Why Pelosi is dissing impeachment despite her party's anti-Trump fervor

Nancy Pelosi is trying to shut down any talk of impeachment.

And since she happens to be speaker of the House, that means it won't happen for the foreseeable future, if ever.

There’s a reason that President Trump's only nickname for Pelosi is "Nancy." She's a shrewd politician, and she understands that an incendiary and ill-fated impeachment drive would mainly hurt the Democrats. Trump tweeted this morning that he greatly appreciates Pelosi’s statement.

For the Dems to go down the impeachment road would utterly energize the Trump base and allow the president to accuse his partisan opponents of trying to overturn the election of 2016.

Impeachment proceedings would utterly dominate the next year, essentially wiping out the Democrats' attempt to define an agenda or to actually pass legislation that would help the country. They would be defined as the anti-Trump party, given power in the House only to launch a crusade against the incumbent.

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In the end, it would be virtually impossible for the Republican-controlled Senate to reach the two-thirds vote needed to evict Trump from the White House. And that denouement would come just as the primaries were getting under way, giving Pelosi's party a chance to beat Trump through the usual electoral process.

The California congresswoman's words, in a Washington Post Magazine interview, immediately changed the nature of the debate:

"I'm not for impeachment," she said. "This is news. I'm going to give you some news right now because I haven't said this to any press person before. But since you asked, and I've been thinking about this: Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there's something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don't think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he's just not worth it."

Pelosi is obviously right that impeachment is incredibly divisive. And she may be recalling that the Democrats picked up five seats after House Republicans impeached Bill Clinton in 1998 on a party-line vote. The only other modern impeachment effort — which drove Richard Nixon from office in 1974 — succeeded because several Republicans joined the Democrats when the Judiciary Committee voted on the Watergate-related articles. (Both efforts came during their second terms, when there was no other way to remove them.)

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Pelosi's dilemma is that some of her own caucus, especially the younger liberal members, as well as left-wing pundits are hot to trot on impeachment. Many Democratic voters also strongly favor the move. Even before Bob Mueller delivers his findings, she's trying to find a way to defuse the movement without alienating a significant chunk of the party.

So she subtly disses the president — "he's just not worth it" — while dismissing impeachment.

At another point in the Post Magazine interview, Pelosi calls Trump "ethically unfit. Intellectually unfit. Curiosity-wise unfit. No, I don't think he's fit to be president of the United States. And that’s up to us to make the contrast to show that this president — while he may be appealing to you on your insecurity and therefore your xenophobia, whether it's globalization or immigrants — is fighting clean air for your children to breathe, clean water for them to drink, food safety, every good thing that we should be doing that people can't do for themselves."

A nod to one side, a nod to the other side. He's unfit for office, but impeachment isn't worth it. He's bad on immigration and the environment, but we have to make that case outside of the Constitution's last-resort remedy.

The question for Trump's critics, who despise his policies, his persona and his associates, some of whom have been convicted, the question remains: What exactly has Trump done that would qualify as high crimes and misdemeanors?

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Adam Schiff, the House Intel chairman and cable-TV fixture, told reporters that Pelosi is "absolutely right." But House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth told CNN, "To me it's not a question of 'whether,' it's a question of 'when,' and probably right now is not the right time, but I think at some point it's going to be inevitable."

The calculation could change once Mueller delivers his findings. But without evidence of Russian collusion that still hasn't emerged, Pelosi knows that her party's best bet for defeating Trump is in November of 2020.