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Settling for half a loaf

WASHINGTON — The decision of House Democrats led by Speaker Nancy Pelosi to pursue only two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump reflects a choice of practical reality over wishful thinking.

In deciding to charge him only with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, and none of the other allegations raised against him in the Mueller Report, the Democrats seemed to recognize that impeachment in the House will be trumped by acquittal in the Republican-controlled Senate.

Democrats have decided that a swift vote to impeach in Pelosi’s domain is the best way to get beyond the impeachment impasse. Unless continued inquiries into the president’s behavior somehow yield more shocking revelations, Democrats are unlikely to pry enough Republican senators out of Trump’s grip to get the two-thirds majority needed to convict. Instead, the Democrats must settle for the hope that the impeachment alone will stain Trump’s record and work against his reelection next year.

That’s not a foregone conclusion. In 1999, the House impeachment of President Bill Clinton didn’t appear significantly to reduce his popularity. He had already easily won his second term in 1996 before the ugly sex scandal occurred for which he was tried. So far, Trump’s overwhelming party solidarity also has shown no sign of erosion as he gears up for 2020 reelection.

Nevertheless, the president has labored under a dark cloud since the 2018 midterm congressional elections that returned the House to Democratic control and set the stage for the impeachment inquiry. More of the same may be in store for many GOP candidates in the 2020 election could achieve the objective at the heart of the impeachment process.

The focus of the impeachment — Trump’s solicitation of a bribe-like “favor” from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to get political dirt on Trump’s prospective 2020 foe, Joe Biden — is well chosen because it is easily understood by voters. Streamlining also will speed the impeachment process, enabling the Democrats to move on to their own legislative agenda for the 2020 election: to improve health care insurance, tackle climate change, reform immigration law and the rest.

Democrats are pitching their impeachment case in terms of defending the Constitution while minimizing animus against Trump personally. In doing so, they want to remind congressional Republicans of their sworn obligation to defend and protect the rule of law in the world’s greatest democracy. However, they are ignoring the argument that failing to act now will enable Trump to continue his lawless conduct, now entrenched as a pattern, for more than another full year.

In sum, Speaker Pelosi and her House caucus followers appear to have chosen to keep much of their political powder dry during the current impeachment fight, in anticipation of the larger and prospectively more winnable battle against Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

That decision in turn heightens the imperative within Democratic ranks to identify and support its strongest candidate among a still oversized field of presidential contenders vying to take him on.

In next week’s televised debate, only seven candidates have qualified under the Democratic National Committee yardsticks of donor or polling support: Biden, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Amy Klobuchar, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, and businessmen Tom Steyer and Andrew Yang.

Two other late entrants, former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick will not be there. Billionaire Bloomberg will skip yet continue to spend gobs of money on television ads promoting himself as the self-designated savior of the country from Donald Trump.

Meanwhile, the impeachment process will run its legal course in the House and Senate. The only likely outcome will be the affirmation of an electorate deeply and bitterly split on destructive partisan lines, and another year of political chaos in the Oval Office.

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