Republicans need more time before they flip on President Donald Trump and support his impeachment, says a former Democratic congresswoman who sat on the Watergate-era House judiciary committee.
Elizabeth Holtzman represented New York in the House for four consecutive terms and was a member of the judiciary committee when it adopted articles of impeachment against former President Richard Nixon over the Watergate scandal.
Holtzman told Newsweek that she sees "deep similarities" between the cases for impeaching Trump and Nixon but cautioned that, as with Watergate, it will be some time before Republicans accept the arguments against the incumbent president.
"It's too soon to expect Republicans to come out and say they're for impeachment," Holtzman told Newsweek, noting that it was "many months after we got started ... before any Republicans said they were in favor of articles of impeachment."
"People have to get a sense of the facts, digest the facts, understand the implications of the facts. The real question here is what is the impact of what President Trump did on our democracy?" Holtzman said.
"And people have to grapple with that, understand it, get their arms around that concept, the danger that it presents. There needs to be a little bit of time here.
"Everybody wants to predict what's going to happen in the Senate but when we started out proceedings in the House Judiciary Committee we didn't even know what the case was or that there'd be enough votes on the committee for impeachment. And it never got to the Senate.
"We can't really put the cart before the horse here. Let's just go and proceed in a methodical way. That's really what has to happen and see how the American people react. Then we'll see what the senators do."
Trump is under the scrutiny of an impeachment inquiry led by House Democrats over his conduct towards Ukraine. He is accused of abusing the power of his office to pressure the Ukrainian government into interfering in the 2020 election. Trump denies any wrongdoing.
The president wanted Ukraine to open and publicly announce two corruption investigations, one into the Democratic Party and one into former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading candidate for the 2020 nomination and a clear rival to Trump.
Presently, the impeachment inquiry is gathering evidence from key administration officials about what took place between Trump, his close aides and Ukraine. The president, like Nixon before him, is refusing to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry.
Some of the testimony to the House Intelligence Committee, which has so far been a mixture of closed-door and open-door hearings, appears to corroborate the allegation that Trump withheld military aid from Ukraine as leverage to secure the politically-advantageous investigations he wanted.
Holtzman said that new evidence is constantly coming out but the case against Trump is already strong and the underlying principle at stake is similar to that of the Watergate scandal.
"In Watergate, Nixon in the cover-up used the power of his presidency to hide the fact of the connection between the Watergate burglars and his campaign in order to be re-elected in 1972. So he was prepared to use the power of his presidency to win his election at all costs," she said.
"Fast-forward to 2019, the president of the United States, Donald Trump, is prepared to and has used the power of his office to win an election in the United States at all costs. This is impermissible. It was an impeachable offense in 1974 and it's an impeachable offense today."
Holtzman continued: "This is much narrower, but it involves some of the same elements that are equally dangerous to our democracy. Interfering with our free elections is a very dangerous threat to our democracy—that's what President Nixon did and that's what President Trump is doing.
"The important thing is to see some of the deep similarities here and that to me is really surprising... You kind of shake your head in wonderment that that lesson hasn't been learned and President Trump seems to think, as Nixon did, that because he is president he is above the law. Well, he's not."
The former congresswoman, who subsequently became comptroller of New York City in the early 1990s before returning to her pre-politics career at a private law firm, said Democrats must communicate to the public the gravity of Trump's misconduct.
"What's involved in an impeachable offense and high crime and misdemeanor is not just harm to the country's wellbeing, but harm to the rule of law and harm to our democracy. And that's the point that I think needs to be made," Holtzman told Newsweek.
"I think the question is going to be how the American people respond to this presentation, this very serious, very grave, very thorough, very sold presentation of the facts.
"Ultimately, an impeachment process is political in the sense that there's a kind of give-and-take with the American people. I think if the American people understand the gravity of what Donald Trump did and the danger it presents to our democracy, to our free elections, then ultimately the Senate will get it.
"If they don't get it, then they'll pay a price and maybe all of us in the future will pay a price because if we don't hold a president accountable for this then when will we ever hold him accountable?"