It appears Donald Trump’s defiant impropriety in trying to get a foreign government to investigate a 2020 rival’s son, and then cover up the evidence supplied by a whistleblower, is the straw that broke the camel’s back for House Democrats. Satisfied, it appears, that many vulnerable House Democrats she had been trying to protect are now in favor of moving ahead with impeachment proceedings against the president, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made that position official in a press conference after a late-afternoon meeting with her caucus, as the CBS News reports:
The speaker has long resisted calls from many progressive lawmakers to initiate impeachment proceedings against the president, but Democrats appear to have reached a breaking point over the administration’s refusal to hand over a whistleblower complaint related to Mr. Trump’s interaction with a foreign leader.
“I can say with authority the Trump administration’s actions undermine both our national security and our intelligence and the protections of the whistleblowers,” Pelosi said. “The actions of the Trump presidency revealed dishonorable facts of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections.”
Pelosi will be charged with a flip-flop here, but in fact, she has always held the door open for impeachment proceedings if further evidence of presidential misconduct emerged, which, given Trump’s pattern of behavior, was always a pretty likely proposition. Yes, we are moving toward the end of the window for impeachment given the proximity of the 2020 elections, but not beyond it. And it seems she is convinced the blatant violation of a whistleblower system designed to protect intelligence-gathering and national security is the right “fresh evidence” to justify her switch. If true, it’s certainly a “crime” that fits without the definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors” justifying impeachment proceedings, if not removal from office.
What Pelosi’s announcement will accomplish most immediately is an end to the confusion created by House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler’s perhaps-too-clever-by-half maneuver in claiming that “impeachment proceedings” had already begun, making moot the need for any potentially divisive House vote to authorize them. Now, the House can follow past precedent of the three viable presidential impeachment inquiries (involving Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon — who resigned before he could be impeached — and Bill Clinton), setting up via a House vote a road map and timetable for impeachment hearings and an explanation of how Democrats plan to deal with the inevitable Trump administration refusal to cooperate.
Pelosi’s new position almost certainly indicates that she thinks she will ultimately have the votes to actually pass articles of impeachment — she very likely would not put swing-district members through the stress of impeachment hearings if she thought they would not bear fruit. Nothing that has happened so far, on the other hand, has significantly improved the incredibly low odds that Trump could actually be removed from office by the Senate, where Mitch McConnell has made it clear he plans a pro forma trial quickly leading to acquittal if the House does impeach POTUS.
But now it seems you can add the drama of impeachment hearings to the already-intense atmosphere surrounding the high-stakes presidential election of 2020, which will likely either vindicate Democrats for holding Trump accountable or reward Trump himself for provoking an impeachment fight to rouse his perpetually infuriated base.
This post has been updated to reflect what Speaker Pelosi said in her press conference.