By MARSHA MERCER
The front-page headline in the New York Post blared: “PELOSI BLINKS.”
A smaller one read: “`He’s just not worth it,’ says speaker.”
He, of course, is President Donald Trump. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made headlines Tuesday when she said, “I’m not for impeachment.”
Did she blink? Hardly.
Pelosi has been playing down impeachment talk since she became speaker, urging Democrats to wait for various investigations to yield hard evidence before rushing to impeach.
Her comments made news because the interview with Joe Heim in The Washington Post Magazine, published Monday, was the first time she stated her position so succinctly to a reporter.
Some in Trump’s camp evidently felt comforted by Pelosi’s comments.
“I’m glad she sees what the rest of us see, that there is no reason, no cause for impeachment,” White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said on Fox News, typically mischaracterizing what Pelosi said.
Trump, taking the role of victim, cries harassment and calls all investigations a witch hunt.
No one should labor under the delusion Pelosi is giving Trump a Get out of Jail Free card.
Asked if Trump is fit to be president, she said no, he is “ethically unfit. Intellectually unfit. Curiosity-wise unfit.”
Pelosi wants Trump out, but the canny strategist wants to oust him the old-fashioned way – through the electoral process.
She also wants Democrats to retain control of the House and regain the Senate. The last may be wishful thinking, but none of her goals has a prayer if Democrats lose sight of their policy agenda and alienate a wide swath of the electorate, especially
independent and moderate voters in swing districts.
Impeachment would draw attention away from such Democratic goals as reducing prescription drug costs and ending gender discrimination in the workplace.
So Pelosi has slowed the impeachment train, although some congressional Democrats, like Rep. Al Green of Texas, who first introduced an articles of impeachment resolution in January 2017, and some House freshmen vow to continue their efforts.
Pelosi’s statement provides political cover for Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York, who heads the House Judiciary Committee, and other Democratic chairmen who face pressure to impeach.
Billionaire activist Tom Steyer, who reportedly plans to spend $40 million in the 2020 election cycle to get Trump impeached, has run ads in Nadler’s and others’ districts, urging them to get on with it.
Nadler launched a sweeping investigation into possible wrongdoing by Trump and has said he believes Trump has committed obstruction of justice. But Nadler said he needs to gather evidence.
The constitutional grounds for impeachment are not whether one finds the president personally odious or his policies wrong-headed. The grounds are “treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.”
It takes time to build a case and the necessary public support for such a wrenching take-down. President Richard Nixon held on and did not resign until Republican congressional leaders broke the bad news that he was about to be impeached.
Voting to impeach Trump prematurely would be the political equivalent of downing a large piece of chocolate lava cake while dieting – delicious in the moment but ultimately a self-defeating indulgence.
The reality is even if the House were to vote to impeach Trump, a trial in the Senate would not remove him from office, not at this point with a GOP majority, and failed impeachment could redound to the benefit of Republicans.
Pelosi was in the House when Republicans impeached President Bill Clinton, failed in the Senate to remove him from office – and lost seats in the next election.
Pelosi did leave the door ajar for impeachment of Trump someday, but said it’s so divisive it should be avoided “unless there’s something so compelling and bipartisan.”
Compelling and bipartisan are good standards. There’s also a question of timing.
Unless impeachment proceedings take place this year, 2020 may be too late. Impeachment proceedings would take over the campaign and incite Trump voters.
Pelosi likes to quote Lincoln: “Public sentiment is everything. With public sentiment, nothing can fail; without it nothing can succeed.”
If Democrats want to succeed, they should listen to and trust the experienced Nancy Pelosi.
©2019 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.