Our Opinion: Neal, voters: Ignore impeachment hype

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If you watch television, you probably know billionaire businessman Tom Steyer by sight. He's the gent pushing for Donald Trump's impeachment, and he's using his own vast wealth to bring his uncompromising message into our living rooms.

The latest targets of his campaign are House Democrats in leadership positions, one of whom is the Massachusetts 1st Congressional District's own Richard Neal, who last month took over the helm of the powerful House Committee on Ways and Means.

Mr. Steyer's impeachment crusade has now moved from the national to the granular: He's going directly after Western Massachusetts citizens who comprise Mr. Neal's constituency in an effort to convince the congressman to go for President Trump's political jugular as soon as possible. Lest Mr. Neal's district consider itself in some way special, its voters will be pleased to know that Mr. Steyer has singled out the districts of other house committee chairmen, such as those of Reps. Adam Schiff of California (Intelligence) and Jerrold Nadler of New York (Judiciary) for similar treatment.

Mr. Steyer's campaign is wrong-headed in two ways: First, considering the partisan political realities in Washington, impeachment of the president is a pipe dream, or something close to it. The Founding Fathers made impeachment — an essentially political process — difficult in the extreme. As veterans of the Bill Clinton era may remember, a president is first impeached by the House — a measure akin to an indictment — then convicted or acquitted of "treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors" and, if convicted, removed from office by a two-thirds majority of the Senate. The Senate is currently in Republican hands, and another election looms next year. By their behavior so far, Republicans have amply demonstrated that they are not willing to admit that the president has committed such acts.

A precipitate rush to remove President Trump could easily backfire on Democrats, regardless of clamoring from that party's progressive wing. That is what happened to Washington Republicans determined to impeach President Clinton.

Mr. Neal has shown himself to be a man of deliberateness and reason. For example, his leadership position as head of the House's tax-writing committee gives him the power to call for the president's tax returns. Many Americans would relish a peek into those documents, and their contents could reveal much about the president's true motivations and allegiances. It is inexcusable that the president has broken precedent by refusing to do so. Nevertheless, knowing that such a demand will surely initiate a protracted legal process that could work its way, ultimately, to the Supreme Court, Mr. Neal has first chosen to develop a sound legal basis and argument to support it, which requires caution and time.

Likewise, impeachment is a hot potato that, Tom Steyer's desires notwithstanding, must be approached with care if the American people are going to give any credence to the process and not see it as a partisan attempt to unseat a duly elected leader. Wisely, Mr. Neal is waiting for the release of the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller on Russian influence in the 2016 elections before moving forward on this front. Should the allegations contained within be sufficiently damning that even Republicans agree that the country would be better off without Mr. Trump at its helm, then their buy-in would add to the perceived legitimacy of any impeachment proceeding.

Second, Mr. Steyer's plan to flood the airwaves of Mr. Neal's district with exhortations to impeach the president, as well as his hiring of staff to knock on local residents' doors to put the squeeze on the congressman not only makes the billionaire look petulant, it could, at worst, result in ensuring Mr. Trump's re-election by making him look like a victim of Democratic zealotry. There is a presidential election next year, and in fact, the campaign for the Democratic Party nomination has already begun. The focus of Democrats should be on learning from the mistakes of 2016 and finding the best candidate possible rather than on an impeachment effort that is doomed from the start and could backfire on the party.

While some in Mr. Neal's overwhelmingly Democratic-leaning district might be swayed by Mr. Steyer's siren song, his forays into the congressman's backyard to further his own goals are both condescending and potentially disruptive. Surely there are more productive ways for him to spend his wealth. Mr. Steyer's intervention is not at all constructive, and we urge Mr. Neal to ignore it and continue on his current prudent and well-considered course.

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