Cambridge made national headlines earlier this week when the city council passed a measure urging Congress to explore the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
News of the resolution’s passage, however, was greeted with more than a bit of skepticism and antipathy by political observers, who noted the liberal Massachusetts city was unlikely to hold much sway with the Republican-controlled Congress.
On that point, supporters of the impeachment resolution movement actually agree.
“Any given municipality’s resolution by itself is obviously a very, very small piece,” says Ben Clements, a Boston lawyer and one of the leaders of a national campaign calling for an impeachment investigation against the president. “But the idea is over time more municipalities will join in on this.”
“We expect that over time it will blossom,” he said.
Clements is the board chair of a nonpartisan, nonprofit group called Free Speech for People, which — along with the progressive advocacy group RootsAction — is behind the national campaign “Impeach Trump Now.”
According to Clements, they launched the campaign on Inauguration Day in light of Trump’s press conference earlier that month announcing he wouldn’t fully divest from his business empire. Some ethics experts have said Trump’s business ties violate conflict of interest rules embedded in the Constitution and could be “an impeachable offense.”
In turn, Clements’s group drafted a two-page draft resolution, hoping to build a groundswell of towns and cities calling upon Congress to begin impeachment investigations. Cambridge became the fifth city to pass such a resolution Monday, joining the California cities of Richmond, Alameda, and Berkeley, as well as Charlotte, Vermont.
Johanna Schulman, a member of Cambridge Area Stronger Together, a local progressive activism group, says she became aware of the resolution after she saw Clements give a local speech.
“I came back to CAST and said ‘OK, I have our first order of business. This is something we can accomplish. It’s important. It’s inline with our mission,'” Schulman recalled, calling the resolution an “actionable” opportunity for success.
Schulman said the group reached to City Councilor Marc McGovern, who is also the vice mayor of the city, about two weeks ago. McGovern was supportive and was soon able to get the resolution on the council’s agenda. It passed 7-to-1 on Monday with one present vote.
“The whole thing took about two weeks from start to finish,” Schulman said with excitement. “I mean how often does that happen?”
Schulman says CAST is working to continue the forward momentum by reaching out and offering assistance to neighboring municipalities like Somerville, Arlington, Belmont, and Watertown. She says she is aware of ongoing efforts to pass the resolution in Amherst, Newton, and Wellesley.
While Republican leaders in Congress have shown no interest in impeaching their party’s president anytime soon, Shulman says they at least hope to encourage Democratic members to bring up what she calls “the I-word.”
“Despite how liberal Massachusetts is, even our own delegation has not spent much time on the airwaves calling for an impeachment investigation to begin,” she said. But if cities and towns of more political diversity join in the movement, she hopes even Republicans will feel moved to act.
“What they need to hear is that it’s not just the Berkeleys and the Cambridges of the country that are calling on the House to investigate impeachment, but the Tulsas, the Baton Rouges, the Molines, the Fargos, the Pittsburghs,” she said.
In the meantime, the impeachment campaign has been a source of energy for an otherwise morose progressive base.
“You can be a part of something concrete and make your voice heard, and be a part of a process that might in fact restore constitutional democracy,” she said.
Clements said the idea for the impeachment campaign was borrowed from a similar movement to get local governments to pass resolutions calling on Congress to overturn the 2010 Supreme Court decision on campaign finance, known as Citizens United. According to Clements, that campaign has helped pass resolutions in 18 states and hundreds of communities to date. The practice of such grassroots efforts goes even further back to anti-Vietnam War movements, he said.
Schulman also stressed that the issue of impeachment is non-partisan. As a former Hillary Clinton supporter, she says Vice President Mike Pence “would not be her first choice for president,” but that she would be “very happy” to see the former Indiana governor replace Trump in the Oval Office.
“I don’t think this country has seen the level of threat to its own democratic institutions like this in generations, and while I share nothing with [Pence] from an ideological standpoint, I would hope at least he would have some respect for the Constitution,” she said.