During Ronald Reagan’s second term, some Democrats became excited about the prospect of impeaching the president over the Iran-Contra matter. At a meeting in his office, Speaker Tip O’Neil put an end to this possibility with six words. “We’re not going to do that,” he stated.
Flash forward almost 30 years, and we find Speaker Nancy Pelosi uttering words that fall short of what O’Neill said. On the possibility of impeaching President Trump, Pelosi stated:
I’m not for impeachment. Impeachment 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 [Trump’s] just not worth it.
Unlike O’Neill, Pelosi did not rule out impeaching Trump. Arguably, she put herself in a better position to yield to impeachment demands from her caucus down the road. She can now say she was disinclined to impeach Trump until she learned (from Mueller or from one of the House committees investigating Trump) about this or that alleged outrage.
I suspect this was one of Pelosi’s motives in making her statement — to come across as a fair arbiter on impeachment. The other motive, I assume, was to cause frisky members of her caucus to focus on other matters for the time being.
The only words from Pelosi that might give comfort to President Trump is her statement that there needs to be “bipartisan[ship]” before impeachment is pursued. Here, though, Pelosi set the bar lower than Rep. Jerrold Nadler, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, had set it. Nadler spoke of the need for a case that would have the backing of some Trump supporters. Pelosi spoke only of bipartisanship.
These days, bipartisan support sometimes is claimed when a single member of the opposing caucus supports a measure. And Pelosi didn’t even specify that Republican support for impeachment had to come from a member of Congress. What if, after scandalous (or allegedly scandalous) matter is publicized, a poll finds that 5-10 percent of Republicans, along with half of independents, favor impeachment? Would that satisfy the “bipartisan” standard?
I think Pelosi, shrewdly, has kept her options open.
In any event, an impeachment vote is in the cards whether Pelosi wants one or not. With all the committee investigations that are underway, not to mention Mueller’s, it seems almost inevitable that left-wing members of Pelosi’s left-liberal caucus will bring impeachment to a vote.
If these leftists are smart, they will wait until they have more to work with. At that point, Pelosi will be in a tough spot. Will she take the position that her “compelling, overwhelming, and bipartisan” standard hasn’t been met if a sizable portion of her caucus thinks there’s enough evidence with which to proceed?
To do so would be terribly divisive. Pelosi might easily conclude that protecting Trump from impeachment “isn’t worth it.”
Thus, while Pelosi’s statement lowers the odds that the House will impeach Trump, the possibility of impeachment remains considerable, it seems to me.