Progressive members from safe blue districts, egged on by celebrities, pundits, and academic coastal elites are ratcheting up the pressure to impeach President Trump. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi may cave to their demands but not because she is threatened with being ousted.
Unlike former Republican House Speaker John Boehner, who resigned the speakership under pressure from his right flank, Pelosi has no such worries. She saw what happened to Boehner and took proactive steps to insulate herself from the demands of her base. What's stunning is that nearly every one of them voted for it.
Early this year, House Democrats passed a standard rules package that would govern the House during the 116th Congress. On a party-line vote, 234 Democrats supported the rules package. But that package was anything but standard.
Among the surprising changes in the small print was a little-noticed provision changing the threshold for the Motion to Vacate the chair. It was a lot of “insider baseball” that few voters – and probably not many members of Congress could fully appreciate.
The Motion to Vacate is the process used to replace a speaker of the house in mid-session. It works like this: the majority party introduces the motion to vacate, which declares the office of speaker vacant and forces a new vote. This is a privileged motion, meaning anyone can offer it. If a majority of the whole body supports the motion, it passes. That means a minority of the majority plus the minority party can combine to oust a speaker. Though the process was not used on Speaker Boehner, the mere threat of North Carolina Rep. Mark Meadows introducing such a motion was enough for Boehner to step down.
Pelosi can keep ignoring calls for impeachment as long as she likes. She is solidly in place as speaker until the 117th Congress convenes in January 2021.
Pelosi has no such fears. Under her rules package, the Motion to Vacate now requires a majority of the majority before it can be voted on by the full House. That is a much higher threshold and nearly impossible to achieve. What was once a tool of the minority (not the House minority, but the minority of the majority) has been eliminated.
As a result, Pelosi can keep ignoring calls for impeachment as long as she likes. She is solidly in place as speaker until the 117th Congress convenes in January 2021.
While the elimination of check on power is not good for the country, it may ironically turn out to be good for Republicans, who rode anti-Pelosi sentiment to a crushing victory in 2010. It may also be good for the president's 2020 prospects as it leaves little flexibility for Democrats if they once again see Pelosi driving their party over an electoral cliff.
If there’s one bet you can never lose, it’s predicting that Nancy Pelosi will overreach.
When she was serving as speaker during my first term in the House, Pelosi overreached to such a degree that she helped spawn the Tea Party movement. Her policy prescriptions were so bad and her marketing of them so deceptive that the resulting electoral backlash cost Democrats the House and Pelosi the speakership.
While Pelosi may yet decide to pursue impeachment, she is protected from any backlash within her own caucus. The only way Pelosi opts to pursue an impeachment agenda is if moderate voters in swing districts demand it.