Nancy Pelosi steers the right course

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The “Dems in Disarray”™ meme is really getting a workout from Washington Post reporters Rachael Bade and Mike DeBonis. These concern trolls really need to knock it off. For example, ‘Like herding cats’: Pelosi struggles to unify Democrats after painful fight over anti-Semitism — Democrats were united and voted unanimously for the Anti-Semitism resolution, and for HR 1; and Pelosi’s caution on impeachment exposes Democratic rift about ousting Trump — no one of any significance of whom I am aware.

What these Post reporters did manage to get right:

Pelosi’s allies believe her skepticism about impeachment protects her moderates in swing districts, gives her an exit strategy should special counsel Robert S. Mueller III find no wrongdoing by the president, and could even strengthen her leverage if something serious arises and Pelosi reverses course to impeach him later.

Tamping down impeachment talk also enables Pelosi to keep the spotlight on the Democratic agenda (see, After HR 1 vote, Democrats ready to move quickly on other top 10 bills), she told lawmakers in a private meeting Monday night. That’s critical amid Republican efforts to cast Democrats as obsessed only with ousting the president, Pelosi allies argue.

Now, I am sure that there are some Democrats upset about what Nancy Pelosi had to say. When are there not? But none of them are in leadership or committee chair positions doing the heavy lifting of oversight investigations to build a case for impeachment. This is a process that takes time, so patience people.

Josh Marshall at Talking Points Memo offers the most rational and reasoned response, in my opinion — what he said:

There is quite a lot of perplexity and disgruntlement that Nancy Pelosi has apparently ruled out impeachment, saying Trump’s “just not worth it.” This has led to a number of theories. Possibly Pelosi has received some intelligence briefings that touch on the Mueller probe and she knows that the final verdict won’t be strong enough to sustain an impeachment. [I doubt it. The Special Counsel’s office has been air-tight about what it is doing.] Perhaps she worries about impeachment spurring an even deeper round of polarization which will hurt the Democrats in the 2020 elections. Perhaps she simply wants to get out ahead of a Mueller Report with a firm line in the sand to prevent a headlong rush to impeaching the President.

I don’t know Pelosi’s character or thinking well enough to know precisely which of these it is. I can’t know what’s motivating her. But her statement yesterday seemed far less momentous or consequential to me than it appears to have seemed to almost everyone else.

My thinking is based on two premises.

First, you can’t impeach without first investigating. This seems elementary to me, just as a prosecutor doesn’t indict until you have a case to make. Impeachment supporters say, quite right. That’s why we need to start an impeachment inquiry now to review and the find the evidence that would sustain an impeachment. They point out that when Democrats started their impeachment inquiry during Watergate public opinion was firmly against the prospect. As evidence was unearthed, public opinion shifted against Nixon.

In other words, impeachment isn’t just a vote. It’s a process, one that either does or doesn’t build an evidentiary and political case for removal as it proceeds.

This is a good argument.

But that process is not substantively different from what is underway in at least three (Judiciary, Intelligence & Oversight) and possibly four (Foreign Affairs) committees in the House. That’s the process. Get overseeing. Get investigating. You can only make a decision once you have their findings. And only their findings can shift public opinion, and thus votes in the Senate, to make removal possible.

So are we trying to impeach the President? I would say, yes. We’re taking the first step, since almost no actual public investigating has happened yet. And we’ll see where it leads us. Simply put, we have an impeachment process. Whether you formally call it that or simply a wave of investigations probing Trump’s crimes and misrule, I’m not sure that makes any real difference.

Second point. Are there votes in the Senate? This can seem like a lily-livered question. It’s not. In politics, success breeds success and defeat defeat. Many of us get beguiled by the word “impeachment”. It doesn’t really amount to much. It is actually an invitation for the Senate to remove the President from office. Whenever you start to say “it’s time for impeachment” it’s really better to say “it’s time to vote to ask Mitch McConnell and the Republican Senate to remove Trump from office with 67 votes.” I can only get so excited about issuing such an invitation. If we assume the 47 person Democratic caucus votes unanimously for removal, that means twenty Republicans will need to do the same. At the moment I cannot think of a single Republican senator likely to cast that vote.

That means House investigators have some serious work cut out for them.

House Speaker Newt Gingrich made impeachment of President Bill Clinton a partisan political strategy in the midterm election of 1998. That strategy backfired. Democrats gained four seats in the House, marking the first time the party in control of the White House had gained seats in an off-year election since 1934.

Gingrich never had a strategy how to get to 67 votes in the Senate to remove Clinton from office. Only fifty senators voted to remove Clinton on the obstruction of justice charge and only 45 voted to remove him on the perjury charge, far short of the 67 votes required. No member of his own Democratic Party voted guilty on either charge.

Does anyone not see that this is exactly the point at which we are right now with Donald Trump? Much more work needs to be done to build a case for impeachment to move public opinion and Republican senators, as occurred during Watergate. The House investigations have only just begun. Give them time to investigate and to develop the evidence. And Robert Mueller’s report is coming, eventually.

Even in its clown-show, play-acting 1999 version, impeachment is a serious, incapacitating process. There won’t be an appetite to fail at it once and come back four months later for another try. I don’t see what that will accomplish for the Democrats, the endangered citizenry and most of all for the country itself. If anything I think it would mildly empower the President to claim he was vindicated.

I still recall this Saturday Night Live skit with Darrell Hammond as Bill Clinton following his impeachment and acquittal by the Senate in February 1999 (unfortunately, the video appears to be no longer available online).

Screen Shot 2019-03-12 at 12.04.49 PMI am bulletproof. Next time, you best bring kryptonite.”

Demagogue Donald Trump would not only claim he was vindicated — as he prematurely does now — but he would feel unbound and empowered to pursue his authoritarian autocracy with a renewed vigor. This is a real danger. A failed impeachment is not an option.

At the end of the day, it’s all beside the point. You must investigate and build a case. This is the best, really the most legitimate way to build a drip, drip, drip public case for impeachment. If you come up short, it still leaves debilitating damage going into 2020.

Is this just tactical positioning of the moment on Pelosi’s part or is she dead set against impeachment in this Congress? I don’t know. I don’t think it matters. If the facts produced by the House committees are clear, and especially if they move public opinion, they’ll carry Pelosi before them.

Agreed. Patience people.