Pelosi's impeachment conundrum

Pelosi's impeachment conundrum
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The House Democrats' impeachment conundrum continues on a higher level.

The decision of Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban Speaker Pelosi, it's time to throw American innovators a lifeline Why Americans must tune in to the Trump impeachment hearings MORE (D-Calif.) to launch an official inquiry into President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Warren goes local in race to build 2020 movement 2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes MORE suggests that a House vote — probably sometime this year — on impeaching him is a near certainty.

The catalyst for Pelosi, who has been urging caution, was the revelation that a whistle blower in the intelligence community had reported that Trump pressured the government of Ukraine to dish up dirt on the business dealings of former Vice President Biden's son. There are strong indications this was tied to U.S. assistance to that beleaguered nation.

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Trump, naturally, has denied any impropriety, and said he'll clear it all up by releasing transcripts of the phone call to the Ukrainian president that apparently precipitated the whistle blower's formal complaint. House Democrats insist that alone isn't sufficient — that there was a concerted effort with multiple threats and also involving the president's lawyer-turned-hatchet man, Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiSenate GOP waves Trump off early motion to dismiss impeachment charges Key takeaways from first public impeachment hearing Diplomat ties Trump closer to Ukraine furor MORE.

The White House, with the assistance of the always compliant Attorney General, will stonewall most additional requests.

This confronts Speaker Pelosi with several dilemmas:

Will the House, in the face of the White House refusal to cooperate, move to an impeachment action based squarely on the Ukrainian charge and a refusal to heed legitimate congressional requests? Pelosi has asked six House committees to gather impeachment material ranging from special counsel Mueller's report on Russian interference in the last presidential election to Trump's personal financial dealings, including charges he's using some of his assets to profit from the government as well as his refusal to release his tax returns.

Should any impeachment resolution be sent to the House expeditiously, within the next month, or should specific hearings be held to build a case and public support? There is general agreement this shouldn't spill into the 2020 election year, which commences in less than 100 days.

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Will, as is custom, the House Judiciary Committee be the final venue to send a resolution to the full House? This panel, stacked with ideologues on both sides, and led by an inept chairman, Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerHouse to vote on bill to ensure citizenship for children of overseas service members As impeachment goes public, forget 'conventional wisdom' What this 'impeachment' is really about — and it's not the Constitution MORE (D-N.Y.), has proven an embarrassment throughout the process, most recently in a chaotic hearing last week with Corey LewandowskiCorey R. LewandowskiKey takeaways from first public impeachment hearing Democrats face make-or-break moment on impeachment The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump demands Bidens testify MORE, Trump's first campaign manager and a fierce partisan for Trump.

The Speaker, her associates say, clearly prefers that Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffGraham: Senate trial 'must expose the whistleblower' Graham says Schiff should be a witness in Trump impeachment trial Democrats seize on new evidence in first public impeachment hearing MORE take the lead on impeachment — but departing from regular order adds to tensions in the House.

Until the Ukraine story, the other grounds for impeachment posed a political mine field for Democrats; there is almost no Republican support, and a majority of voters oppose it.

Well over half of the 235 House Democrats have backed an impeachment inquiry, but more instructive is the caution among the 43 freshmen who won Republican-held seats last year. These are the seats that decide which party controls the House.

However, the Ukraine story may be causing things to begin to shift. This week seven new Democrats, all national security veterans, declared that if Trump tied U.S. assistance to Ukraine to its officials dishing dirt on Biden, it's an impeachable offense.

Trump's attempt to force a foreign country to smear a potential presidential rival is — at best — sleazy, perhaps unprecedented. The charge he's making that Biden sought to help his son's business interests, has been refuted by reporting in Bloomberg News and the Washington Post's fact-checker.

A big asset for Democrats on this course is Pelosi. She is the strongest, most skilled House Speaker in generations and — much more than the Jerrold Nadlers or the party's left wing shouters — possesses a sense of what's best for the country and their party.

She knows a prolonged, bitterly partisan impeachment fight — with no chance for an eventual conviction in the Senate — may redound to Donald Trump's advantage.

Intimidation is not in her vocabulary. She has resisted pressure from the left to move more quickly; if a Ukraine shake-down is clear cut, she'll direct the impeachment action.

Even before Ukraine, some impeachment zealots insisted that it’s a "moral imperative."

To the Speaker there are two imperatives: defeating Trump next year and retaining the House majority.

Albert R. Hunt is the former executive editor of Bloomberg News. He previously served as reporter, bureau chief and Washington editor for the Wall Street Journal. For almost a quarter-century he wrote a column on politics for The Wall Street Journal, then the International New York Times and Bloomberg View. Follow him on Twitter @alhuntdc.