The House Democratic leadership has wanted no part of impeachment since the “blue wave” swept them back into power in the 2018 mid-terms elections. Speaker Pelosi made this explicit earlier this year in an interview with The Washington Post Magazine. “I’m not for impeachment,” she said. “(I)mpeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it.” (Emphasis added)
Translated, what she meant was: in this political environment, impeachment will never be bipartisan. It will never get 67 votes “aye” votes in the Senate. So why put 25–35 vulnerable Democratic House members in marginal or pro-Trump districts in harm’s way? (More to the point: Why should she put her tenure as Speaker of the House at risk?) Why engage in a process that will enrage the President’s supporters and give him a rallying cry (“witch hunt”) for his re-election campaign? Why make it harder for Democratic Senate candidates running in states that Mr. Trump won?
Impeachment put a lot at risk and promised little, if any, political reward. The only way to resolve the “Trump issue” (from her point of view) was to vote him out of office. Impeachment wasn’t helpful to that cause.
The Washington Post Magazine interview was the first of a number of attempts (both public and private) by Ms. Pelosi and the House Democratic leadership to shut down the impeachment “groundswell” on the left and in the media. Down the street, President Trump was doing everything he could to enrage the media and the Democratic Party’s “progressive” wing and in so doing, escalate their demands for impeachment proceedings. The intra-Democratic Party conflict, he and his handlers reasoned, would generate copious media coverage and highlight the party’s socialist insurgents.
A key piece of the president’s re-election effort is to make the Democratic Party’s left wing (“The Squad,” among others) the face of the Democratic Party. As White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney put it a while back, the Trump re-election message revolves around three “issues”: the economy, immigration and Democratic Party “socialism.” Engaging “the Squad” and other left-wing (preferably black) legislators has been a “go-to” tactic of Mr. Trump’s pre-season election campaign.
Trump miscalculated in thinking that, in the end, Pelosi could and would shut it down. It was a rookie mistake on Trump’s part; another example of how an absence of empathy leads to miscalculation. You can’t deal productively with someone like Pelosi if you don’t make an attempt to understand the politics of her position. In the event, miscalculation left Trump with the ignominy of being only the third US president in the nation’s history to be impeached. There was no way to spin that away. It was an “own goal” of epic proportions.
That said, the politics of the vote were (and remain) tricky. No one has any doubt, really, that the president did what he stands accused of doing. But ‘persuadable” voters are not convinced that the charges warrant his removal from office and they were unnerved by the speed of the House’s “deliberations.” It didn’t seem deliberate at all. It seemed like a rush to judgement.
What does Pelosi do now?
For the moment, she’s waiting, using the Christmas break to give her caucus members a chance to take soundings in their districts. But the truth is she can’t really afford to wait. Removing the President of the United States of America from office doesn’t wait for constituent service. Trivial as our politics is and has become, there’s no way around the magnitude of what’s happened and what might happen next. Impeachment has global implications. It sets historic precedents. And the Democrats own it, for the moment, so it’s their job to resolve it or at least move it along.
Pelosi’s best option would be a “pocket veto.” Legislative leadership, of course, can’t execute a “pocket veto.” That’s an executive function. But something very much like a “pocket veto” would serve Pelosi and her party’s interests well.
She could say: “I’m not sending these articles of impeachment over to the Senate. There’s no point in doing so. The Majority Leader has made it clear that he has no interest in a “fair trial.” There’s no point in wasting everyone’s time and taxpayer money to arrive at a decision that Republican Senators have already made. Everyone, including each and every Republican member of the Senate, knows that President Trump did exactly what he stands accused of doing. And impeachment is a fact. So we’ll let it stand as is; a monument to the president’s dishonesty and corruption, to be contemplated and remembered by Americans for generations to come.”
Owie! That would light up the night sky over 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, no? The White House and the re-election campaign committee would erupt in a volcano of tweets and seething appearances on Fox News. God only knows who, aside from Pelosi, would be the target of Team Trump’s collective wrath.
But everyone else, or virtually everyone else, would accept Pelosi’s proposed political resolution with gratitude. Republican Senators would be happy to be rid of the dreary task of defending the president’s conduct. Democratic Senators would no longer have to explain why what voters perceive as a felony is actually a capital crime. The “progressive caucus” might be upset for a time, but AOC doesn’t play quarterly politics. She plays a long game, emphasizing yards gained and time of possession. She can bank the House vote on impeachment as a first down, which (for Team AOC) it was and is.
If AOC is okay with a Pelosi “pocket veto,” then her massive social media following will follow along. Which in turn will bring along all the other Democratic left-wingers and their media allies. House Democrats in marginal districts will be thrilled to have the issue die a quick death. And as an added bonus, the “Pelosi rebellion” will be counted, by any number of cable television chatterboxes, as a ‘win-win” for the party’s two main factions: Pelosi’s authority remains in tact, Team AOC made its points and advanced its cause. Harmony restored and a tricky issue shelved, the House Democratic majority in the 2020 general election will be (all-but) secured.
Pelosi was right about the politics of impeachment back in March. Democrats don’t need to convince voters who favor impeachment to vote Democratic. They’re already committed to doing just that. And Democrats will never convince voters committed to President Trump of anything, really. The 2020 election is about those that remain — “the persuadables.” Whoever persuades them wins.
Pelosi’s job is to guide her party toward its political advantages. Impeachment is not an advantage. It’s a 48%-to-48% issue. Health care is an advantage. Shoring up Social Security is an advantage. Climate change is an advantage. Gun control is an advantage. She wants the House of Representatives, especially the Republican members, debating those issues. Because every time House members do, it helps her party’s cause.
Don’t be surprised if she executes the Congressional equivalent of a “pocket veto.” It’s a smart play. And she’s nobody’s fool.