Pelosi shoots down censure for Trump: 'If the goods are there you must impeach'

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump-GOP tensions over Syria show signs of easing Democratic debate starts with immediate question on Trump impeachment White House, Pentagon, Giuliani reject House subpoenas MORE (D-Calif.) on Wednesday shrugged off the notion of censuring President TrumpDonald John TrumpWarren defends, Buttigieg attacks in debate that shrank the field Five takeaways from the Democratic debate in Ohio Democrats debate in Ohio: Who came out on top? MORE, dismissing that strategy as insufficient to the task of holding the president accountable for allegations of misconduct in office.   

"I think censure is just a way out," Pelosi said during a breakfast with reporters in Washington hosted by the Christian Science Monitor. 

"If you're going to go, you've got to go. If the goods are there, you must impeach. And censure is nice, but it is not commensurate with the violations of the Constitution — should we decide that's the way to go," she added. "That's my view."

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A handful of Democrats have floated the idea of censuring Trump as an alternative to — or perhaps a first step toward — impeachment while a number of House committees continue with their investigations of the president and his administration. Censure lacks the teeth of impeachment, but supporters say it would, at the very least, get Congress on record formally disapproving of the president's behavior. 

“We can hold the president accountable and say that his actions are unethical and he’s engaged in blatant misconduct and that there can be some accountability for future presidents," Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaCongress set for showdown with Trump over Kurds Is Congress too afraid to fight Big Pharma? Democrats probing whether groups booked Trump hotel rooms to earn president's favor: report MORE (D-Calif.), a censure supporter, told The Hill earlier this month.

Pelosi, however, isn't on board, suggesting censure would be too soft a response in light of the allegations facing Trump.

"That's a day at the beach for the president — or at his golf club or wherever he goes to get that complexion," Pelosi said.

Pelosi, since taking the gavel in January, has been clear her preferred strategy for confronting allegations of presidential wrongdoing is to launch a series of vigorous committee investigations and then let the findings dictate the Democrats' next steps. 

But Trump has vowed not to cooperate with most of those probes, and a growing number of rank-and-file Democrats are endorsing the launch of an impeachment inquiry against the president. That procedural move is a step short of introducing the formal articles of impeachment that could lead to the president's ouster, but supporters say it would give Democrats additional legal tools to combat the administration's stonewalling of their investigations. 

Pelosi, however, is warning against taking the long step toward impeachment — even just an inquiry — before the public is more forcefully supportive of the idea.

"I respect everybody's timing on when they think there should be an inquiry," she said. "[But] I don't think you should have an inquiry unless you're ready to impeach."

Even if Democrats could pass an impeachment bill in the House, Pelosi warned, it will take a sweeping shift in public support for the idea before Republican leaders who control the Senate would take the next step of voting to eject their ally in the White House. Setting a remarkably high bar, she suggested she won't move on impeachment unless Senate Republicans jump on board. 

"As we go forward it has to go deep. It can't be the Democrats impeach in the House ... [and] the Republicans exonerate in the Senate. This president must be held accountable," Pelosi said. 

"Don't expect the Republicans to do anything but protect the president — unless the case is so clear in the public mind."

With that in mind, Pelosi vowed to press on with the Democratic investigations that might uncover more evidence of presidential misconduct — and perhaps swing public opinion behind that step.

"Everyday we see more, so why would we stop with our less strong case?" she said. "If you're going to go down this path, you have to make sure that the public has an understanding of why." 

Pelosi also suggested the clock is ticking as Democrats weigh the possibility of launching impeachment ahead of the 2020 elections. 

"The timing is now for possible impeachment, we'll see. But every day the president puts more grounds forward that says he is obstructing justice, and that's what has affected members," she said. 

"I think people still want to see the underlying [evidence]. But as we see what comes out in this less-redacted Mueller report, that may affect the timing. We'll see."