Pelosi takes power and sets high bar for Trump impeachment

Rep. Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report — Washington readies for Mueller end game Dem divisions deepen over approach to climate change 2020 Dems avoid this year's AIPAC conference MORE (D-Calif.) reclaimed the Speaker’s gavel on Thursday — and with it, the enormous power to decide whether to impeach President TrumpDonald John TrumpSenate GOP budget ignores Trump, cuts defense Trump says he'll nominate Stephen Moore to Fed White House: ISIS territory in Syria has been 100 percent eliminated 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.

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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 Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe 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 ShermanDems flock to Pelosi on Trump impeachment Pelosi says impeaching Trump 'just not worth it' Tlaib to offer impeachment articles against Trump by end of month 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 JordanJordan, Meadows backed by new ads from pro-Trump group: report Jordan jokes that sport coats inhibit him during heated hearings Attorney previously in contact with Cohen pushes back on pardon narrative to CNN MORE (R-Ohio), a top Trump ally, seized on the move, using the measure’s quick introduction as a club over Democrats’ heads.

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“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 Nadler (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 Cohen, 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 Smith737 crisis tests Boeing's clout in Washington Overnight Defense: Pentagon chief under investigation over Boeing ties | Trump uses visual aids to tout progress against ISIS | Pentagon, Amnesty International spar over civilian drone deaths Acting Pentagon chief says he hasn't 'walked through' Space Force proposal with skeptical Dem chairman 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.”