Yesterday, I said I could no longer defend the House Speaker’s current position with respect to impeachment. It had been prudent for her to remain officially ambivalent, I wrote, while some in her caucus investigated Donald Trump’s high crimes and while other more moderate members kept their distance. But after it was revealed Friday that the president tried to sabotage our sovereignty by asking a foreign leader to dig up dirt on a political rival, I felt Nancy Pelosi’s fence-sitting was no longer tolerable.
Well, what a difference a day makes!
As I was writing those words, the speaker was on the telephone with undecided colleagues sounding out their rapidly evolving views on a potential impeachment process, according to the Post. Late into the night, as Rachael Bade and Mike DeBoni reported, Pelosi was “gauging the mood of her caucus members about whether they believe that allegations that Trump pressured the Ukrainian president to investigate a political foe are a tipping point. ... [M]any leadership aides who once thought Trump’s impeachment was unlikely now say they think it’s almost inevitable” (my italics).
Within a span of hours Monday, seven freshman Democrats, all from swing districts, co-wrote an op-ed for the Post demanding accountability for the executive’s lawlessness. Others came around, too, including my own representative, New Haven’s Rosa DeLauro, a close confidante of Pelosi’s, as well as the Hudson Valley’s Anthony Delgado, a freshman who won an overwhelming Republican district. In about 24 hours, 15 lawmakers joined a caucus majority favoring an impeachment process. That makes a total of 147. The Democrats need 218 to send an indictment to the Senate.
It would be an overstatement to say Pelosi’s position has changed. But it’s fair to say that her position is in the midst of changing, as support for impeachment keeps rising from the ground up. Moreover, we still don’t know what the speaker is willing to do after Thursday. That’s the bright line she drew last week. She said either the Trump administration turns over the whistleblower complaint, which is required by federal statute, or the House Democrats launch a “whole new stage of investigation.”
No one knows what that will be, but for those of us who have watched the House investigations closely, that’s too vague for much comfort. The administration has stonewalled the Congress from virtually every angle thanks to an Attorney General acting as Trump’s personal lawyer. The House Democrats, meanwhile, have not yet deployed the tools available to them. While they have held some officials in contempt, they have not used “inherent contempt,” in which the House Sergeant at Arms arrests uncooperative officials, thus bypassing dependence on the US Department of Justice.
The Post reported that Pelosi maintains the opinion that an impeachment process requires popular support and at least some Republican buy-in. That may be more word than deed, a position taken while waiting for the rest of one’s caucus to come around. If most, or all, of the Democrats start howling for accountability, that’s going to create a hell of a din voters everywhere are going to hear, perhaps enough to manufacture public support. As for the Republicans, I hope the speaker isn’t holding her breath. If the president’s first act of treason—asking for and receiving assistance from the Russian government to defeat Hillary Clinton—was not enough to arouse the GOP’s sense of patriotism, I don’t see why they would snap out of it for the second time.
Which brings me to my final question: why is any of this getting more attention than the first time? I argued Friday—turns out, wrongly—that the Ukraine story was not going to a “game changer” in part because the game has already changed for the worse. Yet here we are, 15 more Democrats in the impeachment tally. Even the normally nonplussed Jonathan Bernstein wrote this morning, “Folks, I think the president of the United States is going to be impeached.” Sure, he said, the Democrats are not officially committed to impeaching Trump, but “it does seem likely that the more advanced their process gets, the harder it will be to apply the brakes.”
Again, why now, not then? I’m not sure.
But I’ll take it.