The President sat for an interview this week with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos. Stephanopoulos asked Mr. Trump if political candidates should alert the law if foreign governments try to give their campaigns opposition research.
“I think you might want to listen. There’s nothing wrong with listening. If somebody called from a country – Norway. ‘We have information on your opponent’ – Oh, I think I’d want to hear it. It’s not interference. They have information. I think I’d take it,” said the President.
Such a line could push some leaders over the edge, plunging head over feet down the impeachment rabbit hole. But what the President really did was help Democrats justify what they’re already doing. Investigating. Probing. Holding hearings. Issuing subpoenas. Conducting closed-door, transcribed interviews.
Such inquests could eventually result in an impeachment effort. But not yet. And that’s precisely what Democrats need right now.
Around 60 lawmakers – all Democrats except Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI) – endorse impeachment. Presidential candidate and Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) immediately added his name to the impeachment roster after Mr. Trump’s comments on ABC.
“We must stop this lawless President from tearing down our democracy,” said Swalwell. “His relentless attacks on our rule of law and numerous efforts to obstruct justice and Congress have reached such a point to require extraordinary action.”
Mr. Trump’s declaration may spur other Democrats to echo Swalwell. But the essential, parliamentary math to impeach the President remains galaxies away. More Democrats may call for impeachment. But Pelosi still doesn’t need to move at all on the issue.
This is why President Trump is making this a cakewalk for the Speaker:
His comments to ABC only vindicated Pelosi that House Democrats should conduct probes, sue the administration and move contempt citations for cabinet officials. Pelosi didn’t budge an inch on impeachment after Mr. Trump’s comments.
She didn’t have to.
“It has nothing to do with politics or any campaigns. It has everything to do with patriotism,” said Pelosi.
The Speaker reminded reporters that Democratic investigations “take time,” noting “we want to have a methodical approach.”
So the inquiries continue. Former White House Communications Director Hope Hicks is set for a closed-door interview next Wednesday. Hicks is now Chief Communications Officer and Executive Vice President for Fox Corporation. The House Intelligence Committee issued subpoenas for former National Security Adviser Michael Flynn and Trump campaign aide Rick Gates. The panel wants information about their interactions with Russian officials.
And, Pelosi knows, if the President is true to form, there will be another utterance or event, emanating from 1600 Pennsylvania Ave., which will set Washington afire.
“Not any one issue is going to trigger (impeachment),” said the Speaker.
This benefits Pelosi.
Her hand strengthens if there are more instances like the ABC interview. Pelosi doesn’t have to do anything. If the evidence directs Democrats toward impeachment, the House may eventually get there.
Pelosi’s favorite expression is a quote from Abraham Lincoln: “Public sentiment is everything.” In other words, if the public is calling for impeachment, the California Democrat likely holds a royal flush. If “public sentiment” doesn’t migrate to impeachment, then Pelosi can keep the hounds at bay. Democrats lack the votes for impeachment. Pelosi can say there’s no reason to launch an impeachment inquiry if the House lacks the votes.
Pelosi is all about the math. It has to work in her favor. That includes public sentiment. If the math works, she’s there. If not, Pelosi and Democrats maintain their current posture. But President Trump’s ABC interview certainly bolstered the hand of the Democrats.
Republicans found themselves on the defensive Thursday. Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-SC) spoke with Mr. Trump about his comment.
“That’s not the right answer,” said Graham of the President’s quote. “Anybody approached by a representative of a foreign government who’s trying to provide information to you about your political opponent, the answer is no and you need to call the FBI.”
Sen. Mitt Romney (R-UT) was the GOP presidential standard-bearer in 2012.
“I’ve never had any attempt made by a foreign government to contact me or a member of my staff. Had that occurred, I would have contacted the FBI immediately,” said Romney.
But House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) stood foursquare behind Mr. Trump. McCarthy repeatedly asserted it was Democrats and Hillary Clinton who dealt with foreign contacts during the 2016 campaign. When asked directly about the President’s claim he’d accept the dirt, McCarthy twice decried that as a “hypothetical.”
“The President has been tougher on Russia that any President ever before,” said McCarthy. “The President has been very clear. He doesn’t want foreign influence in our elections.”
This is the problem Republicans. The public could perceive GOPers as blindly supporting Mr. Trump. That’s why Pelosi asked, “how much more can (Republicans) bear?”
On Thursday, Sen. Mark Warner (D-VA), the top Democrat on the Intelligence Committee, asked that the Senate pass on the spot bill to require campaigns to report foreign contacts to authorities. Sen. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) objected, blocking Warner’s entreaty.
“How disgraceful is it that our Republican friends cower before this President,” said Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY).
“My colleagues on the left tried to rush this legislation through the Senate without giving it a chance for the careful consideration and debate needed to address such an important issue,” protested Blackburn. She went on to describe Warner’s effort as “a political stunt.”
That could be the case. The Senate just doesn’t approve major legislation like Warner offered without consultation and clearance on both sides. Warner knew a Republican would object. Then Democrats could turn their ire on the GOP. They’d rail about how outrageous it was for Republicans to fight for the President on this topic.
This is exactly the narrative Democrats want. The President is saying what many believe to be outrageous things and Republicans are too inured to confront him. That’s why Democrats have to conduct aggressive oversight. And if the public starts to come around (remember public sentiment?), then maybe they can lay the groundwork for impeachment.
Nancy Pelosi is known for shaping the moment in politics. She’s shaping things now – with a big assist from President Trump. But so far, Democrats lack a smoking gun. Something like that could eventually swing public opinion. If that’s the case, some Republicans could begin to break. That could open the door to impeachment. If not, Democrats can target those GOPers as out of touch. Pelosi can argue she’s reasonable - conducting aggressive oversight and not opening an impeachment inquiry.
Either way, President Trump appears to have inadvertently infused Democratic investigations this week. The public might not be ready for impeachment. But that’s good for Democrats, too.
After all, as Lincoln – and Pelosi say, public sentiment is everything.