Brooks: Democrats are “making a terrible mistake” on contempt, destroying checks and balances


How surprising would it be to see Jerrold Nadler ripped at the New York Times for becoming the villain in the Mueller wars? So much so that columnist David Brooks felt the need for explaining just how unpopular he expects his latest column to be:

That recognition appears to play a role in the way Brooks makes his argument. He starts off his column with a heaping serving of poxes on both houses, especially Trump. Brooks writes that Trump “never understood checks and balances,” or “anything that stands in the way of his spoiled-boy will.” With that box checked in paragraph two, Brooks proceeds to dole out blame to both parties for the corrosion of checks and balances all the way down to paragraph five, where Brooks finally gets to the point:

Republicans have crossed this line in the past, and Democrats crossed it this week, undermining the way the system of oversight is supposed to work. How do we know this? Because of what Democrats are declaring a constitutional crisis over — the redaction levels of the Mueller report. Of all the contemptible things the Trump administration has done, this is probably the least contemptible.

Sure, William Barr distorted the report in his initial summary, but he also released a report that was extremely damning about his own president. In addition, Barr has made 99.9 percent of Volume II of the Mueller report, which is focused on obstruction, available to top Democrats, as noted in a letter from Assistant Attorney General Stephen Boyd.

Brooks then covers in brief some of the arguments made yesterday by Jonathan Turley at more length. He notes that the contempt charge won’t actually solve anything, using Eric Holder as an example while also pointing out that Republicans gave Holder well over a year to produce Operation Fast and Furious documentation before triggering the contempt charge. Brooks then gets to his main point, which is that Democrats’ politicization of checks and balances will destroy them — and play right into Trump’s hands:

This constitutional crisis is just for show. Partly the Democrats want the show because it just feels good to bash the administration. “This has had a cathartic effect on the Democrats because we have finally been able to find a way to fight back at the obstructionism,” Representative Jamie Raskin told my Times colleague Sheryl Gay Stolberg.

Partly they are trying to appease the wing of the party that is calling for impeachment right away. The party leaders generally opposed impeachment for sensible reasons. It would be impossible to win a conviction in the Senate without some Republican cooperation and overwhelming popular support — which doesn’t exist. It’s much better for the Democrats if they focus media attention on their presidential candidates. A Trump vs. Nadler media war is exactly what Trump wants.

The problem with any policy of appeasement is that it rarely appeases; it only emboldens. And that’s what’s happening. You can feel the atmosphere in the Democratic Party changing, getting more passionate, getting more caught up in the back-and-forth combat with Trump, getting more whipped up into impeachment furor.

Both sides are playing a dangerous game, but Democrats have much more to lose in it. Public opinion isn’t shifting in their favor — it’s shifting away from them, in part because voters have little interest or investment into Beltway food fights. That’s especially true when the issue is as esoteric as redactions in a report that’s otherwise fully published and its conclusions clearly assessable. If Congress goes nuts over 2% redactions to protect grand-jury information in a report that let Trump off the hook anyway, that won’t erode trust in the presidency as much as it will erode trust in Congress, although it will have a corrosive effect on both in the long run.

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As for Brooks’ common-sense take being “an unpopular view at the Times,” well … that’s no surprise either.

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