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Congressman Lloyd Doggett

Representing the 35th District of Texas

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Austin Chronicle: Point Austin: “The Time to Act Is Now”

June 21, 2019

In a phone conversation this week, U.S. Rep. Lloyd Doggett, D-Austin, expressed impatience over the unwillingness of his House Democratic colleagues to pursue a formal impeachment inquiry into the actions of President Donald Trump. "I have not come to supporting impeachment quickly or eagerly," Doggett said. "I have come to the conclusion that an impeachment inquiry is the only effective response in view of Donald Trump's total-obstruction policy."

Doggett described not only the apparent obstruction of justice episodes cataloged in Robert Mueller's investigative report, but the ongoing refusal of the White House to cooperate with House investigations, including refusals to testify (even under subpoena) and refusals to provide the documents necessary to the investigations. Doggett said he has supported the use of the rarely used "inherent contempt" powers of the House – a power akin to that of courts to enforce subpoenas by either arrest and confinement or fines to enforce cooperation. That option has been rejected by the Democratic leadership, but Doggett insists that Trump's intransigence as well as the congressional calendar demand a stronger and swifter response.

"I don't believe that timidity and weakness is a way to address Donald Trump," Doggett said. "He has pursued a lawless approach. I think he feels that he is a subject of impunity, much like some Third World authoritarian figures. ... We should move forward with a formal inquiry, and let the American people know that we have a responsibility not only about Donald Trump, but about the preservation of our democracy and the checks and balances that are necessary."

The current Democratic leadership strategy – subpoena of uncooperative witnesses reinforced by court appeals – is not working, and is costing valuable time. "The steps that have been taken to date, under the best of circumstances," Doggett said, "will produce unwilling witnesses under subpoena testifying before the House sometime around Thanksgiving or Christmas." Wit­nesses who have appeared (this week, e.g., former Trump aide Hope Hicks) are refusing to answer substantive questions, he said, adding that it appears Congress might not receive Trump's tax returns before next year or even end of term.

Politics and the Threat of War

Doggett acknowledged that a majority of House Democrats do not yet publicly support impeachment. "To some extent, they reflect public opinion," he said. "There is still a [public] majority that opposes impeachment, despite the very lawless conduct of Donald Trump and the evidence in the Mueller Report about obstruction. I think there is a recognition that there are more than 30 seats that are held by new Democratic members in districts that Trump won [in 2016], and a concern that an impeachment inquiry could jeopardize those members and Democratic control of the House." Does he believe that's a realistic concern? "I wouldn't be embracing the inquiry if I thought it was realistic.

“Politically, it may be a close question, but I think we’re called on to do more than just consider the politics of the moment.” – Rep. Lloyd Doggett

“Politically, it may be a close question, but I think we're called on to do more than just consider the politics of the moment. I really do think we have a responsibility under the Constitution, when we see impeachable conduct, to move forward and at least investigate."

Doggett also mentioned that continuing to allow Trump to act without congressional resistance has created an even greater worry: the prospect of war with Iran. "They really endanger us every day," he said, "but that's what I worry about the most – the possibility of them, in the waning months ... of this administration, starting a war some place, and Iran is No. 1 on the list."

The March of Time

According to published reports, about 70 House members (out of 235 Democrats) support initiating an impeachment inquiry (as does one Republican, Justin Amash of Michigan). Are the rest, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, persuadable? "I don't know," said Doggett. But he emphasized that the official calendar – including summer recesses and upcoming fall campaigns, is already tight. Does he think there is a timetable in which House sentiment finally shifts into impeachment action?

"I don't know the answer to your question, in what is the limited time available. As we get into the fall, the narrow period we've got for the Democratic primary debates and the like, the more opportunity [there is] for Trump to argue that it's all political. So the time to act is now."