Nancy Pelosi runs 'do nothing' plan that could cost Democrats in 2020

Nancy Pelosi runs 'do nothing' plan that could cost Democrats in 2020
© Greg Nash

House Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocratic convention lineup to include Ocasio-Cortez, Clinton, Warren: reports Trump tees up executive orders on economy but won't sign yet New postmaster general overhauls USPS leadership amid probe into mail delays MORE claims she has a “plan” for the Democrats to defeat Donald Trump in 2020 without having to launch an impeachment investigation. Although it is not as opaque as the secret “plan” of Richard Nixon to end the Vietnam War, the thinly explained strategy run by Pelosi apparently involves interminable litigation and scattered investigations in a host of congressional committees. This plays right into the hands of a president who is the master of distraction, deflection, and obstruction.

Her plan is not a strategy at all but a continuation of the disastrous “do nothing” strategy that has plagued progressives and Democrats since Watergate. In a pathbreaking 2003 article, Karyn Strickler, formerly with the National Abortion Rights Action League and the National Endangered Species Coalition, and my wife, criticized the “do nothing” strategy, which she explained locks progressives into the trap of following the political reality that invariably dictates only what cannot be done. The “do nothing” strategy fails to consider that political reality is created rather than fixed.

During the Watergate scandal, the Democrats created political reality by taking on President Nixon, when his approval rating was 67 percent and support for impeachment was 19 percent. After public investigations by a Senate Select Committee and the House Judiciary Committee pursuant to an impeachment investigation by Congress, however, his approval rating dropped to 24 percent and support for impeachment rose to 57 percent. 


How well is the “do nothing” strategy of Pelosi working so far? Simply put, in more than six months of control over the House, her caucus has yet to lay a glove on President TrumpDonald John TrumpJoe Arpaio loses bid for his old position as sheriff Trump brushes off view that Russia denigrating Biden: 'Nobody's been tougher on Russia than I have' Trump tees up executive orders on economy but won't sign yet MORE. Knowing that he is not being held accountable for his actions, Trump has continued to lie to the American people, stonewall congressional oversight, denigrate court decisions, and disregard the human rights of migrant children along the border.

A poll last week found that Trump has “reached the highest job approval rating of his career.” A poll this week for the 2020 election showed Trump beating every major Democratic contender except Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders. The lead Biden holds was down from earlier polls to just 6 points and the lead Sanders holds was just 2 points. Remember that because the Electoral College favors Republicans, Trump won the 2016 election even though he lost the popular vote to Hillary Clinton by just above 2 points.

As in Watergate, a formal impeachment inquiry is the most effective way to rivet public attention on the many misdeeds of Trump and to hold him accountable by striking at what he cares about, which is his power and his brand. He cannot be embarrassed or ashamed. He cares nothing about subpoenas, contempt citations, or even adverse court decisions. Absent a formal and focused impeachment inquiry, Democrats will be empowering Trump and future presidents to act as they please without consequences.

The Constitution grants the House sole authority over impeachment. This means that through an impeachment inquiry, Democrats will be in the strongest position to compel testimony and documents. It is not the role of the House to consult a crystal ball on whether the Senate would vote to remove the president. Even if the Senate would balk, the impeachment inquiry, likely followed by formal articles of impeachment and a trial in the Senate, or an attempt by Republican Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to dismiss the articles, could still do some irreparable damage the president.

Pelosi has said that Trump belongs in jail. Yet, she has refused to invoke the proper remedy of an impeachment inquiry. That is not a plan. It is congressional malpractice. Unlike the “do nothing” Democratic leaders, our founders did not view impeachment as a catastrophic contingency. They placed the impeachment process in the Constitution as a legal and peaceful means for removing a rogue leader without having to resort to revolution or assassination. John Adams wrote the “avaricious” passions of our leaders, when they are left unchecked, “produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty.” Individuals “have conquered themselves.”


With further delays, the Democrats risk losing the high ground they have with impeachment. After Attorney General William Barr completes his inquiry into the Russia investigation, he will surely spin results to discredit the investigators and to validate the talking points of the president. The closer we move toward the 2020 election, the more the Democrats risk looking cynically political by launching a belated investigation.

In 1867, the British philosopher John Stuart Mill issued what presciently endures as a warning to the do nothing Democrats of today. “Let not any one pacify his conscience by the delusion that he can do no harm if he takes no part and forms no opinion. Bad men need nothing more to compass their ends than that good men will look on and do nothing.”

Allan Lichtman is an election forecaster and distinguished professor of history at American University. Follow him on Twitter @AllanLichtman.