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Pelosi puts the kibosh on impeachment: good politics or bad precedent?

Why We Wrote This

By saying she won’t pursue it without bipartisan support, some wonder if the Speaker is setting too high a standard for impeachment.

J. Scott Applewhite/AP
Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., introduces an immigration reform bill at the Capitol on March 12, 2019. Pelosi is setting a high bar for impeachment of President Donald Trump, saying he is 'just not worth it' even as some on her left flank clamor to start proceedings.

Dear readers:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made news this week when she told The Washington Post that she is “not for impeachment.”

“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,” Ms. Pelosi said in an interview.

House Intelligence chairman Adam Schiff echoed that view at a Monitor breakfast yesterday, telling the assembled reporters that Ms. Pelosi is “absolutely right.”

None of this should be remotely surprising to anyone, really, because it’s basic politics. If House Democrats were to impeach the president, the Republican-controlled Senate would almost certainly vote against convicting and removing him from office.

Anyone who can remember the Clinton years knows that impeachment proceedings would push voters even further into their partisan camps – and very possibly create new sympathy and enthusiasm for Mr. Trump in quarters where it previously did not exist. Frankly, it could help him win reelection.

In other words, Ms. Pelosi doesn’t want to impeach Mr. Trump – because she wants to beat him.

“Running against Trump was a winning strategy in the 2018 midterms, which saw Democrats gain 40 House seats and a 7 percent popular vote margin with record turnout,” writes The Bulwark’s Benjamin Parker. “Pelosi would be foolish to change that formula.”

Trump supporters say Pelosi and the Democrats are trying to have it both ways – accusing the president of misdeeds, but not putting their money where their mouth is, so to speak. “They have a constitutional responsibility to act if they believe they have the evidence,” writes GOP strategist Ed Rogers in the Washington Post. “Aren’t there supposed to be mounds and mounds of evidence against Trump?” 

Likewise, some wonder if the Speaker is inadvertently setting a new standard that will make impeachment all but impossible in the future.

If House Democrats won’t impeach Mr. Trump, regardless of what special counsel Robert Mueller finds, “would that set the bar so high that impeachment will no longer be a viable option?” write the New York Times’s Peter Baker and Emily Cochrane. By saying she would need bipartisan buy-in to proceed, Ms. Pelosi essentially “leaves impeachment in the hands of the president’s own party.”

Let us know what you’re thinking at csmpolitics@csmonitor.com.

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