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 PelosiPelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' On The Money: Anxious Democrats push for vote on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi, Mnuchin ready to restart talks | Weekly jobless claims increase | Senate treads close to shutdown deadline Trump signs largely symbolic pre-existing conditions order amid lawsuit MORE (D-Calif.) to launch an official inquiry into President Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpSteele Dossier sub-source was subject of FBI counterintelligence probe Pelosi slams Trump executive order on pre-existing conditions: It 'isn't worth the paper it's signed on' Trump 'no longer angry' at Romney because of Supreme Court stance 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 GiulianiThe Hill's Campaign Report: GOP set to ask SCOTUS to limit mail-in voting CIA found Putin 'probably directing' campaign against Biden: report Democrats fear Russia interference could spoil bid to retake Senate 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 NadlerDemocrats shoot down talk of expanding Supreme Court Schumer: 'Nothing is off the table' if GOP moves forward with Ginsburg replacement Top Democrats call for DOJ watchdog to probe Barr over possible 2020 election influence MORE (D-N.Y.), has proven an embarrassment throughout the process, most recently in a chaotic hearing last week with Corey LewandowskiCorey R. LewandowskiTrump faces tricky choice on Supreme Court pick How Trump can win reelection: Focus on Democrats, not himself Trump Jr. distances from Bannon group, says he attended 'single' event 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 SchiffSchiff claims DHS is blocking whistleblower's access to records before testimony GOP lawmakers distance themselves from Trump comments on transfer of power Rubio on peaceful transfer of power: 'We will have a legitimate & fair election' 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.