Nancy Pelosi must be sick of talking about it. Alas, if she were only blessed with a president whose actions wouldn’t provoke the question! However, the Speaker of the House has been stuck with possibly the worst commander-in-chief in American history: a man whose campaign and associates are under constant investigation and whose personal incompetence, anti-intellectualism and corruption appear to have no bottom.
So, we ask Pelosi, again and again: Do you support impeaching President Trump? And we continue to get similar answers. Last July, before the midterm elections, Pelosi told Rolling Stone that impeachment would be “a gift to the Republicans,” reminding us that she had ruled it out in 2006 when liberals wanted George W. Bush booted for starting a war in Iraq based upon a lie. Pelosi said something similar in this month’s issue of the magazine. “It’s a very disruptive process to put the country through, and it’s an opportunity cost in terms of time and resources,” she said. “You don’t want to go down that path unless it is unavoidable.”
Pelosi has the politics correct on this. Sixty-four percent of Americans, per a March 5th Quinnipiac poll, believe that the president has committed crimes, and 45 percent think that he’s done so since assuming office. Yet, oddly enough, 59 percent of those same respondents oppose starting impeachment proceedings.
To recap: American voters seems largely convinced that the president is a crook, but are concerned that firing him might be a step too far.
That may be why, in an interview published Monday in the Washington Post Magazine, Pelosi added something to her boilerplate impeachment rhetoric. “This is news,” she said, clearly joking, perhaps not realizing that she was about to make some. “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.”
“Worth it,” to whom? Certainly to the liberal base who detests this president, but perhaps not to Democrats running for re-election in 2020, seeking to preserve their House majority while fielding questions about impeachment. Certainly not to presidential candidates, some of them — like Sens. Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand or Bernie Sanders — who may not want to face questions about which way they would vote as members of an impeachment jury. I can understand that logic, to a degree, even if I don’t buy that it increases Trump’s chances of winning. It may make Republicans “do the happy dance on their tables,” as conservative analyst Amanda Carpenter put it on CNN, because it lets him off the hook. It seems impossible that enough GOP Senators would take a break from shining the president’s shoes to cross party lines, not even if we found out that Trump was one of the two guys in Ralph Northam’s yearbook photo.
Republicans would have impeached Barack Obama had he sent even one of Trump’s worst tweets, but that doesn’t mean Democrats should try to do the same. While the Constitution doesn’t allow the House to impeach presidents for rank incompetence, fealty to dictators or even assorted bigotries, it does grant power to remove them for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” On that note, Trump’s obstruction of the inquiry into whether his presidential campaign was aided by the Russians has taken place in plain sight. His private businesses continue to profit from him being in office, and he recklessly allows wealthy clients of his Mar-a-Lago resort to sell access to him. Reimbursement checks written to his former personal attorney, Michael Cohen, raise questions about whether the president may have personally violated campaign finance law. In those respects and almost certainly more, evidence continues to mount that Trump is worth impeaching.
To their credit, all this is what members of the Democratic majority have been aggressively pursuing. Since impeachment is effectively a process of investigation, the gears are already turning. Some of the sharper questioning of Cohen, particularly by members like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), may lead to further probes of Trump’s finances, specifically his long-sought tax returns. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the chairman of the House Judiciary committee, opened a massive new inquiry into everything Trump in early March, demanding materials from 81 members of his businesses, administration and campaign. Yet Nadler echoes Pelosi, signaling that even though he believes there exists evidence of Trump’s crimes, there isn’t enough to impeach. It all seems so ludicrous. Democratic leadership isn’t ruling it out, but if Pelosi and Nadler don’t want to impeach Trump because it is politically unpopular, then they should just say that rather than couching it in bland rhetoric about such action being “divisive.”
After all, Democrats pass legislation all the time that conservatives hate, including the momentous H.R. 1 last week. Republicans, too, passed divisive legislation when they had the majority, voting to repeal Obamacare umpteen times, shamelessly voting to impeach Obama to boot. It’s hardball politics. So given Trump’s blatant obstruction of justice, why shouldn’t the democrats vote to impeach? One Democrat, House Budget Chairman John Yarmuth, rebuked Pelosi, telling CNN that impeachment was “inevitable” and that “it’s not a question of ‘whether,’ it’s a question of ‘when.’”
If the House obtains evidence that implicates Trump in criminal acts — either through their own investigations or through Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s — and still don’t go forth with the process as stated in the Constitution, they are not only in abdication of their duties, but they violate their own standards. They ask voters to believe in a system of government, then ignore those rules when it suits their political convenience. All the while, the marginalized communities who suffer most under this president, the ones who cannot assume that they’ll have their vote counted in 2020, sit powerless as the House majority performs an elaborate show that will ultimately result in very few, if any, consequences for this president.
Not only does Pelosi’s statement mean that Trump has little to fear from actual impeachment, but he can now go on the stump and lie, as he has done countless times before. Of course, he tweeted about it Wednesday morning:
….a man who is considered by many to be the President with the most successful first two years in history, especially when he has done nothing wrong and impeachment is for “high crimes and misdemeanors”?
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) March 13, 2019
He’ll still say that impeachment is a central Democratic goal. It would be foolish to count the 2020 election as the only chance to get rid of Trump; as Cohen warned in his testimony, there is no reason to expect a peaceful transition of power should Trump lose in two years. Republicans feel entitled to select their own electorate through gerrymandering and voter suppression. With Fox News, they have a media mouthpiece that feeds their flock propaganda all day long. They serve at the pleasure of an impetuous president with, at the very least, a permissive attitude towards violence committed in his name. Do we really think that impeachment would be the most divisive political act in recent memory?
In that Washington Post interview, Pelosi’s most troubling quote actually came after she discussed impeachment. Asked whether she shared concerns about the nation’s institutions, she replied with an unconvincing statement of faith. “Here’s why I don’t: Our country is great. It’s a great country,” she said, embracing the flag as tightly as Trump did at CPAC. “Our founders gave us the strongest foundation. … All the challenges we have faced, we can withstand anything.”
I don’t believe her. Why? For one, rampant systemic inequities, perpetrated throughout history upon people based purely on their skin color, continue to show us the lie of American exceptionalism. And if we weren’t cured of that national drunkenness by now, this president should have sobered us up. Pelosi has often stated that Trump’s one benefit has been his ability to organize for Democrats, but I’d argue that the single, solitary way that his presidency has been useful is that it has laid bare our national faults for all to see. The institutional holes that were left unplugged by our founders were exploited by a charlatan and a con artist, and now the very people placed in charge of holding him accountable put shackles on themselves for fear of causing controversy. The festering wounds of racism and sexism, once conveniently invisible to so many, are now on full display daily in the Oval Office, and in all of the arenas where Trump’s reach can be felt: in the cages where migrants are held, the underfunded schools and housing projects, in shuttered abortion clinics, and in the closing factories and disappearing towns.
There is only so much value in being reminded of this. We have learned all we can from this president. Evidence of his criminality continues to mount, and his occupation of the office poses increasingly dire national security risks for the nation. The forthcoming Mueller report may provide the tipping point for public sentiment towards impeachment, and if it requires that, fine. It is clear that the democratic leadership won’t move until the politics shift. But if Pelosi wants Americans to trust in the bulwarks that have thus far held up against Trump’s authoritarian assault, instead she should recognize impeachment not as a last resort, but an opportunity. If matters came to that, it would be something we haven’t seen in quite a while: government working the way that it should.