Donald Trump’s impeachment may have felt like a foregone conclusion long before it happened last Wednesday night.
But that’s not how it felt on the floor of the House of Representatives. Just ask Representative Katherine Clark. The Melrose Democrat felt the historic import of participating in one of the most consequential actions Congress can take.
“It weighed very heavily on me,” Clark said in a telephone interview Friday. “I was surprised. After all these months and thinking about impeachment and being so alarmed and fearful not only for our national security but for our very democracy, I was surprised how difficult it was to be in that moment.”
In her judgment — and mine as well — the House had little choice but to exercise its authority over the president, such as it is. But it became clear during the days of debate leading up to the vote that only one party saw impeachment as a real option. The GOP chose instead to ignore all evidence, push phony arguments in Trump’s defense, and generally stick cotton in their ears while closing ranks around Trump, who seems to have an entire political party thoroughly intimidated.
“The facts were uncontested, and the story they told was of the betrayal of the president’s oath of office and the threat to our national security and to our country,” Clark said.
So where do we go from here?
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has thus far declined to send the two articles of impeachment to the Senate, until it agrees to a real trial, as opposed to the sham the GOP seems poised to conduct. (Notably, Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, has already declared that he will conduct it in lockstep with the White House.)
Perhaps the threat of a delayed trial gives Pelosi leverage, but that isn’t how it feels. Trump claims to be eager for a trial, knowing that the threshold for removing him seems unattainable. But McConnell seems content to treat this like another Merrick Garland moment, in which the Senate simply refuses to meet its constitutional duty, counting on public outrage to eventually subside. That’s a risky strategy, but that hasn’t stopped McConnell before.
To be clear, I think Trump should have been impeached. There are probably many valid grounds for impeachment, but there’s no question that he tied military aid to Ukraine to that country’s cooperation in helping to tilt the next election by helping to smear Joe Biden. If compromising the integrity of our elections isn’t impeachable, nothing is.
But congressional Democrats may soon be left defending an impeachment proceeding with a very unsatisfying and inconclusive ending. If Trump isn’t removed — which he clearly won’t be — will all of this have been in vain?
“It’s never a waste to uphold our oath of office and uphold the Constitution,” Clark told me. “We have followed the facts before the American people and followed the truth. The truth has led us to a very clear conclusion that this president is no longer worthy of being in office. This has become a presidency of, by, and for Donald Trump — not of, by, and for the American people.”
The politics of impeachment have always been muddled and messy. It’s never been clear how impeaching Trump would sway public opinion about his conduct, or what it would accomplish. The same can now be said of a trial whose result seems preordained. Presidents have been impeached before, but no impeached president has ever been protected by his party the way Trump has been.
But House Democrats deserve credit for casting aside political calculations and standing up for the rule of law. And if impeachment is no longer the threat to presidents it was intended to be, the Constitution does provide for one other option that is impossible to block.
Trump will face the voters in less than a year. Even Mitch McConnell won’t be able to shield him from that.Adrian Walker is a Globe columnist. E-mail him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Or follow him on Twitter @adrian_walker.