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The Scarlet & Black

Discussing impeachment in the Grinnell Community


By Talise Tesar

On Sept. 24, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi launched a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump regarding potential abuse of his presidential powers. This inquiry comes after an anonymous source within the Trump Administration issued a whistleblower complaint accusing President Trump of using his office to gain leverage against a potential 2020 political opponent.

The accusation is that Trump withheld aid payments from Ukraine, using them as leverage to force Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate his potential 2020 opponent Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. The White House has released a rough transcript of the phone call between Trump and Zelensky, and the original whistleblower complaint has been released. The House of Representatives, however, still must fully investigate the claims before deciding whether or not to bring forward and vote on articles of impeachment.

Though the word “impeachment” has circulated since Trump’s inauguration in 2017, Speaker Pelosi had previously refused to start a formal inquiry. What makes this accusation different than previous ones? In an email to the S&B, professor of political science Peter Hanson stated, “The difference here is that the behavior in question occurred recently and is easy to understand.”

Hanson also considers how the recentness of this alleged violation shows a pattern of behavior. “Democrats also had to respond for the simple reason that Trump was unlikely to stop this behavior on his own. Democrats had a choice. They could either continue to allow the president to use his office to tip the scales in 2020, or draw the line and make him pay a political price for it. I think they felt they had no choice but to act,” he wrote.

Professor of political science Doug Hess joins Professor Hanson in considering how the inquiry, and potential impeachment, could impact caucus politics. While both consider the effects of changes in media patterns, Hess suspects that if it causes people to pay more attention to the news, it could have a “small positive impact on turnout.” Hanson, however, speculates that “it has been harder for other Democratic candidates to break through the media coverage and get their message to voters.” 

He also anticipates the effect being strongest for Vice President Joe Biden because of Trump’s targeting of him, though he is unsure yet whether the effect will be positive or negative. He wrote, “it puts the spotlight on Biden, and we don’t know yet whether this will harm or help him.” Professor Hanson also notes that, “Impeachment will probably have the immediate effect of energizing the base of each party.”

Local party leadership appears divided on how this inquiry may affect local politics, especially surrounding the caucus. Chris Varney, a chair of the Poweshiek County Republican Party is confident that the impeachment inquiry will not hurt Trump’s chance of nomination, stating, “We are still about 4 months away from the Iowa caucus and while there are challengers to President Trump in the upcoming election, they do not currently have a significant presence in the state.”

One of the chairs of the Poweshiek County Democratic Party, John Grennan, considers how it may impact the decision Democratic caucus-goers will face. “It’s possible that voters will make their decisions about whom to support in the caucuses based on how different Democratic politicians talk about impeachment, but it’s still unfolding,” he wrote. Grennan also wondered if Warren’s position as one of the first to come out strong in favor of impeachment during the Mueller investigation helped her gain Democratic support early in the campaign.

The local parties were also divided on how they viewed Trump’s actions. Grennan stated that, “The vast majority of people who are most active in the local Democratic Party in this County definitely feel as though Trump has violated the law—particularly with regard to soliciting foreign interference in the 2020 election.” However, Varney wrote, “Nobody has mentioned to me that the President should be removed from office for any reason.”

Both Varney and Grennan emphasized the importance of getting involved in caucus politics, regardless of the outcome of the impeachment inquiry. Grennan feels that “the stakes are higher in 2020 than they were in any other presidential election,” and anticipates “very high levels of participation in the caucus.” While Republicans aren’t expecting quite as high of turnout, Varney hopes that people will still participate, writing, “The Iowa caucus is more than just about selecting who should run for President of the United States. It is about becoming involved, it is about having a voice in the process, and it is about becoming part of the proud tradition of this state, the first in the nation to caucus. If you do not show up on caucus night for whatever reason, then your voice will not be heard.”

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