Why is Nancy Pelosi slow-walking impeachment?
Does she really believe that impeachment would be too divisive? That there’s insufficient public support? That the virtual guarantee that the Republican Senate would not convict makes it a lost cause before it even begins?
My guess is that while all of these considerations may be genuinely in play, the best answer is none of the above. It’s not public opinion. It’s not even the Republican Senate.
It’s the House. Yes, the Democratic House. Nancy’s own domain.
You don’t have to be the Speaker to know that the votes aren’t there. Just take a look at the New York Times’ running total on where House Democrats stand on impeachment.
There are 235 Democrats in the House, more than enough to impeach if all of them were on board.
But they aren’t.
Just over 60 of the 235 unequivocally support launching an impeachment inquiry. Approximately twice that number are either against or undecided. Another 100 or so haven’t yet responded to the Times inquiry.
If only 18 of the over 100 reluctant Democrats (not to mention the other 100 Democrats who haven’t yet weighed in) vote against impeachment, it would fail.
Many of the House Democrats who already oppose impeachment are from swing districts that handed Congress to the Democrats in the 2018 election. They won because they carefully avoided making their campaigns about Trump, focusing instead on issues like health care and education. They can’t be counted on to vote for impeachment. Most likely, put to a choice, enough of them will vote no to kill any chance of winning a vote in the House.
And that would be a disaster.
A failed impeachment vote in the Democratic House would be far worse than a failed conviction in the Republican Senate. Can you imagine how Trump would play that in the 2020 election?
Most likely, the prospect of losing a vote in the House is precisely what is behind Nancy Pelosi’s slow-walk on impeachment. Nobody is better at counting votes than Pelosi. Nobody is more pragmatic than Pelosi. She’s not going to lead her caucus off a cliff.
But avoiding an impeachment vote doesn’t necessarily require avoiding an impeachment inquiry. So why, then, is Pelosi opposed even to that?
I suspect that the answer for the pragmatic Pelosi has more to do with timing than with fear of dividing an already-divided American public.
It’s too soon.
How long can House Democrats string along an impeachment inquiry that isn’t leading anywhere? How long until the public gets sick of it, and turns on the Democrats for running a pointless, never-ending political show? The election is almost a year and a half away. That’s too long.
The alternative for Pelosi seems to be to run a stealth, undeclared impeachment process. Call it an investigation, call it oversight, call it anything you want, but don’t call it impeachment. In fact, make a big show of being against impeachment because it would be so divisive, and such an obstacle to the House doing its day job, legislating. Call witnesses, force Trump to stonewall, and win one court battle after another.
This is another way of articulating Pelosi’s “legislate, investigate, litigate” mantra.
Then wait until the presidential campaign is in full swing, and when it’s too late to get to an impeachment vote, announce that the President has left you no choice but to start a formal impeachment inquiry. “We might not be able to remove, or even impeach him, but we owe a duty to the Constitution and to future generations not to turn a blind eye to his misconduct.”
Right up to the election.