To impeach or not to impeach? That is the choice before Nancy Pelosi as she strategizes over how best to position Democrats for 2020 and as she fends off yet another challenge to her leadership in the House.
To date, nine Democrats in Congress have openly opposed Mrs. Pelosi’s bid to regain the Speaker’s gavel in the aftermath of the midterm elections. Another handful has expressed enthusiasm for new, younger, leadership. Mrs. Pelosi is 78, while her two top allies, Steny Hoyer and James Clyburn are 79 and 78, respectively.
Mrs. Pelosi is in a bind. Many in her caucus, and in her party, are giddy over the prospect of impeaching President Trump. She opposes that path, a position that makes her even more unpopular with those eager for someone new at the top. A careful and seasoned vote counter, she told Chris Cuomo on CNN that she is “100 percent” confidant she will be re-elected Speaker. She is probably correct, but it’s not a done deal.
Pelosi knows from experience that impeaching a president is a dangerous undertaking. In an interview in The Atlantic, she said the impeachment of President Bill Clinton was “so bad, it was so wrong, and they had no right to do it, and it disrupted the public confidence in what we do.”
She could have added that the vote to impeach Clinton, which came just before the midterm elections in 1998, delivered an historic upset. For the first time since 1822, the party in control of the White House gained seats in the sixth year of a presidency – against all odds, and in what was widely viewed as a rebuke of the GOP impeachment effort. Democrats gained five seats in the House. The vote was even more astonishing given that polls showed 70 percent of voters at the time thought Bill Clinton was guilty of perjury, which is a crime.
Pelosi and her two henchmen were in Congress during Clinton’s presidency. They know the risks, but they also know that enthusiasm for toppling President Trump runs high on the left. Numerous Democrats pledged their support of impeachment on the campaign trail, receiving generous funds from liberal financiers, such as billionaire Tom Steyer, to do just that.
Support goes beyond a handful of overwrought anti-Trumpers. CNN reported that, “77% of self-identified Democrats supported impeachment in the exit polls, compared with just 5% of Republicans and 33% of independents.” All told, according to this survey, 40 percent of the country wants Congress to impeach Mr. Trump.
Pelosi has said that undertaking impeachment would require “evidence, evidence of the connection. Everything’s about the connection.” That is, there would have to be proof positive that the president colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election. However, she hedges her opposition by suggesting that, “What Mueller might not think is indictable could be impeachable.” So far, as Mr. Trump has repeatedly pointed out, evidence of collusion has not surfaced.
Nancy Pelosi knows how futile the impeachment gambit will likely be. She also knows that Democrats need to show Americans that they can do more than protest and obstruct.
The hunt for evidence is not over. As Adam Schiff takes over as Chair of the House Intelligence Committee, and Jerry Nadler, Maxine Waters and Elijah Cummings likely assume leadership of Judiciary, Financial Services and Oversight, respectively, they have promised a raft of investigations and demands for documents that Democrats hope will build a case against President Trump.
Of course, as long as Republicans hold the majority in the Senate, it would take irrefutable evidence of a crime to actually remove President Trump from office. The House could vote to impeach, but the charges would then have to be brought to a trial in the Senate. Barring some disastrous revelation from Mr. Mueller, there is little risk of that happening.
Meanwhile, voters are unlikely to support an endless and disruptive fishing expedition. Exit polls from NBC show that more voters (45 percent) now disapprove of the Mueller investigation than approve of it (42 percent); many will see new probes as harassment.
Democrats are extremely keen to subpoena the president‘s tax returns, darkly hinting that therein lie the seeds of Mr. Trump’s undoing. Like what? The IRS, we are told, has been auditing the president’s returns, which is not surprising, given the complexity of his business history and undoubted aggressiveness of his accounting. If he has been fiddling the government, we can assume the IRS is on it. (He has, after all, claimed that not paying federal income taxes makes him “smart.”)
Maxine Waters wants to get ahold of the records of Trump’s business dealings with Deutsche Bank, a bank which has been fined for money laundering. Adam Schiff doubles down on that theme, citing Mr. Trump’s sale of a Florida mansion to an oligarch for twice what he paid for it several years earlier. Note to Schiff: that’s what you hope to do when trading real estate.
The White House will doubtless resist these intrusions, setting up court battles which will occupy the liberal media but not voters. Indeed, Democrats’ efforts may backfire, undermining their prospects in 2020.
If Americans were bored by the Benghazi hearings about how four Americans were murdered thanks to the incompetence of the State Department, and the lies its leader Secretary Hillary Clinton told about the origins of the attack on the Libyan consulate, they will be rendered unconscious by a deep dive into Mr. Trump’s financials.
And his supporters will be angry – angry enough to reelect President Trump.
Nancy Pelosi knows how futile the impeachment gambit will likely be. She also knows that Democrats need to show Americans that they can do more than protest and obstruct. Their platform in the midterms was remarkably thin on policy and heavy on anti-Trump fever.
That’s why she had a brief but promising spasm of bipartisanship after the election, declaring "A Democratic Congress will work for solutions that bring us together because we have all had enough of division."
Voters will like that message. But will her Democrat colleagues in the House? We shall see.