Nancy Pelosi fends off impeachment wave — for now

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) seems to be winning the Democrats’ internal impeachment fight — for now.

Facing a small surge in Democrats pushing this week to begin impeachment proceedings against President Trump, Pelosi appears to have blunted the momentum, arguing for her favored focus on tough investigations and a string of court battles with the White House.

To make the case, Pelosi on Wednesday convened a special, members-only meeting at which she recruited the leaders of top committees to address the caucus with a simple message: It’s too soon to impeach.

“My message was stay the course we’re on,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said afterward.

{mosads}Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), a fierce impeachment supporter, is also backing Pelosi’s strategy of aggressive investigations. Waters, who heads the House Financial Services Committee and addressed the caucus Wednesday, reiterated her calls for Trump to be removed. But she isn’t pushing that narrative too hard, and she’s hailing Pelosi for guiding a feisty caucus through a difficult debate.

“She’s been handling it very well,” Waters said. “It’s a tough job.”

The message has been adopted by the vast majority of rank-and-file Democrats, who are lining up behind Pelosi’s disciplined approach to Trump oversight.

“We’re doing what we need to do — drilling down on all the information,” said Rep. Paul Tonko (D-N.Y.). “That takes time, but hopefully we’ll get that resolved ASAP.”

In fending off the impeachment wave, Pelosi has struck a delicate balance between public messaging and real-world tactics. 

On one hand, she’s taken sharp jabs at Trump — even dropping hints of impeachment — that resonate with a liberal Democratic base that wants Trump gone yesterday.

On the other, she’s actively opposing the formal launch of the impeachment process, wary of the political perils of taking such a severe step without first securing public support behind it. Pelosi was on Capitol Hill in 1998, when Republicans impeached former President Clinton without popular backing, only to see Clinton’s star soar, and she doesn’t want to make the same mistake of empowering Trump.

That strategic model was on clear display Wednesday, when Pelosi — after leading the closed-door meeting that threw cold water on impeachment — went immediately to the microphones and accused Trump of having “engaged in a cover-up.” She was referring to the administration’s near-blanket refusal to cooperate in a long list of Democratic investigations.

Hours later, interviewed at a Center for American Progress event, she amplified the charge, adding that it “could be an impeachable offense.”

Trump was infuriated by the comments, essentially canceling a long-scheduled White House meeting on infrastructure with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

Yet Pelosi has given no signal she’s ready to launch an impeachment inquiry anytime soon. And that’s won cheers from most of her caucus.

“We’re going to fulfill our constitutional responsibilities, but we need to have the facts,” said Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.). “I’m not suggesting an impeachment — I lived through an impeachment.”

Shalala, who served as head of the Health and Human Services Department under Clinton, said she’s warning her Democratic colleagues — particularly the freshmen who are new to Washington — against jumping on the impeachment bandwagon before there’s much more public support for the concept.  

“Impeachment is a huge step, and it’s a judgment call. And we need all the facts before we even consider it,” she said.

{mossecondads}To be sure, there’s a small but vocal group of Democrats sounding the impeachment bell — one that’s roughly doubled in number over the past three days. The heightened interest in tapping impeachment as an investigative tool is primarily rooted in the White House’s refusal to cooperate with a long list of ongoing probes being conducted by the Democratic-led committees, including those related to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 elections.

Launching an impeachment inquiry, supporters say, would eliminate one of the White House’s central arguments for refusing to provide information: namely, that Congress has no legislative purpose in attaining it.

“It strains credulity to think they could question a legitimate legislative purpose if there’s a pending impeachment inquiry,” said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.).

Some Democrats say that, to a certain extent, the debate is one over semantics, since the ongoing investigations are essentially seeking to uncover the same potential wrongdoing that an impeachment inquiry might.

“It looks to me like what the relevant committees are doing is actually what they would do if they were having an impeachment inquiry anyway,” said Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.), the chairman of the House Budget Committee and a de facto member of Pelosi’s leadership team.

Still, Yarmuth is supporting an immediate move to impeachment proceedings, predicting such a move is ultimately “inevitable.”

Others who support Pelosi’s cautious strategy are also running out of patience — a dynamic that might lead to the breaking of the impeachment dam that Pelosi has so far managed to prevent.

“We have got to reassure our constituents that we are engaged, that we are holding this president accountable. But the clock is running out on us,” said Rep. G.K. Butterfield (D-N.C.).

“If we’re going to act through the courts, if we’re going to begin an impeachment inquiry, we must do it pretty soon,” he added.

Tags Charles Schumer Donald Trump Donna Shalala Elijah Cummings G.K. Butterfield House Democrats Impeachment Jared Huffman John Yarmuth Maxine Waters Nancy Pelosi Paul Tonko Robert Mueller
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