pragmatic and tactical standpoint, but in any case it’s a very sobering development.

Open corruption and criminality have now been completely normalized. For example, I don’t think most people — even most lawyers — have absorbed how utterly corrupt it is for the Attorney General to personally intervene in a criminal case, in order to reverse the sentencing recommendation of the career prosecutors running that case, because he’s doing a personal favor for his boss. That William Barr has the legal authority to do so doesn’t change the fact that doing so is a horrendous breach of institutional norms. It’s pure banana republic stuff.

More than a thousand ex-DOJ officials signed a letter to that effect yesterday, calling on Barr to resign, but even this hardly makes a ripple in our degraded condition. (That Barr isn’t being forced to testify today about all this indicates how powerless the Democrats feel: the decision to have him appear at the end of March [!] only puts an exclamation point on what a joke the separation of powers has become under the Queens Caudillo).

Again, for all I know Pelosi et. al. are making the smart play here, and of course on one level the only thing that counts is defeating Trump in November. But throwing in the towel on trying to even hold hearings on his constant lawlessness and corruption indicates the extent to which Trump and Trumpism have already won, no matter what happens in the fall.

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