As protesters and some liberal politicians have begun talk of impeaching President Trump, others are rushing to pump the brakes as they consider the perils of pushing an opposition agenda that could further divide the nation along partisan lines.
After a brutal election cycle that highlighted the growing rifts between Democrats and Republicans, many hoped that the nation could come together around compromise. Yet just a month after Mr. Trump’s inauguration, divides seem to be continuing rather than healing, leaving some to wonder how continued partisan responses to policies put forth by the new administration will set the course for the next four years.
Trump proved a polarizing candidate on the campaign trail, and his first foray into the presidency has followed that pattern. A Pew Research Center survey conducted between Feb. 7 and 12 found that just 8 percent of Democrats and left-leaning independents approved of Trump’s job performance, while 84 percent of Republicans and independents who lean right approved of how he’s handled the position.
Those numbers mark the most partisan disparity in approval of any president at this point in a term since Ronald Reagan, which is as far back as Pew compares the data. While all presidents have received support from more than three-quarters of respondents within their party, each also received approval from at least 30 percent of those in the opposing party.
Overall, Trump also has the lowest early approval rating of any president elected in the past three decades at 39 percent, according to the Pew poll. Fifty-six percent of respondents said that they disapproved of how the president had handled the job thus far.
As these divisive cleavages become apparent among the electorate, some legislators find themselves moving further from the center to appease their bases. Liberals have called on their elected leaders to resist and fiercely oppose Trump’s cabinet appointees, and issued complaints when some early nominees, such as Ben Carson, were voted into positions without significant protest.
Progressive Democrats such as Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Chuck Schumer of New York, Cory Booker of New Jersey, and Independent Bernie Sanders of Vermont have heeded that call, fiercely opposing the president’s agenda.
"Democrats have the minority in the House, the minority in the Senate. But that does not make us the minority party. We are the party of opposition, and that is our job," Senator Warren told MSNBC earlier this month, after the Senate voted along party lines to silence her remarks regarding Attorney General Jeff Sessions nomination. "But our tools are very limited. We don't have the capacity to stop Jeff Sessions if all the Republicans lock arms."
Still, some worry that acting consistently and predominantly in opposition could further embolden Republicans and their supporters, who may feel as if Democrats are refusing to respect the democratic process.
A similar argument has arisen surrounding the prospect of impeaching the president. While party leaders have warned that taking such an early, harsh stance against Trump could backfire, some progressive Congressional members – including Reps. Maxine Waters of California, Jamie Raskin of Maryland, and Joaquin Castro of Texas – have all raised the topic themselves, arguing that the president has already charted a course toward impeachment by possibly breaching laws, Politico reports. Others have pushed back against the movement, such as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D) of California who called early talk of impeachment “reckless.”
And with such strong support among Republican voters, whose votes put a majority of GOP legislators in both the House and the Senate, a successful impeachment effort would be nearly impossible. Democrats have cautioned that hard evidence of Trump’s relationship with Russia explicitly violating the law or an ongoing push to have Customs and Border Protection officials act in contrast to court orders would be necessary before taking steps against Trump.
“We need to assemble all of the facts, and right now there are a lot of questions about the president’s personal, financial, and political ties with the Russian government before the election, but also whether there were any assurances made,” California Rep. Eric Swalwell (D), who is a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, told Politico. “Before you can use the ‘I’ word, you really need to collect all the facts."