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Donald Trump is unfit for office – but don't bet on him being impeached

With an 80 per cent approval rating with Republican voters, the President will be difficult to dislodge through any means other than the ballot box.

Less than 60 days into Donald Trump’s unpredicted – and unpredictable – presidency, impeachment is fast becoming the top topic of conversation here in Washington, DC. Wherever I go, whomever I talk to, the conversation ends with one question: can this unqualified, unhinged narcissist last the full four years?

From left-wingers such as the film-maker Michael Moore to right-wingers such as the conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks, the pundits are counting down the days until impeachment hearings begin. Professor Allan Lichtman of American University, who has correctly forecast every presidential election result since 1984, including Trump’s, is now predicting that the president will be removed from office over his alleged ties to Russia.

I’m not convinced. Talk of impeachment seems like a liberal fantasy of the highest order. No president of the United States has been charged, convicted and forced out of office. Andrew Johnson (1865-69) and Bill Clinton (1993-2001) were both impeached by the House of Representatives but then acquitted by trials in the Senate; Article II, Section 4 of the US constitution gives the House the sole power to impeach but the Senate the sole power to convict. It also lists impeachable offences as “treason, bribery, and other high crimes and misdemeanours” – without defining what constitutes a “high crime” or “misdemeanour”. Speaking in 1970, Gerald Ford – who, ironically, went on to serve as president after Richard Nixon resigned from office to avoid near-certain impeachment – said: “An impeachable offence is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”

This perhaps is the overarching reason why Trump can carry on golfing at Mar-a-Lago without a care in the world: there is no appetite for impeachment where it matters most. The president’s party controls the House of Representatives and, thanks to a combination of brazen gerrymandering and attempts at voter suppression, will probably still command a majority in the House even after the November 2018 midterms. As for the Senate, again the Republicans are in control, with a majority of four and with Senate Democrats, come 2018, having to defend seats in five “ruby-red” states where Trump won by double-digit margins.

If you think the radicalised Republicans on Capitol Hill, who at every stage of the campaign put party before country and who are now on the verge of taking control of the Supreme Court, rolling back abortion rights and passing tax cuts for millionaires and billionaires, are going to impeach the man who made all this happen for them and did what their last two presidential candidates couldn’t, I have a Trump Tower to sell you.

Despite Trump’s manifest unfitness for the highest office in the land, his opponents on the right have proved to be few and far between. Take Jason Chaffetz. After the now-notorious recording of Trump bragging about sexual assault emerged last October, Chaffetz, the GOP chair of the House oversight committee, who had spent years hounding Hillary Clinton over her emails, withdrew his endorsement of his party’s candidate. He said he couldn’t look his teenage daughter “in the eye”. Yet the following month, he fell back into line and announced he’d be voting for . . . Trump. Is this the kind of Republican legislator you think has the backbone to vote for impeachment?

Then there are the Senate Republicans, supposedly the grown-ups of the party. Asked by the New York Times last month how long he and his colleagues would tolerate Trump’s crazy conspiracies and bizarre behaviour, Senator John Cornyn, the
Republican whip, replied bluntly: “As long as we’re able to get things done.” The Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, said there was “a high level of satisfaction” with Trump and that Republican senators weren’t bothered by “the daily tweets”.

You may be repulsed by their cynicism but you have to admire their chutzpah. Even mild critics within the GOP, such as John McCain, whom Trump publicly ridiculed for being captured by the Vietcong, told the Times that “we can get a lot done with the people around him”. Ted Cruz, whose wife Trump once mocked, tweeting that she was ugly, took his wife with him to a family dinner with the president at the White House early this month. Is there any Trumpian humiliation these people will not forgive, forget or brush under the Oval Office carpet?

“It’s hard for me to imagine President Trump committing any offence so egregious that Republicans in Congress would consider it impeachable in the current political climate,” McKay Coppins, the author of The Wilderness: Deep Inside the Republican Party’s Combative, Contentious, Chaotic Quest to Take Back the White House, tells me. “Any GOP lawmaker to break ranks with the rest of the party and call for impeachment would almost surely suffer the consequences at the ballot box.”

Remember: Trump may have entered office in January as the least popular president of the modern era but he still has an 80 per cent approval rating with Republican voters. This dynamic might change, Coppins says, “but it would take a pretty serious crime on Trump’s part, complete with some sort of undeniable smoking gun” and it would also require “influential elements of the conservative media to turn on the president”.

For now, obsessing over impeachment is a dangerous distraction from the biggest challenge of all: resisting not just Trump’s hard-right policy agenda but the normalisation of his politics of hate, bigotry and “alternative facts” over the next four years. The reality is that the only way to remove Trump from office is the old-fashioned way: to beat him at the ballot box – again.

Mehdi Hasan is a broadcaster and New Statesman contributing editor

Mehdi Hasan is a contributing writer for the New Statesman and the co-author of Ed: The Milibands and the Making of a Labour Leader. He was the New Statesman's senior editor (politics) from 2009-12.

This article first appeared in the 16 March 2017 issue of the New Statesman, Brexit and the break-up of Britain

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The 4 questions to ask any politician waffling on about immigration

Like - if you're really worried about overcrowding, why don't you ban Brits from moving to London? 

As the general election campaigns kick off, Theresa May signalled that she intends to recommit herself to the Conservatives’ target to reduce net migration to the “tens of thousands.” It is a target that many – including some of her own colleagues - view as unattainable, undesirable or both. It is no substitute for a policy. And, in contrast to previous elections, where politicians made sweeping pledges, but in practice implemented fairly modest changes to the existing system, Brexit means that radical reform of the UK immigration system is not just possible but inevitable.

The government has refused to say more than it is “looking at a range of options”. Meanwhile, the Labour Party appears hopelessly divided. So here are four key questions for all the parties:

1. What's the point of a migration target?

Essentially scribbled on the back of an envelope, with no serious analysis of either its feasibility or desirability, this target has distorted UK immigration policy since 2010. From either an economic or social point of view, it is almost impossible to justify. If the concern is overall population levels or pressure on public services, then why not target population growth, including births and deaths? (after all, it is children and old people who account for most spending on public services and benefits, not migrant workers). In any case, given the positive fiscal impact of migration, these pressures are mostly a local phenomenon – Scotland is not overcrowded and there is no shortage of school places in Durham. Banning people from moving to London would be much better targeted.

And if the concern is social or cultural – the pace of change – it is bizarre to look at net migration, to include British citizens in the target, and indeed to choose a measure that makes it more attractive to substitute short-term, transient and temporary migrants for permanent ones who are more likely to settle and integrate. Beyond this, there are the practical issues, like the inclusion of students, and the difficulty of managing a target where many of the drivers are not directly under government control. Perhaps most importantly, actually hitting the target would have a substantial economic cost. The Office for Budget Responsibility’s estimates imply that hitting the target by 2021 – towards the end of the next Parliament – would cost about £6bn a year, compared to its current forecasts.

So the first question is, whether the target stays? If so, what are the specific policy measures that will ensure that, in contrast to the past, it is met? And what taxes will be increased, or what public services cut to fill the fiscal gap?

2. How and when will you end free movement? 

The government has made clear that Brexit means an end to free movement. Its white paper states:

“We will design our immigration system to ensure that we are able to control the numbers of people who come here from the EU. In future, therefore, the Free Movement Directive will no longer apply and the migration of EU nationals will be subject to UK law.”

But it hasn’t said when this will happen – and it has also stated there is likely to be an “implementation period” for the UK’s future economic and trading relationship with the remaining EU. The EU’s position on this is not hard to guess – if we want to avoid a damaging “cliff edge Brexit”, the easiest and simplest option would be for the UK to adopt, de facto or de jure, some version of the “Norway model”, or membership of the European Economic Area. But that would involve keeping free movement more or less as now (including, for example, the payment of in-work benefits to EU citizens here, since of course David Cameron’s renegotiation is now irrelevant).

So the second question is this – are you committed to ending free movement immediately after Brexit? Or do you accept that it might well be in the UK’s economic interest for it to continue for much or all of the next Parliament?

3. Will we still have a system that gives priority to other Europeans?

During the referendum campaign, Vote Leave argued for a “non-discriminatory” system, under which non-UK nationals seeking to migrate to the UK would be treated the same, regardless of their country of origin (with a few relatively minor exceptions, non-EEA/Swiss nationals all currently face the same rules). And if we are indeed going to leave the single market, the broader economic and political rationale for very different immigration arrangements for EU and non-EU migrants to the UK (and UK migrants to the rest of the EU) will in part disappear. But the Immigration Minister recently said “I hope that the negotiations will result in a bespoke system between ourselves and the European Union.”

So the third question is whether, post-Brexit, our immigration system could and should give preferential access to EU citizens? If so, why?

4. What do you actually mean by reducing "low-skilled" migration? 

One issue on which the polling evidence appears clear is that the British public approves of skilled migration – indeed, wants more of it- but not of migration for unskilled jobs. However, as I point out here, most migrants – like most Brits – are neither in high or low skilled jobs. So politicians should not be allowed to get away with saying that they want to reduce low-skilled migration while still attracting the “best and the brightest”.

Do we still want nurses? Teachers? Care workers? Butchers? Plumbers and skilled construction workers? Technicians? If so, do you accept that this means continuing high levels of economic migration? If not, do you accept the negative consequences for business and public services? 

Politicians and commentators have been saying for years "you can't talk about immigration" and "we need an honest debate." Now is the time for all the parties to stop waffling and give us some straight answers; and for the public to actually have a choice over what sort of immigration policy – and by implication, what sort of economy and society – we really want.

 

 

Jonathan Portes is director of the National Institute of Economic and Social Research and former chief economist at the Cabinet Office.

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