Crises have a way of separating the leaderlike wheat from the opportunistic chaff. Coronavirus is the crisis of our time, and the political winnowing is something to behold.
Example: The Trump administration spent this week distributing ventilators, standing up small-business loans, dispatching hospital ships, erecting alternate care facilities, explaining virus modeling, revamping regulations to keep truckers on the road, and plastering the airwaves with information about hygiene and social distancing. Speaker Nancy Pelosi spent this week setting up a new House committee to investigate Donald Trump.
Nothing separates the shallow from the serious faster than high-stakes moments. At the federal level, Americans are seeing the serious in the White House task force briefings that provide daily updates on the government’s actions. When this is all over, we will find that the federal response was far from perfect. But we’ll also see that once the executive branch grasped the enormity of the problem, it moved with soberness, speed and a spirit of cooperation.
Mr. Trump is at the head of this operation, and while his leadership style isn’t for everyone, he’s certainly leading. He addresses the virus in stark terms but also insists on optimism—something that’s important from leaders in tough times. While punching back at some critics, he’s also reached across the aisle. He embraced Democratic calls for more-stringent corporate rules in Congress’s relief bill. Asked about the $25 million Democrats slipped in for the Kennedy Center, he defended it: “I really believe that we’ve had a very good back and forth.” He’s rushed to the aid of blue-state governors, and has praised Democratic state leaders, including New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and California Gov. Gavin Newsom, for their efforts.
And at least some of those Democratic state leaders are reciprocating, proving neither party has a monopoly on character. CNN’s Jake Tapper this week practically begged Mr. Newsom to recant his recent praise for the president, suggesting the Democrat had given it only out of fear that Mr. Trump would “punish” his state’s citizens. Mr. Newsom was having none of it. “The fact is, every time I’ve called the president he’s quickly gotten on the line,” he said. “There’s just too many Americans—40 million that live in this state—that deserve us to get together and get along.” Mr. Cuomo has taken the same approach, saying of president: “His team is on it. They’ve been responsive.” He added: “I want to say thank you.” This week he chided partisans: “Not now,” he said. “The virus doesn’t attack and kill red Americans or blue Americans—it attacks and kills all Americans.”
Contrast this with Mrs. Pelosi, who seems to view the pandemic as one big political opportunity. She held up last week’s relief bill for days, attempting to cram into it unrelated election and climate provisions. She used a Sunday CNN appearance to accuse Mr. Trump of killing Americans. This week she announced a new special House committee that will “examine all aspects of the federal response to the coronavirus” and will have subpoena power. This is yet the latest Democratic machinery for investigating Trump and ginning up scandals.
Or contrast the governors with the guy carping from his Delaware basement. Joe Biden might have used this moment to buttress his claims to be the more dignified candidate by throwing his support behind the federal effort and making clear he’d save his policy disputes for later. He instead spread the false claim that the president had called the virus a “hoax.” Mr. Biden has bashed Mr. Trump on testing and on the use of the Defense Production Act. He’s accused the president of “failing to prepare our nation” for a pandemic (never mind the Obama-Biden role in any such failure). He even blames Mr. Trump for soaring unemployment numbers.
Or contrast the governors who are leading with the one who is using today’s crisis as an audition to be Mr. Biden’s running mate. For every Mr. Cuomo there is a Gretchen Whitmer. The Michigan Democrat has spent weeks accusing the administration of failing to have a “national strategy,” and of “cuts to the CDC” that put us “behind the eight ball.” She’s insisted “we’re still not getting what we need from the federal government,” and even insinuated the administration was directing suppliers to withhold equipment to her state—a ludicrous suggestion.
Democratic partisans are playing a risky game here. Mr. Trump is currently clocking the best approval ratings of his presidency, and a late March Gallup poll found 60% of respondents approve of his virus response. Americans have traditionally looked dimly on those who undercut presidents and other elected leaders in time of crisis. Some on the left are making it easy to separate the politicians who are fighting for their people from the politicians who are fighting for their self-interest. That may come back to haunt them in November.
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This is almost unreal. To think the Democrats actually think the Constitution is worth consideration. If you don’t see the hypocrisy please give me a call. (419-349-1406)
One satisfying feature of the impeachment drama is the outbreak among Democrats of enthusiasm for the Constitution. What a refreshing change from years past, when every time a conservative raised a constitutional point, the liberals would roll their eyes and complain that the right was trying to “weaponize” the national parchment. The left seemed to detest the Constitution and the white male nationalists who wrote it.
This attitude came to a head in 2011, after the Republicans won control of the House and decided to open the 112th Congress by reading the Constitution aloud on the floor. What a fracas broke out. The New York Times called it “a ghastly waste of time.” Ezra Klein, now editor at large of Vox, said on TV that the parchment “is confusing because it was written more than 100 years ago.” It was ironic. Liberals, after all, had won some of their greatest causes by wielding the Constitution and its Bill of Rights. School desegregation, free speech, restrictions on public prayer, the right to abortion— these were among the liberal causes won by wrestling on the bedrock of the American constitution.
Never mind all that. Salon headlined a piece, “Let’s stop pretending the Constitution is sacred,” and illustrated it with a photo of a protest sign: “I Believe in the Constitution. I’m a ‘Right-Wing Extremist.’ ” The Daily Kos later called the reading the “most boring circus ever.”
What a difference a decade makes. Today you can’t open your browser without seeing Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her camarilla kvelling about the Constitution. The first thing the House Judiciary Committee did was trot out four law professors to talk about not only the Constitution but—wait for it—the Founding Fathers’ original intent.
The impeachment effort has Pelosi and even leftist law professors touting the Founding Fathers’ intent.
Then Mrs. Pelosi marched up to a podium and instructed the Democratic caucus to go ahead and impeach President Trump. “When crafting the Constitution,” she said, “the Founders feared the return of a monarchy in America and, having just fought a war of independence, they specifically feared the prospect of a king-president corrupted by foreign influence.” Madison, she said, feared “that a president might betray his trust to foreign powers.”
She hauled in that old rascal Gouverneur Morris, the constitutional wordsmith. Morris feared, she said, that a president might be “bribed” to “betray his trust” and emphasized that “the people are the king.” She inadvertently likened Mr. Trump to George Washington, who was also accused of kingly airs.
She rattled on about George Mason, who “insisted that a president who procured his appointment in his first instance through improper and corrupt acts might repeat his guilt and return to power” and during the debate over impeachment asked: “Shall any man be above justice?” The speaker actually spoke of Mason, a major slaveholder, as acting “in his great wisdom.”
Mr. Trump’s wrongdoing, Mrs. Pelosi averred, “strikes at the very heart of our Constitution: a separation of powers, three coequal branches, each a check and balance on the other.” She may not have proffered any evidence, but it was nice to hear her quoting the Constitution in Republican terms. The Democrats have come a long way.
Mr. Lipsky is editor of The New York Sun.
Hearings were hardly necessary to show that Donald Trump, in all too characteristic a fashion, took interest in his administration’s Ukraine policy only when he saw a chance to lard on Ukrainian announcements that he could throw back in the face of domestic critics who questioned his 2016 legitimacy.
So why does Adam Schiff feel the need to stretch every truth beyond the breaking point in a House Intelligence Committee impeachment report released this week?
A media transcript plainly shows that acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney was not referring to a Ukraine quid pro quo when he said politics will influence foreign policy and that critics should “get over it.” Ambassador Gordon Sondland merely “presumed” that Mr. Trump sought a quid pro quo from Ukraine. Why falsely characterize these men’s statements, as the Schiff report does, when doing so is unnecessary to convince anyone that Mr. Trump nevertheless envisioned a quid pro quo?
Mr. Schiff claims Mr. Trump delayed “critical military aid” to Ukraine, but offers no evidence that the aid was critical. (The missiles discussed in Mr. Trump’s supposedly incriminating call with Ukraine’s president were not even part of the holdup.) He insists Mr. Trump’s dealings undermined U.S. national interests, but a president is perfectly entitled to differ with Mr. Schiff over what constitutes the national interest. With a casualness you expect only from the media, he relies heavily on the fallacy that wishing to examine Ukrainian meddling in the 2016 election is tantamount to denying Russian meddling.
Mr. Schiff must gild the few lilies in his possession to distract from a glaring omission in his own proceedings. “Fact witnesses” were called to discuss whether there was a quid pro quo, but none were called to give evidence on whether the “quos” Mr. Trump sought from Ukraine were unfounded or illegal.
Don’t underestimate this sign of Mr. Schiff’s disingenuousness. However much the media lies about it now, a Ukrainian official allied with the then-Poroshenko government spoke openly to the Financial Times in 2016 of his work to ensure Mr. Trump’s defeat. Ditto the Bidens: Mr. Trump may be barking up the wrong tree in some ways, but Joe Biden is not just Mr. Trump’s present-day “political rival.” He is a former vice president who, when tasked to help clean up corruption in Ukraine, allowed his unqualified, drug-addict son to receive a lucrative board seat at a Ukrainian company under investigation for corruption.
These are subjects whose illegitimacy must be proved, not just assumed. And yet missing from the final report is any evidence that broaching them with the Ukrainians amounted to the crimes of bribery, extortion or campaign-law violation that Mr. Schiff once told us it did.
Instead, Mr. Schiff insinuates a motive he’s not prepared to state clearly, one designed as much to rescue his own reputation as slur Mr. Trump’s. This is his report’s reference to Mr. Trump as a president “elected in 2016 with the benefit of an unprecedented and sweeping campaign of election interference undertaken by Russia in his favor.”
In fact, Harvard’s Berkman Klein Center for Internet and Society painstakingly examined the social-media evidence and found Russia’s impact on the election to be trivial. More to the point, the authors concluded: “If the biggest win for Russian information operations is to disorient American political communications, then overstating the impact of those efforts actually helps consolidate their success.”
Bingo. Mr. Schiff may not be a Russian agent but he qualifies as a Kremlin asset in the sense that Hillary Clinton has been known to use the term. Example: Nothing in Mr. Trump’s words and actions, and nothing in the testimony of any witness, supported the claim with which Mr. Schiff began his hearings, that Mr. Trump asked Ukraine to “make up dirt, lots of it” on the Bidens.
Is this not the kind of shameless twisting of the facts the Kremlin’s own propagandists use to sow discord and bitterness? Mr. Schiff later fibbed and said he was engaging in “parody,” but anybody can listen to his remarks and hear him insisting his rendition is the accurate “essence” of Mr. Trump’s “rambling” presentation.
Which raises a question. Festooning their impeachment case with lies and innuendo of the sort Mr. Schiff specialized in during the collusion fiasco is hardly a way for Democrats to win over the noncommitted. Indeed, why allow someone so discredited with Trump voters and Middle America to be the face of this effort in the first place? Answer: Because we’re having this impeachment for no other reason than to appease the House left and save Nancy Pelosi’s speakership when and if Donald Trump is re-elected.
By Holman W. Jenkins, Jr.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi made the least surprising news of the year Thursday by announcing that the House will proceed to impeach President Trump. Once she fired the “inquiry” missile, it could never be called back.
The question now is what precisely the articles of impeachment will say, and in particular we wonder if they will include the charge of bribery. If they do, Joe Biden should prepare for a Senate grilling.
Recall that Adam Schiff, the leading House impeachment advocate, has been floating a capacious definition of bribery that bears no relation to current law. “Well, bribery, first of all, as the Founders understood bribery, it was not as we understand it in law today. It was much broader,” he told NPR. “It connoted the breach of the public trust in a way where you’re offering official acts for some personal or political reason, not in the nation’s interest.”
Mr. Schiff repeated this definition during his Intelligence Committee hearings, and Senator Richard Blumenthal (D., Conn.) made the same point this week when he claimed in the Washington Post that “federal law defines bribery as the solicitation of ‘anything of value personally’ by a public official ‘in return for’ an official act.”
Voila, the charge is that Donald Trump solicited a bribe when he tried to withhold a White House meeting or military aid to Ukraine’s new President in return for investigations into corruption and Joe and Hunter Biden. Mrs. Pelosi says the witnesses summoned by Mr. Schiff “corroborated” the bribery charge.
We’ve argued that Mr. Schiff’s definition of bribery wasn’t true for America’s Founders and isn’t true today. And we were pleased to see support this week from impeachment scholar Jonathan Turley in his testimony to Congress. “On its face, the bribery theory is undermined by the fact that Trump released the aid without the alleged pre-conditions,” Mr. Turley said, adding that “this record does not support a bribery charge in either century.”
As for current bribery law, Mr. Turley noted, the “Supreme Court has repeatedly narrowed the scope.” The Court specifically ruled out the promise of a meeting as a corrupt “official act” in McDonnell (2016). Numerous corruption cases have been thrown out as a result, including one against New Jersey Senator Robert Menendez. The delay in military funds also fails under bribery law given that the aid was ultimately delivered and there’s doubt Mr. Trump even had the statutory authority to deny it. But let’s assume, for the sake of argument, that Mr. Schiff’s bribery definition is correct and should be the impeachment standard. Why then wouldn’t Joe Biden’s actions in Ukraine in 2015 also be an impeachable bribe?
Mr. Biden has admitted that he threatened Ukrainian officials with the denial of U.S. aid if they didn’t fire a prosecutor who was investigating Burisma, which was paying Hunter Biden some $50,000 a month. That sure looks like an official act that had “some personal or political reason,” under the Schiff definition. It was certainly something “of value personally” under the Blumenthal definition.
Mr. Biden might object that he was representing the Obama Administration “in the nation’s interest.” But defining national interest is in the eye of the beholder. Is it in the U.S. interest for Ukraine officials to see that a company can escape scrutiny for corruption if it hires the son of the U.S. Vice President? Is it in the nation’s interest if other countries and companies observe this behavior and hire relatives of other American politicians?
At the very least, this is a question the U.S. Senate should be eager to explore in Mr. Trump’s impeachment trial. Mr. Biden would be essential to call as a leading witness, perhaps for the Trump defense team.
Our point isn’t to play a game of political gotcha with Mr. Biden, whom we would hate to see disqualified as a potential presidential nominee because of this. The point is that if Mr. Trump is guilty of bribery for his Ukraine acts, then so are most American politicians. Democrats are defining bribery so broadly for their impeachment purposes that they are also indicting Mr. Biden, Mr. Menendez and probably most previous American Presidents.
To put it another way, Democrats are trivializing impeachment. They are defining down a constitutional “remedy,” to borrow Mr. Schiff’s word, when it ought to be reserved for genuine “high crimes and misdemeanors” that most Americans would readily understand as such. Mr. Schiff and Mrs. Pelosi are putting Mr. Biden as much in the impeachment dock as the President they despise.