Welcome to the May edition of the Leah/Ezra letter, written personally by us both. As always, forgive the typos and please feel free to reach out to us directly on Twitter: @leahgreenb & @ezralevin.
If you’ve been reading the last couple Leah/Ezra Letters, you know we like to ask you questions about issues we’re grappling with. For this month’s discussion item, we want to get your thoughts on impeachment to help direct Indivisible’s strategy. So we’ll start with that, and then we have a couple of follow ups and updates since we last wrote you.
The question of the month: Impeachment
This is what we’re wrestling with the most right now - and we want your thoughts. In D.C., discussions around impeachment have really progressed since our last letter.
Mueller’s press conference this Wednesday sent shock waves through the political system. Mueller made clear that, contrary to Attorney General Bill Barr’s assertions, the Mueller Report did not in any way exonerate President Trump. He didn’t charge Trump with a crime, because, he said, he could not charge a sitting president with a crime - only Congress can put a president on trial. He didn’t name the constitutional process to do that, but if you look it up on Wikipedia you’ll find there’s a specific word for it - it’s called impeachment.
This seems to have shocked a lot of people in Washington, possibly because they never actually read the Mueller Report. Those who have, like Elizabeth Warren or even conservative Republican Rep. Justin Amash, had already concluded that impeachment proceedings are necessary. And that means that the pressure is rising on House Democratic Leadership to act.
At this point, there’s a growing divide with the House Democratic Caucus. There are leaders like Rep. Pramila Jayapal (WA), Rep. Jamie Raskin (MD), and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (MI) who are calling for impeachment proceedings to begin. Tlaib has introduced a resolution to start the process - not imprisonment, not conviction, not even impeachment itself - just the beginning of investigations that could lead to impeachment.
On the other side of the divide is most of the House Democratic Leadership - folks like Nancy Pelosi (CA), Steny Hoyer (MD), Hakeem Jeffries (NY), and Ben Ray Lujan (NM). Joe Biden is among the few presidential candidates on this side of the debate. They’re pushing against starting impeachment proceedings at all.
The disagreement between these two factions isn’t about whether Trump has committed impeachable crimes. Both sets of Democrats agree Trump has obstructed justice and likely committed other crimes. The disagreement is around politics. The “no impeachment” crowd think that impeachment will help Trump - that it will generate backlash from his base and hurt their election chances in 2020. And besides, they argue, the Republican Senate is never going to convict anyway.
It’s possible they’re right. There are political risks to impeachment. But there are also real risks to ignoring a constitutional crisis and hoping for the best in the next election.
The House Democratic Leadership wants to keep the attention on their agenda - on health care, on prescription drugs, on infrastructure. But that’s not gonna happen - the issue of the day is this lawless, corrupt, dangerous administration. Trump will not be stepping out of the media spotlight. And right now, Trump’s message is clear (“EXONERATED”), and the Democratic leadership’s response is muddled. If Democrats don’t move forward on impeachment, Trump will point to their decision not to do so as evidence that he’s been exonerated. That’s a real risk, too.
In short, the politics of impeachment might work out for the Democrats, or they might not. Any pundit who claims to be sure what will happen is full of it. No one really knows. As jaded former congressional staffers, we’ve got a motto: if the politics is unclear, might as well do what’s right.
Because what everyone in this debate knows - what no one is arguing about in good faith - is that Trump has committed impeachable crimes.
We don’t know how the politics will pan out. But we do know that it’s the constitutional duty of the U.S. House of Representatives to begin impeachment proceedings. In the end, we don’t think this is that complicated - we think House Democrats should do what they were elected to do. As Elizabeth Warren (who, just to remind you, actually read the report) has said: “There is no political-convenience exception to the US constitution.”
Now, it’s clear we have an opinion on this. But one of the decisions we’re trying to make right now is how to prioritize impeachment relative to other efforts. We believe impeachment is the right thing to do - but we’re still figuring out how to push it, and how much. And we want to hear from you. Tell us: do you agree with us on impeachment? Do you want Indivisible to fight for it? How do you want to be part of the fight?
So please let us know your thoughts here - and let’s continue the conversation.
As you may remember, we’re writing a book! It’s about the Indivisible movement and the fight for a real democracy. We’re sending a final draft to the publisher this month, which means we are in the home stretch. (Wish us luck.) It’s been a pretty darn hard process - it turns out that writing a book is tough! But it’s also been incredibly cool. We’ve talked to Indivisibles from across the country about their stories building power locally. We’ve talked to academics, organizers, and visionaries about the future of democracy. We’ve talked to our families, who have edited way too many drafts at this point (thanks fam!).
As a reminder, Simon and Schuster is publishing it, and we’re both writing it, but 100% of authors proceeds are going to Indivisible’s Save Democracy Fund. This is all about building and strengthening the movement headed into 2020 and 2021.
We’re hoping to make it on the New York Times bestseller list. To do that, our publisher tells us, we should aim for 5,000 preorders. We’ve got fewer than 2,000 so far, but we’ve got a few months to build up. Our publisher also tells us that good authors plug their book. We’re new to this, but we’re trying to be good authors, so we’ll keep sending you gentle reminders like this. :)
Oh right, the link to pre-order is here.
Follow up from last month’s question: Axing the Filibuster
Last month we were wrestling with the filibuster question. Mitch McConnell had promised to be the “grim reaper” of progressive legislation, and we wanted to know what you all thought about Democrats eliminating the filibuster in 2021. You did not disappoint! 772 of you wrote back in response. Here’s how it broke down:
- 70% thought that Democrats should ax the filibuster
- 18% were unsure about it
- 12% thought the filibuster should stay
In all categories - yes, no, and maybe - we got really thoughtful replies. By and large, the “ax it already!” crowd was an emphatic response to the idea the McConnell would be “grim reaper” of progressive legislation. That’s real - it’s why we personally feel urgency around this.
Among the “unsures” and “no’s,” the top concern was simple: if we get rid of the filibuster, what happens the next time the GOP gets into power?
This is a totally reasonable concern!
We’ve got an answer to this, but it’s not terribly reassuring: the GOP has already functionally eliminated the filibuster for all of their top priorities. They axed the filibuster for Supreme Court nominees to jam through Gorsuch and Kavanaugh, and to pack the lower courts. They’ve used the budget reconciliation process - which isn’t subject to the filibuster - to pass massive tax giveaways to the rich for only 50 votes. They tried to use the same process to repeal the Affordable Care Act - and if they’d been able to scrape together fifty votes, they would have succeeded.
It should be really, really clear by now that Mitch McConnell doesn’t care what we think. He doesn’t care about norms or rules. So far the legislative filibuster hasn’t prevented him from getting what he wants. If it stands in his way in the future, he’ll get rid of it.
In short: we can’t let the fear of retaliation by Republicans stop us from doing what’s necessary to save our democracy and our planet. As progressives - people who care about and believe that government can be a force for good - we lose when government is mired in endless, dysfunctional gridlock. We win when we deliver real change. Let’s aim for that.
OK, so how have we used this information so far? Well, given the overwhelming support for axing the filibuster, and the concerns about future Republican control, we signed Indivisible onto the 51for51 campaign. The basic idea of this is simple: in 2021, if Democrats control the Senate and Presidency, they should make D.C. the 51st state, and they shouldn’t allow McConnell to filibuster that - 51 votes ought to be enough to finally make D.C. a state.
We also put together this Indivisible explainer to go over the basic issues with the filibuster, and to respond in greater depth to some of the concerns raised in the survey.
This is a first step. We’ll be working on other ways to help ensure we hit the ground running in 2021 - and we’ll be working right up until then to ensure we take back the Senate and Presidency.
See you next month!
As always, great talking with you all. Please do take a minute to let us know your thoughts on the impeachment issue. Let’s keep the conversation going so we can keep building this movement together.
Ezra and Leah
Co-Executive Directors, Indivisible
PS: Sorry this email got a little long. We’re still trying to figure out the right length and content for these. If you have suggestions, again, feel free to let us know over Twitter: @leahgreenb & @ezralevin.