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Nancy Pelosi has no good answer on impeaching Donald Trump

On Wednesday night, CNN's Chris Cuomo asked House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi a (seemingly) simple question:W...

Posted: May 25, 2018 6:52 AM
Updated: May 25, 2018 6:52 AM

On Wednesday night, CNN's Chris Cuomo asked House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi a (seemingly) simple question:

Why don't you support the idea, put forward by some of your Democratic colleagues, to impeach President Donald Trump if your party retakes the House in the fall?

This is her answer:

"Well, first of all, let me just say, our founders gave us our guidance. They said E Pluribus Unum, from many, one. They couldn't possibly have imagined how many we would be or how different we would be, but they knew that we had to be one. And I take it as a responsibility in choosing, just prioritizing as to what is unifying for our country.

"I have hesitated to use impeachment. People wanted me to impeach President (George W.) Bush for going into Iraq. And they impeached President (Bill) Clinton. We -- I -- there is an investigation. If it takes its course, let it take its course. But I do not think that impeachment is a policy agenda.

"What I'd rather talk about is, if people have an unease about government and the rest, is an agenda we put forth on Monday, which is our agenda to save our democracy, which is about reducing the role of money in politics, which changes the revolving door of lobbyists coming in and out of government, which has something that says to -- to people, if you think that your voice is not as heard as well as the voice of others, then we have to satisfy your concern and change the system.

"So let's focus on things like that, that I think are unifying for the American people. Impeachment is, to me, divisive. Again, if the facts are there, the facts are there, then this would have to be bipartisan to go forward. But if it is viewed as partisan, it will divide the country. And I just -- I just -- I just don't think that that's what we should do."

If you weren't counting, that's 279 total words -- ranging from the founding fathers through President George W. Bush and landing on unity. What a run!

Here's a point-by-point summary of Pelosi's answer:

  1. The founders wanted us to be one nation
  2. I resisted calls for impeachment in the past (and I was right to do so)
  3. Impeachment is no substitute for an actual policy plan on how to run -- or help run -- the government
  4. Money in politics and lobbyists are bad
  5. Impeachment is divisive unless it's bipartisan. And it isn't bipartisan.

She's not wrong. Impeachment is not an agenda -- certainly not for a party who will spend the next five months making the case that people need to vote them into power as a check against Trump. And any attempt at impeachment without proven crimes committed by Trump would immediately polarize the Congress and the country -- even more than we already are.

At the same time, Pelosi's careful -- and long -- answer speaks to how delicate an issue impeachment is within the Democratic base.

Earlier this week, Texas Democratic Rep. Al Green seemed to promise that if Democrats took back the House this fall, the party would move forward on Articles of Impeachment against Trump -- regardless of what Pelosi wants.

"Every member of the House is accorded the opportunity to bring up impeachment," Green said on C-SPAN. "This is not something that the Constitution has bestowed upon leadership. It is something that every member has the right and privilege of doing."

Green is in good company, among Democrats at least; 7 in 10 in a recent NPR/PBS national poll said they would definitely vote for a candidate who pledged to work to impeach Trump.

The problem for Democratic strategists -- of which Pelosi is at the top of the heap -- is that people outside of their base are far less keen on impeaching Trump. In that same NPR/PBS poll, just 42% of independents said they would definitely support a candidate who vowed to impeach Trump while 47% said they would definitely vote against that same candidate.

The issue of impeachment -- and Trump's presidency, more broadly -- highlights the gap between Democratic leaders and the party's base.

For the base, their hatred of Trump is so pure that there is nothing negative for or about him that they wouldn't be willing to countenance. For Democratic leaders, talk of impeachment hands Republicans a ready-made issue -- a way to caricature Pelosi and her caucus as radical leftists blinded by partisan hatred.

So, it's complicated. (Politics often is!) And that complexity explains why Pelosi couldn't give Cuomo a straight answer. The truth is, one doesn't exist for her.

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