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8th Feb 2020 – The Hindu Topic 2

“Trump moves on: On the acquittal of the U.S. President”

The acquittal of U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday, of impeachment charges in the Senate, has brought an end to the months-long acrimonious proceedings in Congress that exposed the American political class’s deep partisan divisions. Mr. Trump, who was impeached for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in the Democrats-controlled House in December, has expectedly claimed the Senate acquittal as a “vindication” of his actions. But the truth is far from his claims. It is Mr. Trump’s decision to delay critical military aid to Ukraine in return for Kiev launching investigations against Joe Biden, the former Vice-President and a key Democratic presidential candidate, and his son, Hunter Biden, that triggered the impeachment proceedings. By refusing to cooperate with the House inquiry into the issue, the Democrats said he obstructed Congressional proceedings. The House voted largely on party lines on December 18 to impeach him, but it was clear that he would not be convicted in the Republicans-controlled Senate where a two-third majority is needed to remove a sitting President from office. The Grand Old Party stood firmly behind its President. Only Mitt Romney, the Utah Senator, broke ranks to vote against Mr. Trump on one of the two charges.

 

If it was certain that Mr. Trump would be acquitted, why did the House Democrats launch the impeachment proceedings? The Democrats would say that irrespective of the final outcome, it is the House’s responsibility to hold the President accountable for his actions. While this is a valid argument, the problem is the political cost. Mr. Trump has already launched a tirade and would definitely turn the acquittal into another campaign issue that would fit into his “witch hunt” narrative. Clearly, the Congressional inquiry and the trial have not dented his popularity as many of his rivals had hoped for. Different pollsters suggest that the President’s approval rating jump (43.5% to 49%) is near his highest level since he entered the office. Furthermore, the Republican Party, which had often clashed with Mr. Trump in the early days of his Presidency, stood united to defend him, irrespective of the facts of the Ukraine scandal. On the other side, the Democrats, despite their morally righteous positions, are divided. The Iowa caucuses were an opportunity for them to start the process of building a nationwide counter-narrative to Mr. Trump’s protectionist, bellicose, and sometimes vindictive policies. But they messed up, embarrassing themselves. The Democrats may still not end the political wrangling over the scandal. The House can summon more witnesses and continue the investigation. But to ensure a Trump defeat in the November poll, that may not be enough. They should have transparent primaries, unite behind their candidate and launch a campaign on issues that appeal to the American voter.

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