The walls are starting to close in around Nancy Pelosi.
As President Trump and his administration continue to stonewall Democratic efforts to conduct oversight, a growing number of prominent party lawmakers are publicly calling for the the House to begin impeachment proceedings. According to an NBC News tally, over 60 House members now support an inquiry, including Republican Justin Amash. Democratic presidential candidates are doing the same, with Kirsten Gillibrand, Cory Booker, Pete Buttigieg and others joining the party since Robert Mueller delivered a statement last week explaining that many took to be an impeachment referral.
The House speaker has been resolute in her belief that impeaching Trump would be unwise, but it’s becoming harder and harder for her to defend her stance. On Tuesday, she met with House committee leaders, where Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) continued to pressure Pelosi to sign off on an inquiry. She once again refused, leading to an awkward moment on CNN Wednesday when Nadler was asked whether he and Pelosi agree on the impeachment issue. “As I said, we are launching an inquiry now,” he said after pausing for several seconds, “and whether we’ll launch an impeachment inquiry, it may come to that.”
Here are all of the excuses Pelosi has used to rationalize her refusal to endorse impeaching the president.
It could prevent Trump from being tried once he’s out of office
During an appearance on Jimmy Kimmel Live! last week, Pelosi said that if the Senate votes against removing Trump from office it could preclude him from being tried once he’s out of the White House.
Pelosi argued on Jimmy Kimmel that "there's a school of thought" that acquittal in the Senate after impeachment means you can't be tried criminally after leaving office … what? https://t.co/QVBItiMez4 pic.twitter.com/h5mnrdHGE5
— Quinta Jurecic (@qjurecic) May 31, 2019
Pelosi stressed the need to ensure justice is served once Trump leaves office during an impeachment-focused meeting this week with congressional Democrats. “I don’t want to see him impeached, I want to see him in prison,” she said, according to several sources present who spoke with Politico.
As Harvard constitutional law professor Laurence Tribe pointed out on Twitter, there could a flaw in Pelosi’s thinking here. “With due respect to @SpeakerPelosi, an UNIMPEACHED Trump, if soundly defeated on 11/3/20, could easily resign between 11/4/20 and 1/19/21 so that Pence, as the interim POTUS, could PARDON him. Please start taking into account how the CONSTITUTION works!” he wrote on Thursday.
It would distract from Democrats’ 2020 agenda
Pelosi’s central argument against impeachment seems to be that it would hurt Democrats’ chances of defeating Trump in the 2020 election. The party needs to focus on the upcoming election, she’s reasoned, so that Trump can be defeated by such a resounding margin that he’s unable to contest the results, as she explained to the New York Times last month. “We have to inoculate against that, we have to be prepared for that,” she said.
Concern about 2020 also came up when Pelosi met privately with Democrats a few weeks later. Politico reported that the House speaker and her allies “rejected” calls to impeach the president, arguing that the party’s “message is being drowned out by the fight over possibly impeaching Trump.”
It would play into Trump’s hands
Pelosi has said she believes Trump is trying to goad Democrats into impeaching him, as acquittal in the Senate would diminish the possibility that he will be indicted once he leaves office. “I think the president wants us to impeach him,” she said on Kimmel.
She’s said the same to Democrats in private. During a closed-door meeting last month, she claimed to colleagues that Trump “wants to be impeached” so that the Senate can exonerate him, according to aides who spoke with NBC News.
Impeachment advocates have argued that this is giving President Galaxy Brain too much credit, and that regardless of whatever political calculus Pelosi imagines is taking place inside Trump’s head, impeachment is not advantageous for any politician. “I don’t know how else to say this: getting impeached is bad,” Adam Jentleson, a deputy chief of staff to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, wrote recently for GQ. “It is not something you want to happen to you, especially if you’re president. You do not want to go down as one of only four presidents in history to be impeached. This is a bad thing. Only Democrats, bless our hearts, could convince ourselves that it is good for a president to be impeached.”
The public wouldn’t understand
Pelosi discussed the prospect of impeachment with Democrats during a closed-door meeting after the Memorial Day recess. From the Daily Beast:
“The Speaker, according to two sources with knowledge of the meeting, expressed concerns that the public still doesn’t understand how the process of impeachment would play out. She noted that in her time over the recess in California well educated voters didn’t seem to understand that impeachment proceedings would not necessarily result in Trump’s immediate ouster from office.”
She expressed the same concern publicly during a press conference on Wednesday. “What’s important for people to know, first of all, I travel all the time in the country,” she said. “Do you know that most people think impeachment means you’re out of office? Did you ever get that feeling or are you just in the bubble here? They think if you get impeached, you’re gone, and that is completely not true.”
Speaker Pelosi on the concept of impeachment, and what she says many in the public think happens with impeachment: "They think that you get impeached — you're gone — and that is completely not true." pic.twitter.com/Yyc9URNdRy
— NBC Politics (@NBCPolitics) June 5, 2019
“So when you’re impeaching somebody, you want to make sure you have the strongest possible indictment because it is not the means to an end that people think,” she added. “All you do, vote to impeach, bye bye birdie. It isn’t that. It is an indictment, so you want to have the best possible indictment.”
Advocates have argued that Democrats can educate the public on how impeachment works. As for building the strongest indictment possible, many believe the obstruction of justice detailed in the Mueller report more than warrants an inquiry, especially considering the White House is stonewalling Democratic efforts to further investigate Trump and his administration.
According to a recent CNN poll, 76% of Democrats support impeaching the president.
It would hamper congressional investigations into the Trump administration that are already underway
While some have argued that beginning impeachment proceedings would strengthen Democrats’ ability to obtain information pertaining to the president’s potential criminality, Pelosi doesn’t see it that way. During a closed-door meeting with House leaders last month, she claimed that impeachment proceedings would undercut the committee investigations already underway. “You want to tell Elijah Cummings to go home?” she said, according to Politico, referring to the the Oversight Committee chairman investigating Trump’s finances.
It would divide the country
“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,” she told the Washington Post in March. “And he’s just not worth it.”
Advocates have argued that, uhh, the country is already pretty divided, and Trump will continue to make sure that remains the case as long as he is in office.
It would be playing politics
“This is not about politics, it’s about what’s best for the American people,” Pelosi said last month during a closed-door meeting with congressional Democrats, according to a member present who spoke with Politico.
But impeachment advocates have argued that it is playing politics not to begin impeachment proceedings. “It is just as politicized a maneuver to not impeach in the face of overwhelming evidence as it is to impeach w/o cause,” tweeted Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). “Congress swore an oath to uphold the Constitution. That includes impeachment. We have a duty to preserve our institutions + uphold the rule of law.”
Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA) also cited the oath she swore while speaking during an MSNBC town hall event Wednesday night. “If [Trump] were any other person in the United States, based on what’s documented in [the Mueller report], he would be carried out in handcuffs,” she said. “I took an oath of office not to Donald Trump, not to any president. I took an oath of office to the Constitution fo the United States of America, and the Constitution says that no one is above the law, including the president of the United States.”
— Pod Save America (@PodSaveAmerica) June 6, 2019
“I get that this is politically tough,” Warren added, “but some things are bigger than politics. This matters for our democracy not just now, but under the next president and the next president and the next president. We have a constitutional responsibility here, and that’s to start impeachment proceedings.”