Torres Small puts off decision as long as possible

Oct 17, 2019

Credit Walt Rubel

Commentary: U.S. Rep. Xochitl Torres Small had to cringe Friday morning when she read the headline on the front page of the Sun-News.

“Rep. Torres Small now supports impeachment of Trump.” it said. That’s not accurate.

As reporter Algernon D’Ammassa makes clear in the lead of the story, Torres Small has now come out in support of an impeachment inquiry for the first time. Not impeachment.

She did so in a column that ran Thursday in the Sun-News where she makes the point even more emphatically. In the next sentence after calling for the inquiry, she wrote, “To be very clear, I have not reached judgment on the president’s actions, nor on the appropriate response.”

Torres Small had been one of just eight Democrats in the House not to come out in support of the impeachment inquiry that has already started. Even after reading the White House memo of the phone call with the president of Ukraine and the whistleblower complaint, she was not ready to attach the word impeachment to the ongoing investigations.  

But her reasoning for that became untenable.

Before Thursday, she had said that she wanted to let the investigations play out first, and was demanding transparency from the White House. But last week the administration sent a letter to House Democrats calling the impeachment inquiry unconstitutional and refusing to turn over any documents or allow witnesses to testify.

And so, the conditions Torres Small had set for her continued holdout are now gone. She had to either find new conditions, or take the step she did.

But it is important to understand the difference between an impeachment inquiry and impeachment. Just as it’s important to understand the difference between impeachment and removal from office. It’s a three-step process that people too often mash together, especially those not old enough to remember Monica Lewinski’s blue dress.

After an impeachment inquiry, Bill Clinton was impeached by the House, then acquitted by the Senate. That makes it sound like the Senate found him not guilty, but it just meant he was allowed to serve out his term with a big, dark cloud hanging over it.

To be fair, the bad headline was written by someone in Phoenix. The story itself was complete and accurate. And, it will all be a moot point when the House takes its final vote on impeachment, and Torres Small is forced to take a stand.

But she clearly wants to put that off for as long as possible.

In the column announcing her decision, she starts by writing about health care. Then border policy and infrastructure. It isn’t until more than halfway through that she states her support for the inquiry, before quickly pivoting back to economic development.

Torres Smal understands her district, which has been owned by two Republicans, Joe Stell and Steve Pearce, ever since its creation following the 1980 census. In the blue wave of the 2018 midterm election when Democrats won back the governor’s post, picked up seats in the House and swept every statewide race, the contest between Torres Small and Yvette Herrell was so close that it wasn’t decided until absentee ballots were counted in Dona Ana County on the Wednesday after election night.

Throughout her first term, Torres Small has tried to stay out of the fight. She has consistently lagged behind her Democratic colleagues in their march toward impeachment. She is undoubtedly one of the members Nancy Pelosi was looking to protect when she launched the inquiry without a vote.

She knows that when she does have to vote on the issue it will spark outrage, no matter which way she goes.