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Durbin not ready to predict how Trump’s acquittal will play in November

Illinois senator defends failed impeachment effort as a Constitutional “obligation.”

Sen. Dick Durbin speaks to reporters Friday about the damage done to the Lake Michigan shoreline by rising lake levels.
Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., speaks to reporters Friday about the damage done to the Lake Michigan shoreline by rising lake levels. He was not ready to speak about any damage done to Democrats’ in the fall election by their failed impeachment effort.
Tyler LaRiviere/Sun-Times

U.S. Sen. Dick Durbin said Friday it’s too soon to tell whether the failed effort to impeach President Donald Trump makes it more or less likely for Democrats to block his re-election—or to regain a majority in the Senate.

“I don’t think you can answer that nine months, 10 months away from the election,” Illinois’ senior senator told me. “But we had an obligation, I believe, under the Constitution, not to ignore what this President did.”

I guess I’ll have to ask him again in November.

Durbin, just back from voting to convict Trump in the Senate trial that ended in the President’s acquittal, joined Mayor Lori Lightfoot and Lt. Gov. Juliana Stratton at La Rabida Children’s Hospital Friday to talk about the need for more federal funding to protect the Lake Michigan shoreline.

But with Trump’s continued gloating still grating on my brain, I followed Durbin down there in hopes of hearing some indication Democratic leaders were prepared for this eventuality when they started down the impeachment path.

I didn’t come away encouraged.

I seem to be one of the few Democrats who always thought impeachment was a bad idea.

The best way to get rid of Trump, in my humble opinion, is to vote him out of office. Any strategy that makes that more difficult is a mistake, and impeachment always appeared to be doomed to failure in the Republican controlled Senate.

Now, here we are with some of my fellow soothsayers asserting the whole impeachment effort has backfired on Democrats and the most recent Gallup poll telling us Trump’s approval rating is the highest since he took office (albeit a modest 49 percent, if the word “modest” can be used in connection with our megalomaniac president.)

So what was accomplished by impeaching Trump, when he seems to have emerged as strong as ever?

“I think the story was told for the American people to see it,” Durbin said. “I think what the president did was out of line. It was an abuse of his authority as president, and I think the case was made very dramatically.”

“At a time when 2016’s election was at risk because of foreign interference, the fact this president continued to invite other foreign nations to get involved in our electoral process is, in my mind, shameless,” Durbin later continued.

Wrong? Agreed. Shameless? Agreed. Abuse of authority? Absolutely.

But here’s the thing. The people who voted for Trump don’t seem to agree. They knew the guy was shameless when they voted for him. They don’t mind.

They were never going to accept overturning the results of the 2016 election and seeing him thrown out of office on the basis of the Ukraine evidence, no matter how many witnesses were called to testify.

And the Republicans in the Senate were always going to reflect that point of view, no matter what they think of Trump personally or the case against him.

Durbin said he never foresaw any more than three Republicans voting in favor of impeachment, which at best would have resulted in a 50-50 vote when a two-thirds supermajority was required to convict.

In the end, as we know, only one senator, Republican Mitt Romney, crossed party lines, all totally predictable.

Despite my objection to impeachment, it gave me pause in late September when Durbin, to my mind a partisan but reasonable individual who had also been slow to jump on the impeachment bandwagon, added his voice to those calling for an inquiry.

I thought maybe he knew something the rest of us didn’t. Apparently not that much more.

I will always wonder if there would have been a way to conduct the Ukraine investigation just as effectively through a proceeding that fell short of impeachment.

Some say the Democrats real goal here was to win back the Senate by putting vulnerable Republicans on the spot with an unpopular impeachment vote.

It’s hard for me to imagine any scenario in which Democrats win the Senate without also defeating Trump.

Durbin, who is up for re-election himself this year, wasn’t consulting his crystal ball on that question either.

“It’s hard to measure. It’s hard to say what anything that is done now, in February, is going to have any impact on a plus or minus basis in November,” he said.

True, it’s a long game, and the eventual deciding factor in the 2020 election may still be in the future.

But this didn’t help.