U.S. Rep. Mark Pocan has a clear-eyed perspective on the question of impeachment. It is not an option, or a strategy. It is a duty.

"If we do nothing, we have set a precedent for every future president that you can do whatever you want and you won't be accountable," Pocan said. "So we have to do this. Whether it has electoral pluses or minuses has to be a secondary thought."

My bet is that voters will reward members of Congress who respect their oath to defend the Constitution. But Pocan is right to speak in terms of duty and responsibility. The same goes for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who on Thursday instructed House committee chairs to draft articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.

“The president leaves us no choice but to act because he is trying to corrupt, once again, the election for his own benefit," Pelosi said, as she referred to “articles of impeachment” in her Thursday morning remarks.

That’s important, as there should be a number of articles. They will certainly address the president’s abuse of his position in an effort to influence the 2020 election. But they should also focus on Trump’s efforts to thwart the congressional inquiry into those abuses.

It is clear that Trump abused his power by pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender for the 2020 Democratic nomination.

“The facts are uncontested,” Pelosi said. “The president abused his power for his own personal political benefit at the expense of our national security by withholding military aid and a crucial Oval Office meeting in exchange for an announcement of an investigation into his political rival.”

At the same time, Pelosi’s statement provided encouragement for those who seek an impeachment that focuses not merely on the Ukraine affair itself, but also on the president’s obstructions of inquiries into his wrongdoing by Congress and federal law enforcement agencies. The speaker did not speak of specific articles, saying she would leave that to the committee chairs. But in a press conference following her announcement, Pelosi said, “We’re not going to be accomplices to his obstruction of justice.”

Noting that Trump “has refused to produce a single document and directed every witness not to testify,” Rep. Jerry Nadler and his Judiciary Committee colleagues focused a significant amount of attention on the obstruction of Congress during Wednesday’s hearing — with a particular emphasis on the concern of the framers of the Constitution about the prospect that presidents might assume “monarchical” or “kingly” powers.

Pelosi picked up on that language in her Thursday announcement.

Invoking the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, the speaker argued: “His wrongdoing strikes at the very heart of our Constitution — a separation of powers, three co-equal branches, each a check and balance on the other.”

That system of checks and balances, Pelosi explained, was established to guard against the rise of “an oppressive monarch” who might abuse his position for personal or political gain. “If we allow a president to be above the law, we do so surely at the peril of our republic.”

Pelosi has a sense of urgency, as does Pocan. Rightly so. This is a matter of duty.

John Nichols is associate editor of The Capital Times. jnichols@madison.com and @NicholsUprising. 

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