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Should Democrats Impeach Trump? Wrong Question.

Allowing the president's crimes and misdemeanors to take a backseat to impeachment's political implications does little to emphasize the rule of law.

Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Hours after the Mueller report was released, Majority Whip Steny Hoyer—the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the House of Representatives—appeared to slam the door on impeachment. “Based on what we have seen to date, going forward on impeachment is not worthwhile at this point,” Hoyer told CNN’s Dana Bash, citing the just-released Mueller report. “Very frankly, there is an election in 18 months and the American people will make a judgment.”

But that door was, almost instantly, again cracked open. Hoyer quickly walked back his comments in a tweet after an uproar from prominent liberals and from his own caucus. Representatives Jerrold Nadler and Adam Schiff, chairs of the House Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, respectively, each used the Sunday news shows to communicate that, after reviewing all the evidence, they would still consider impeachment. While the president and his all-too-familiar surrogates spent the weekend doubling down on claims of “exoneration” that have no basis in fact, they have been more than met with a chorus of calls for Democrats to hold accountable a flagrantly corrupt president who has repeatedly flouted the rule of law.

Democrats who favor leaving the door open to impeachment, and those who don’t, agree in broad terms that Trump is unsuitable for office. But the practicality and feasibility of casting him out has oddly taken center stage in a debate that should be focused on presidential malfeasance: advocates arguing that keeping impeachment on the table energizes a Democratic base eager for action, and could demoralize a Republican one forced to watch its leaders defended the swampiness of the Trump administration; detractors waving a Clinton-era bloody shirt, warning impeachment only gives the president a galvanizing issue for the 2020 election.

Whether there will ever be enough Republicans in the Senate willing to vote with Democrats to convict Trump of whatever articles of impeachment the House might draft—and such a scenario deserves heaping helpings of skepticism—and whether a failed impeachment effort would hurt Democrats at the polls, those are questions that exist wholly in the political realm. But making political considerations the driving question of impeachment would be a mistake for Democrats trying to claim the mantle of the party that believes in the rule of law.

The point of the next several months is to build a national dialogue about the Trump administration’s rampant corruption. There is no vexing, existential, binary quandary that needs an immediate answer. “To impeach, or not to impeach,” that is not the question. Impeachment, after all, is a process—a lengthy one at that—and not a magic wand. Democrats can and should build the case against Trump—and, perhaps, the impeachment case against Trump—publicly, in the form of hearings and other investigations. Through the public testimony of Robert Mueller and William Barr, and of administration officials and Trumpworld associates like former White House Counsel Don McGahn, former Communications Director and Trump confidant Hope Hicks, and, perhaps, members of Trump’s own family, a narrative of this administration’s high crimes and misdemeanors is likely to emerge.

Contrary to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s comments last month—“Impeachment is so divisive to the country ... I don’t think we should go down that path”—it is that path that will help locate a national point of consensus. Pelosi may have been right in concluding Trump is “just not worth it,” but the Constitution is.

For other Senior Democrats, however, there is a third path, and it’s probably the best one—one that takes into account the president’s wrongdoings, and likely the politics, as well. Now that the Mueller report is out in the open, House hearings can probe the president’s many scandals—not only looking at obstruction of justice and “collusion,” but also a host of other issues, from the Trump administration’s shameful handling of the aftermath of Hurricane Maria to the president’s financial dealings and cozy relationship with strongmen, industrialists, and oligarchs.

It’s a wide-angled approach, but one that endeavors to put the scope of the president’s misconduct on full display. These hearings may very well turn up impeachable offenses, but they also have the secondary effect of highlighting the Democrats’ best message heading into 2020: That they are a party bent on restoring good government, not just on ousting a bad president.