Après Mueller —-?
Gilbert N. Kahn is a professor of Political Science at Kean University.
Now that Robert Mueller has delivered his message to Congress, the one thing that is clear is that this show only will have one performance. Sadly, the only real surprise to emerge from Wednesday’s full day of hearings was to observe Mueller soldier through the day as the country observed that Mueller was not the unflappable strongman he once was. As he had done his entire life Mueller put his country’s calling before all else and successfully completed his task, but he is unlikely to provide a sequel.
The conclusions of the hearings remained to be considered by the President, the Members of Congress, the media, and the public. Similarly, the spin will be left to the politicians depending on their perspectives. At this point there are some clear conclusions which can be reached concerning both the Republicans and the Democrats.
The President can be very proud of the fact that, as was expected, there were no defections from the party line. Some the Republican attacks on Mueller, his staff, and the report were demeaning and nasty; nevertheless, the GOP emerged from the hearings having covered their base completely. On the other hand, their conduct was unlikely to have produced any gains from moderate observers.
On the Democratic side there also were no surprises. In both committees the Democrats were well prepared and presented their case well; but as also was expected Mueller gave them little news. They got their points on the record, but as was made even clearer by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi following the hearings, barring an expected bombshell, the House will not be proceeding with an impeachment inquiry.
What Pelosi made clear was that the Democrats intend to continue with all legislative and legal proceedings. If any of these actions were to result in demands for testimony or disclosure of materials and information which until now has been withheld, the position of the Speaker may shift in the direction on impeachment. The most likely area of President Trump’s behavior and history where action could occur would be if the courts ordered the release of Trump’s tax returns or other financial records. If and when the Courts would so order, all prior political decisions immediately will need to be reassessed.
The other possibility would be if Courts begin to rule that Trump’s staff and former officials must comply with congressional subpoenas. If former White House counsel Don McGahn, for example, were to accept the decision of the Court that he must answer the Congress’s subpoenas and testify, it could be a new ballgame.
As Pelosi has consistently argued, all the 2020 elections are what counts; not scoring points and making a ruckus about impeachment. She has maintained that winning impeachment in the House when there is no chance of a conviction in the Senate is utter folly. It will only alienate the moderates and independents which the Democrats need to win back in 2020. She also understands that the party’s future will be greatly affected by states’ re-apportionment that will follow throughout the country after November 2020.
Meanwhile, the Democrats have two more presidential debates next week. The sooner the ranks of contenders gets whittled down, the quicker the Democrats will be able to try to focus the nation on substance. As for the Republicans, they need to hope that they can keep their base happy. If the President can keep himself and his tweets under control, while continuing to deliver his message, the assemblage of Democrats will have a very tough challenge.
Yesterday, Mueller walked off into the sunset. Neither Trump nor Pelosi won. Congress now is going off on its recess, with the budget deal and debt ceiling issues resolved. When the Members return in September having listened to their constituents, there may be clearer or even different message.