Pelosi takes power and sets high bar for Trump impeachment

Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump congratulates Steve King challenger on GOP primary win The Hill's Morning Report - Protesters' defiance met with calls to listen Calls for police reform sparks divisions in Congress MORE (D-Calif.) reclaimed the Speaker’s gavel on Thursday — and with it, the enormous power to decide whether to impeach President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says inviting Russia to G7 'a question of common sense' Pentagon chief does not support invoking Insurrection Act Dershowitz: Does President Trump have power to declare martial law? MORE.

Pelosi has repeatedly swatted down impeachment talk, but the question carries far more weight now that Democrats have seized back the House.

The new Speaker will face immense pressure from the liberal base to launch impeachment proceedings in the coming year, and an unpredictable presidential race will introduce new challenges for the nation’s most powerful Democrat.

ADVERTISEMENT

The morning of her historic swearing-in ceremony, Pelosi dismissed impeachment talk during a flurry of media interviews.

She set the bar for impeachment high, arguing that any effort to do so would have to be “so clearly bipartisan.”

“If there's to be grounds for impeachment of President Trump — and I'm not seeking those grounds — that would have to be so clearly bipartisan in terms of acceptance of it before I think we should go down any impeachment path,” Pelosi told USA Today.

“We have to wait and see what happens with the Mueller report,” Pelosi said in a separate interview with NBC’s “Today,” referring to special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE, who is investigating Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. “We shouldn’t be impeaching for a political reason.”

The tricky question of impeachment is one that threatens to tear apart the Democratic caucus, as a hungry crop of younger and more progressive lawmakers is itching to use their newfound power to aggressively go after Trump.

More senior lawmakers, meanwhile, worry that premature calls for impeachment could be seen as pure partisan overreach — and could hurt the party’s chances of ousting Trump in the 2020 election.

Those divisions were on full display during the first day of the new Congress, with Rep. Brad ShermanBradley (Brad) James ShermanHouse passes bill that would sanction Chinese officials over Xinjiang camps Dozens of Democrats plan to vote remotely in a first for the House Pelosi says House is looking at bill that could delist some Chinese companies from US stock exchanges MORE (D-Calif.) introducing articles of impeachment and offering a preview of the internal battles to come.

“There is no reason [impeachment] shouldn’t be before the Congress,” Sherman told the Los Angeles Times. “Every day, Donald Trump shows that leaving the White House would be good for our country.”

Conservative Rep. Jim JordanJames (Jim) Daniel JordanThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - George Floyd's death sparks protests, National Guard activation Hillicon Valley: Trump signs order targeting social media legal protections | House requests conference with Senate after FISA vote canceled | Minneapolis systems temporarily brought down by hackers House punts on FISA, votes to begin negotiations with Senate MORE (R-Ohio), a top Trump ally, seized on the move, using the measure’s quick introduction as a club over Democrats’ heads.

ADVERTISEMENT

“We knew they couldn’t help themselves. Rep. Sherman files articles of impeachment on the President,” Jordan tweeted Thursday. “Dems are more focused on stopping Trump than building the Wall and helping the country.”

Pelosi has long implored Democrats to resist talking about impeachment until after Mueller issues his final report on the Russia probe. Democratic leaders are concerned that launching early impeachment proceedings would turn off moderates and energize the president’s base heading into the 2020 election cycle.

And even if the House agreed to remove Trump from office, it’s highly unlikely that the GOP-controlled Senate would follow through, especially given the higher threshold needed for impeachment in the upper chamber.

But that doesn’t mean Democrats are going to take a hands-off approach when it comes to oversight of the Trump administration. Pelosi is vowing to serve as a check on Trump by using the basket of investigative tools that are now at Democrats’ disposal.

“He was used to serving with a Republican Congress, House and Senate that was a rubber stamp to him. That won't be the case,” Pelosi told USA Today. “Oversight of government by the Congress is our responsibility. That's the role that we play."

One of the party’s top priorities is protecting the Mueller probe. Top Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee immediately introduced a bill on Thursday to protect the investigation, while Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerHouse Judiciary to hear whistleblowers on 'politicization' of Justice Dept under Trump House Democrats unveil measure to condemn police brutality House Democrats call on DOJ to investigate recent killings of unarmed black people  MORE (D-N.Y.) has threatened to subpoena acting Attorney General Matt WhitakerMatthew G WhitakerEx-federal prosecutor: 'Thank God' Whitaker is gone, Barr will bring 'integrity' back to DOJ GOP pollster says Dems are relitigating 2016 election with investigations of Trump Former senior FBI official calls Whitaker hearing ‘disgraceful’ MORE, who openly criticized the Russia probe, to testify in front of Congress.

At some point, however, Pelosi will have to make a decision on impeachment — and she will especially face pressure to do so after the Mueller report comes out.

Federal prosecutors in New York have already said that Trump directed Michael CohenMichael Dean CohenHarris, Jeffries question why Manafort, Cohen released while others remain in prison Rosenstein to testify as part of Graham's Russia investigation probe The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Mnuchin: More COVID-19 congressional action ahead MORE, his former personal attorney, to pay off two women who claimed to have had affairs with Trump to prevent negative information from surfacing that would hurt his chances in the 2016 election. Nadler called it an “impeachable offense,” though he questioned whether it was worth removing a president from office over just that.

The same day, Mueller described Cohen’s cooperation in his sprawling Russia investigation as useful and ongoing, while accusing Paul Manafort, the president’s former campaign chairman, of lying to investigators about his contacts with Trump administration officials that extended into 2018.

The bombshell allegations only increased chatter in the Capitol about impeachment, despite the pleas from Democratic leaders to hold off.

“It's not too soon to be talking about it,” incoming House Armed Services Committee Chairman Adam SmithDavid (Adam) Adam SmithOvernight Defense: Trump's move to use military in US sparks backlash | Defense officials take heat | Air Force head calls Floyd's death 'a national tragedy' Trump stokes backlash with threat to use military against protesters Pentagon: Esper, Milley 'not aware' of Trump's church photo-op ahead of time MORE (D-Wash.) told CNN on Thursday. “We will have to decide whether or not it's the correct course of action. But certainly we should be discussing it and asking those questions and figuring out what the best course of action is.”

During her first speech as Speaker, Pelosi acknowledged the disagreements likely to face the Democratic caucus but vowed to confront any challenges head-on.

“We have no illusions that our work will be easy, that all of us in this chamber will always agree. But let each of us pledge that when we disagree, we will respect each other and we will respect the truth,” she said.

“We will debate and advance good ideas no matter where they come from.”