No one was surprised. This was going to happen. And a Thursday morning in early December would do. Nancy Pelosi pulled the trigger:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Thursday that Democrats will begin drafting articles of impeachment against President Trump, setting up a constitutional clash that Trump now says he embraces and is eager to frame on his terms when it moves to an expected Senate trial next month.
Trump is eager to frame all of this on his terms. He’ll be on trial, but his team will call witnesses and thoroughly destroy them – Hunter Biden, and then his father, Joe, and Nancy Pelosi and Adam Schiff and Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Pelosi and Schiff will be convicted of treason for this attempted coup. Hillary Clinton will finally go to jail for the missing emails and Benghazi or whatever. Obama will be impeached, finally, for wiretapping Trump. He’s off to jail too. Republicans control the Senate. This is their trial. They can do this.
But of course they can’t. This will be the trial of the precisely specified single indicted person, on only the specific charges in the indictment, in the case of these new articles of impeachment. This is not the trial of Barack Obama or anyone else. But it’s fun to talk about. It fills hours on Fox News.
Nancy Pelosi was a bit more focused:
In a solo appearance at the Capitol, Pelosi argued that the president’s conduct when it came to Ukraine left Democrats with “no choice but to act,” charging that Trump abused the powers of the presidency and leaving little doubt that the House will hold a vote to impeach him in coming weeks, perhaps before Christmas.
“His actions are in defiance of the vision of our founders and the oath of office that he takes to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” Pelosi said. Announcing that key chairmen will proceed with writing the impeachment charges, the speaker praised her ranks’ “somber approach to actions which I wish the president had not made necessary.”
The president is not a somber man. The president is not a methodical man. That’s why this is happening, and the Democrats are being careful:
Pelosi did not detail a specific timeline or how expansive the articles of impeachment would be. House Democrats have considered charges that include obstruction and bribery, according to congressional aides, as they continue to debate internally over widening the articles to cover Trump’s conduct outlined in then-special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia investigation as evidence that the president has repeatedly obstructed justice and solicited or welcomed foreign interference in his election bids.
The aides cautioned that the situation remains fluid. But Democratic leaders believe they have overwhelming support for articles dealing with the core of Trump’s conduct regarding Ukraine, according to two leadership aides who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the private deliberations.
Lawyers from the House Intelligence Committee, which drafted a 300-page report detailing Trump’s alleged misconduct, will present the official findings in another highly anticipated hearing before the House Judiciary Committee on Monday.
That should nail everything down, leaving only the naming of crimes:
Leading Democrats, including Pelosi and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), have already identified as bribery and an abuse of office that rises to the “high crimes and misdemeanors” standard Trump’s effort to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch political investigations advantageous to Trump.
Democrats allege Trump withheld a White House meeting and military aid, sought by Ukraine in the face of Russian military aggression, to force Zelensky to order official inquiries into former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden, as well as an unfounded theory that Kyiv conspired with Democrats to interfere in the 2016 presidential election.
There is no appetite for trying to impeach Trump on grounds of treason, the third specific act listed in the Constitution’s definition of impeachable offenses, according to people familiar with the plans.
Treason is giving aid and comfort to the enemy in times of war. That won’t work. We’re not at war, and some say Ukraine is the enemy now – because they all hate Trump. Russia is our ally now. But no matter:
Trump on Thursday dared Democrats to act quickly, turning his focus to the Senate, where the White House has already previewed an aggressive defense strategy that could entail calling witnesses to the chamber floor.
“They have no Impeachment case and are demeaning our Country. But nothing matters to them, they have gone crazy,” Trump tweeted. “Therefore I say, if you are going to impeach me, do it now, fast, so we can have a fair trial in the Senate, and so that our Country can get back to business.”
So they’ll just throw stuff at the wall and walk away when they get bored with this nonsense:
Trump demanded to call as witnesses an array of Republican targets, including Pelosi, Schiff and the Bidens. Republicans have also floated summoning the whistleblower, whose complaint about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine triggered the impeachment inquiry. Later at the White House, Trump dismissed any notion he is concerned that impeachment would tarnish his legacy.
“It’s a hoax. It’s a hoax. It’s a big, fat hoax,” Trump said in an exchange with reporters that came during a meeting with U.N. representatives.
In short, everyone takes all of this too seriously, to which the appropriate answers is of course they do:
Tensions over the impeachment inquiry and the contentious clash between the parties burst further into public view on Thursday when a reporter pressed Pelosi on whether she hates Trump – an accusation leveled by Republicans against the speaker and other Democrats.
“This is about the Constitution of the United States and the facts that lead to the president’s violation of his oath of office. And as a Catholic, I resent your using the word ‘hate’ in a sentence that addresses me. I don’t hate anyone,” an agitated Pelosi responded to the reporter, James Rosen of the Sinclair Broadcast Group. “And I still pray for the president. I pray for the president all the time. So don’t mess with me when it comes to words like that.”
And an even worse move:
Trump, clearly following the day’s news developments, responded shortly after on Twitter, taunting Pelosi for what he called a “nervous fit.”
“She hates that we will soon have 182 great new judges and soooo much more,” the president tweeted.
And he doesn’t need her damned prayers:
“She says she ‘prays for the President.’ I don’t believe her, not even close. Help the homeless in your district Nancy.”
And then there was this:
The tensions also spilled onto the Democratic presidential campaign trail, when Joe Biden – campaigning in New Hampton, Iowa – engaged in an extraordinary exchange with an Iowa voter who pressed him on his son’s activities in Ukraine.
The younger Biden sat on the board of the Ukrainian energy company Burisma, whose owner had come under scrutiny by Ukrainian prosecutors for possible abuse of power and unlawful enrichment. As vice president at the time, Joe Biden had pressured Ukraine to fire the top prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who Biden and other Western officials said was not sufficiently pursuing corruption cases.
There is no evidence of wrongdoing on the part of either Biden. But the Iowa farmer who challenged the former vice president accused him of “selling access” through Hunter Biden’s seat on Burisma’s board, even though there is no evidence Joe Biden played any role in getting him the job.
“We all know Trump has been messing around in the Ukraine over there, holding their foreign aid, saying they’re going to investigate you,” said the man, who declined to identify himself. “But you, on the other hand, sent your son over there to get a job and work for a gas company – that he had no experience with gas or nothing – to get access to the president. You’re selling access to the president, just like he was.”
Biden quickly responded.
“You’re a damn liar, man. That’s not true. And no one has ever said that,” he responded.
In fact, no one ever said that, but this was a bit of a mess.
Hunter Biden’s position on the Burisma board has become a major point of scrutiny for Republicans, who have been seeking to turn the tables against Democrats on impeachment, particularly once the fight shifts to the Senate. To that end, Trump’s personal lawyer Rudolph W. Giuliani met Thursday in Ukraine with one of the key figures working to build a corruption case against Hunter Biden.
The lawmaker, Andriy Derkach, posted on Facebook photographs of himself meeting Giuliani in the Ukrainian capital of Kyiv, vowing to set up an anti-corruption group in the Ukrainian parliament. Giuliani’s presence in Ukraine advances efforts by Trump allies to create an alternative narrative in the rapidly moving impeachment investigation.
But top Republicans have declined to answer why the GOP did not investigate the Bidens over the issue when they held both congressional majorities in 2017 and 2018 if they are so concerned about it now.
But now there’s Rudy, over there talking to all of Putin’s people who have been stripped from power when Ukraine broke free of the Putin Gang a few years ago. They want to “get” Biden and they want to have Russia roll in and take back Ukraine again.
Their goals align with Trump’s and with Putin’s, but there is that other matter. Nancy Pelosi lost her temper. She NEVER loses her temper. What’s going on? The Washington Post’s Karen Tumulty sees this:
This admonition flows from the expansive Catholic interpretation of the Fifth Commandment. In a General Audience last year in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis declared that to hate is to murder in your heart.
All of which explains House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) reaction when James Rosen, a journalist for conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group, asked her: “Do you hate the president, Madam Speaker?”
Pelosi – who had been on her way out of her weekly news conference – wheeled around and then returned to the lectern.
In an uncharacteristic burst of fury, Pelosi told Rosen: “As a Catholic, I resent your using the word ‘hate’ in a sentence that addresses me. I don’t hate anyone… So, don’t mess with me when it comes to words like that.”
And that wasn’t theater:
Her critics will question her sincerity, and point out that she has broken with Catholic teaching on big issues of doctrine – chief among them abortion. “The church has their position, and we have ours, which is that a woman has free-will that has been given to her by God,” Pelosi told the New York Times in 2015.
But those who know her well insist religious belief is at the core of everything Pelosi does. “There are two pillars in her life, in terms of her beliefs: her Catholicism, a very deep faith, and her family,” her friend and fellow California congresswoman Anna Eshoo (D) told my colleague Paul Kane on Thursday. “This is the authentic Nancy.”
And that calls for a few distinctions:
That Democrats – including Pelosi – find Trump’s actions and his character abhorrent is true. “I think the president is a coward when it comes to helping our kids who are afraid of gun violence,” Pelosi said. “I think he is cruel when he doesn’t deal with helping our ‘dreamers,’ of which we are very proud. I think he’s in denial about the climate crisis.”
Disgust, to a Catholic, is not the same as hatred. And, as Pelosi noted, political differences should be resolved in the 2020 election.
Tumulty wonders about that:
Is all of this good politics for the Democrats? I’m doubtful.
But is hatred of Trump what is driving Pelosi to take this historic step? I’m certain that it is not.
Conservatives sometimes forget that they do not have an exclusive claim to faith.
Perhaps so, but times have changed:
At the start of the fall general election campaign, Republican nominee and incumbent vice president Richard Nixon held a six-point lead in the polls. Major issues included how to get the economy moving again, Kennedy’s Roman Catholicism, the Cuban Revolution, and whether the space and missile programs of the Soviet Union had surpassed those of the U.S. To address fears that his being Catholic would impact his decision-making, he famously told the Greater Houston Ministerial Association on September 12, 1960: “I am not the Catholic candidate for president. I am the Democratic Party candidate for president who also happens to be a Catholic. I do not speak for my Church on public matters – and the Church does not speak for me.”
Now he’d be saying the opposite and everyone would cheer, but Dana Milbank sees this:
I once doubted that Pelosi, about to turn 80, was the right leader for Democrats against Trump. But she was made for this moment. She uniquely gets under Trump’s skin, routinely beating him in standoffs with her blend of sorrow and bewilderment: “This is a strain of cat that I don’t have the medical credentials to analyze or the religious credentials to judge,” she told the New Yorker.
Republicans needled her as she resisted the left’s impeachment demands. Now Republicans needle her for rushing impeachment. Yet she pulled off the near-miracle of uniting Democrats, first counseling them to wait for something “overwhelming and bipartisan,” and then, when the Ukraine scandal made clear bipartisanship was impossible no matter how overwhelming the evidence, she struck swiftly.
The New York Times’ Sheryl Gay Stolberg explains how that happened:
Speaker Nancy Pelosi was planning to deliver back-to-back eulogies at funerals in Washington and in South Carolina during a busy weekend of late September travel when she saw an explosive headline in The Wall Street Journal: “Trump Repeatedly Pressed Ukraine to Investigate Biden’s Son.”
For months, Ms. Pelosi had resisted calls for impeachment. It would be nearly another week before the release of a whistle-blower’s complaint detailing Mr. Trump’s push for Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and his son – and days before nervous moderates told her they were ready to back an impeachment inquiry they had shunned all year.
But the news of Mr. Trump’s repeated entreaties for Ukraine to investigate a leading political rival was too much for Ms. Pelosi. The speaker’s mind was made up to embark on proceedings that could lead to the impeachment and removal of the 45th president of the United States.
That reversed everything:
Just nine months ago, Ms. Pelosi declared flatly in an interview with the Washington Post Magazine that she was “not for impeachment” because it would be “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.”
“He’s just not worth it,” Ms. Pelosi added with a disdainful flourish.
Congressional Republicans have repeatedly thrown that comment back at Ms. Pelosi. On Thursday they said they thought she caved to the impeachment demands of the progressive left.
“I think she has lost control,” said Senator John Cornyn, Republican of Texas. “In March, she said it wasn’t going to be successful unless it was bipartisan, and she totally abandoned that.”
But at her weekly news conference on Thursday, Ms. Pelosi told reporters the president had given Democrats no choice: “He is the one who is dividing the country on this. We are honoring the Constitution of the United States.”
So, everything was already broken – Trump broke it. So, why not fix it? But she wasn’t glib about it:
People close to the speaker say that she has said privately what she often says publicly: She has never been eager to impeach the president. She worried that vulnerable moderates would lose their seats, that it would tear the country apart. And it was a distraction from the poll-tested agenda Democrats had campaigned on: lowering the cost of prescription drugs, raising the minimum wage, fighting corruption and gun violence.
“She came to where we are today with real reluctance – that was genuine,” said Representative Rosa DeLauro, Democrat of Connecticut and a close Pelosi ally. “It was fear of the division of the country and fear of re-litigating the last election.”
How Ms. Pelosi got to “where we are today” is in part the story of her sense of timing, her methodical approach to decision making and her ability to read the sensibilities and political needs of her fractious and often unruly caucus.
That is, she’s careful and methodical and she listens carefully and dismisses no one, so she is everything that Trump is not:
Ms. Pelosi has kept a tight rein on the impeachment process. On the night before the Intelligence Committee convened its first public impeachment hearing last month, the speaker line-edited Mr. Schiff’s opening statement, suggesting that he change a word to sharpen his point.
Mr. Schiff planned to introduce Ambassador William B. Taylor Jr., the top diplomat in Ukraine who was a crucial witness, as a graduate of West Point. She changed “was” to “is,” arguing that the present tense made for a stronger credential.
“She has been very hands-on,” said Representative Pramila Jayapal, Democrat of Washington and a member of the Judiciary Committee who also leads the House Progressive Caucus. “She knows exactly what’s happening or her office is involved in all of the decisions, and she works to try to find a balance where the caucus will come together.”
And that is a challenge:
From the very day that Democrats took power in Washington in January – and even before – Ms. Pelosi has faced pressures from all sides of her caucus. On her left, Representative Rashida Tlaib, the liberal firebrand freshman from Michigan who campaigned on a vow to impeach the president, was caught on videotape using an expletive for Mr. Trump as she described her desire to oust him from office.
On her right, moderate first-term members like Representatives Elissa Slotkin of Michigan and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, both of whom won narrowly in Trump-friendly districts, wanted nothing to do with impeachment. Ms. Pelosi knew that if they lost their seats, Democrats would lose the majority – and with it, her speakership.
But she manages, and she listens carefully:
Even after Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel who investigated Russia’s interference in the 2016 election, came out with his report in April detailing several instances of possible obstruction of justice by Mr. Trump, Ms. Pelosi was reticent. From her travels around the country – she is gone almost every weekend, often raising money for Democrats – she had concluded that neither the public nor her Democratic members were ready.
“What’s instructive to her?” asked Representative Anna G. Eshoo, Ms. Pelosi’s fellow California Democrat and a close friend of the speaker. “It’s the public sentiment – the quote of Abraham Lincoln which she has repeated so many times I wish I had a dime for every time she said it, that public sentiment is everything and without it, very little can be achieved.”
She works with what is possible, and she also shuts no one down:
Despite Ms. Pelosi’s own reticence, Democrats say she has never pressured them to take a stand on impeachment one way or another. It is a point she reiterated during a rare members-only, no-aides-allowed private meeting with her rank and file on Wednesday morning.
Wait. That’s it. She runs a democracy. And then there’s the man she wants to remove from office. He doesn’t. Maybe it’s that simple.