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Pelosi, some 2020 Democrats splitting on impeachment
Impatient with Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s reluctance to impeach the president, and emboldened by the release of Robert Mueller’s report last month, several Democratic candidates, including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), are breaking with the Speaker’s measured approach, according to the Boston Globe.
In the weeks since Mueller’s report went public, Pelosi has been struggling to maintain her party’s focus on finding the “facts” before taking drastic measures. And the Speaker appears to be buckling, saying last week that Trump was “self-impeaching” and that he was “goading” her party into impeaching him.
Pelosi has constructed a new narrative — that Trump has produced a “constitutional crisis” by refusing to comply with Congress’s subpoena power — that will make it more difficult to keep impeachment at bay if Trump continues blocking her party’s probes.
Disagreement on impeachment
Pelosi has long favored caution on impeachment, but pressure has been mounting since Mueller’s report was released. Although Mueller did not establish a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, Democrats like Warren nevertheless declared that the report lays out enough evidence to impeach Trump for obstructing justice. Mueller laid out instances of what he considered possible obstruction, but did not charge Trump with a crime.
In the weeks since, Democrats have resolutely rejected calls from Republicans to “move on.” When Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) declared “case closed,” Warren reiterated the case for impeachment on the Senate floor. Following in Warren’s wake, more 2020 Democrats and rank-and-file members of Pelosi’s caucus have taken up the impeachment mantle, including Democratic candidates Senator Kamala Harris (D-CA), former Obama official Julian Castro and Rep. Seth Moulton (D-MA).
This places Pelosi in a tough spot. The Speaker has long held that impeachment would be costly without sure evidence to rally a majority, especially considering that Republicans would defeat any impeachment effort in the Senate. Until now, impeachment has never gotten much further than a fringe of House Democrats like Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI).
But the post-Mueller impeachment push has changed that. While she is still counseling prudence, Pelosi’s most recent comments show that she is struggling to stick to the plan. Declaring a “constitutional crisis” last week, Pelosi said that Trump was “goading” the Democrats into impeaching him and that his refusal to comply with their investigations constitutes “self-impeachment.”
Pelosi’s recent comments certainly mark a contrast from two months ago, when she, just weeks before Mueller’s investigation finished, appeared to pour cold water on impeachment once and for all, calling it a “gift” to Trump. Still, Pelosi is not yet departing from “investigate first,” even as she declares a “constitutional crisis.”
Split party, split priorities
Pelosi’s double-talk on impeachment reflects a widely-felt uncertainty among Democrats on how to proceed after the release of Mueller’s report showed no evidence of collusion. While some have claimed the report’s obstruction evidence is enough to proceed, Pelosi has struggled to keep the focus on her party’s investigations.
Like Pelosi, Warren says that holding Trump accountable is about the Constitution, not politics — but she’s taking it further than the Speaker. “This is not about politics,” Warren said. “We took an oath not to try to protect Donald Trump; we took an oath to protect the Constitution. And the way we do that is we begin impeachment proceedings now against the president.”
The difference in approaches reflects a split in priorities: while Pelosi is struggling to keep her caucus unified, 2020 Democrats are tapping into the resentment of a liberal base that wants to see Trump removed from office. That resentment has only grown in the weeks since Mueller’s report was released, as Democrats and the mainstream media stoked conspiracies that Trump’s attorney general “covered up” the president’s crimes. President Trump’s refusal to comply with Democrat subpoenas and investigations targeting him, for his tax returns, business records and the unredacted Mueller report, have only further inflamed his opponents.
Top Democrats and more moderate lawmakers share Pelosi’s caution that Trump is “goading” them into overreaching. Impeachment may be popular with Democrats, but not the majority of voters. Top committee Democrats like House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) and Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) are still following Pelosi’s lead, keeping impeachment at bay while hitting Trump and his associates with subpoenas and threats of jail time and fines.
Wanting it both ways
It’s a clever strategy: investigating Trump without impeaching him allows the Democrats to continue obstructing his presidency without risk of overreach. “Constitutional crisis” is also a useful cover-up of the no-collusion blow-out: if Trump’s crime is not co-operating with Democrats’ investigations, all they have to do is continue harassing him with subpoenas while claiming that he’s obstructing their Constitutionally-mandated power.
But Pelosi wants to have it both ways. If the evidence of Trump’s “stonewalling” is so clear, then what’s the holdup? Democrats may lose patience with her counsel to focus on the “facts” if Trump refuses to entertain their partisan probes. And other 2020 Democrats may soon feel the pressure to keep up with Warren, too.
“How do you stand in a crowd and say Trump is a very evil, racist monster but let’s not impeach him?” said Michael Steel, a Republican strategist. “There is a moral element to their opposition to the president that makes it really hard to fall back on a lawyerly position.”
Pelosi has been stoking that anti-Trump hatred herself since Trump took office. With the rhetoric growing more intense, Pelosi may find it harder to justify the moderate course.
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