As Democrats forge ahead with their impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, some members of the party are pushing for the articles of impeachment to include his record of sexual abuse and racism, BuzzFeed reports.
Citing two Democratic congresspeople, Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Al Green (D-TX), BuzzFeed reports that some progressive Democrats and longtime impeachment supporters want to see Trump answer for the myriad ways he has abused his power as president.
On Tuesday, Tlaib tweeted, “The words ‘racist abuse of power’ should be part of the articles of impeachment. Not including this type of abuse based on racism will be unjust to the children caged at the border & all the communities who have faced violence b/c of his actions.” She was responding to Trump’s decision to erase Native Americans from Native American Heritage Month, which is observed in November. Trump proclaimed it would now be called, “National American History and Founders Month.”
Green, speaking to BuzzFeed earlier this fall, also told the website he wanted an impeachment inquiry to include “at least one article of impeachment concerning the president’s bigotry infused into policy that is harming our society.”
Currently, House Democrats say they are still in a “fact-finding phase,” though there is wide agreement that an impeachment inquiry will include an article related to Trump’s alleged quid pro quo dealings with Ukraine. There remain questions whether past investigations concerning Trump (like special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s Russia collusion inquiry) and his business interests will be addressed. According to BuzzFeed, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has ruled out “putting anything that might seem ideological” in the articles of impeachment, saying Americans should address those concerns at the ballot box come November 2020:
“If you have disappointment about the president being cowardly about gun violence prevention … or cruel in terms of DREAMers or trans [rights], or in denial about climate change — the list goes on and on — an opposition to a woman’s right to choose, Violence Against Women Act, equal pay for equal work, any of those things — if you have your disagreements with the president, save that for the election,” she said at a press conference just two days after the House announced its formal inquiry. “That has nothing to do with the impeachment.”
But as Peter Irons, author of A People’s History of the Supreme Court wrote for NBC News in July, there does appear to be some political precedent for making a president’s racist actions (be they speech or policy) an impeachable offense.
Citing the case of Andrew Johnson’s impeachment—specifically, Article 10—Irons writes:
Johnson’s deep-rooted racism, along with his verbal excoriation of his congressional foes as “treasonous”—something our current president has also done—led to his impeachment in 1868 ... Article 10 provides this basis by making clear that speaking contemptuously about Congress and its members, with “intemperate” and “inflammatory” attacks based on racial animus—as both Johnson and Trump did on multiple occasions—brings the presidency into “contempt, ridicule and disgrace.”
Irons details how Johnson’s impeachable offenses were rooted in racism—like unlawfully firing government officials who supported Reconstruction policies that aimed to give former slaves civil rights and reparations.
“If blacks were given the right to vote, that would place every splay-footed, bandy-shanked, hump-backed, thick-lipped, flat-nosed, woolly-headed, ebon-colored in the country upon an equality with the poor white man,” Johnson said during the Civil War, when he served as Abraham Lincoln’s vice president.
“It was these racist words, along with Johnson’s verbal excoriation of his congressional foes as ‘treasonous,’ that led to Johnson’s impeachment,” argues Irons, adding that if Johnson’s racist words could be found impeachable, the same should hold for Trump.
Thanks to Pelosi’s (and other moderate Democrats’) obstinate embrace of an ever-murky “center,” the easily-referenced instances of Trump’s racism will likely not make it into the articles of impeachment brought forward against him. And the reason why is simple: many (nonblack) Americans find insinuation and allegations of racism more offensive and polarizing than acts of racism themselves. There’s a case to be made that politicians in 1868 recognized a man might be too racist to reasonably sit in the nation’s highest office; in 2109, even as Democratic presidential candidates float some of the most progressive policies in generations, there is no such clarity on the matter.