By Arul Louis
New York, July 18 (IANS) Democratic Party leaders in the House of Representatives have thwarted an attempt by the more impetuous members to impeach President Donald Trump, but the reprieve was clouded by a vote to prosecute two members of his cabinet for criminal contempt.
“We just received an overwhelming vote against impeachment, and that is the end of it,” an unrepentant Trump boasted at a rally on Wednesday before redoubling his attacks on the four “left-wing” non-white women Representatives that had got him a House censure on Tuesday.
The move to impeach Trump was opposed by Speaker Nancy Pelosi and other senior moderate leaders who fear it could play into Trump’s hands and become a distraction in an election year while having no chance of passing in the Senate.
Although there have been suggestions for beginning impeachment proceedings against Trump, they had been stalled until Wednesday when Representative Al Green used a procedural tactic to force a vote on his proposal to impeach the president.
The measure to indefinitely delay its consideration — which effectively stops it without formally killing it received 332 votes. But the 95 votes by Democrats against the move was a sign of the rage boiling against Trump that the leaders could not contain.
Pelosi has instead pushed for inquiries against Trump’s and his family’s business and personal dealings by Congress because those could lead to legal action against him while in office or out of it.
Justifying her policy she told reporters that six committees “are working on following the facts” and “that is the serious path that we are on”.
Voting along party lines, the House approved a motion to hold Attorney General William Barr and Commerce Secretary Ross in criminal contempt for refusing to testify before a House committee and asked the Justice Department to prosecute them.
This was the first time Trump’s cabinet officials had been held in contempt by the House.
A House Committee had wanted the two officials to testify before it on an attempt by the administration to include a question in the census forms wanting to know if those answering were citizens.
The question was opposed by Democrats who said it would discourage non-citizens, especially illegal immigrants, from participating in the census. This, in turn, could lead to an undercount that would affect how legislative seats are apportioned.
A court blocked the Commerce Department, which runs the census, from including it in the forms for next year’s headcount.
The Democrats victory could end up being symbolic because the Justice Department that Barr heads may not prosecute him using several legal manoeuvres.
Dealing Trump another symbolic blow, the House also voted to prevent Trump from selling weapons to Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, but he has threatened to veto it and despite the support of some Republicans Congress wouldn’t be able to override it.
Democrats and some Republicans have opposed the arms sale because of the bombings carried out by the Saudi-led forces in Yemen, which has claimed many civilian lives, and the killing of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by the Saudis.
At his meeting of supporters in Greenville in North Carolina — in effect a campaign rally for next year’s election — Trump painted the Democratic Party as an organisation of left-wing socialists out to destroy the US and thundered, “Tonight, we renew our resolve that America will never be a socialist country”.
That is setting the tone for a visceral appeal to his base in the election campaign rather than showcasing his economic successes like the growth, the record low unemployment and the stock market performance.
He tried to pin the four radical women, who are called “The Squad”, as the face of the Democratic Party, saying: “A vote for any Democrat in 2020 is a vote for the rise of radical socialism and the destruction of the American Dream — frankly, the destruction of our country.”
The House on Tuesday had condemned Trump, denounced as racist his tweets directed at Representatives Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley. Although all are US citizens and except for Omar the other three are born in the US, he told them to go back where they came from – an attack often directed against immigrants.
“These left-wing ideologues see our nation as a force for evil”, he told the rally.
“They don’t love our country. I think, in some cases, they hate our country. You know what? If they don’t love it, tell them to leave it,” he said.
As he listed some controversial statements by them and in particular Somalia-born Omar calling the 9/11 al-Qaeda attacks as “some people did something”, the crowd chanted, “Send her back, send her back”.
It sounded like a reprise of his supporters yelling at his 2016 rallies at the mention of Hillary Clinton, “Lock her up”.
(Arul Louis can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @arulouis)