The Democratic House Caucus has a meeting this afternoon. There has been a lot of speculation, especially in light of the seven first year Democratic representatives’ op-ed in favor of impeachment published last night in The Washington Post. The reporting, or rather the framing within the reporting, has shifted to Speaker Pelosi trying to see just how much support impeachment has, considering a Special Select Committee to streamline everything, including a formal impeachment inquiry, and that the tide has turned on this. A social media rumor spread last night, which appears to originate with one of the anonymous accounts claiming to be a White House staffer/insider, that Speaker Pelosi now has the votes, just among the Democrats and Congressman Amash, for impeachment. The reality is that we really don’t know if that is true, just as we really don’t know who is behind that Twitter account. As the day progresses, as the President gives his speech at the UN General Assembly, which has been previewed as being a Stephen Miller “America First” address, and speaks off the cuff to reporters covering him and the UN General Assembly, we’ll see what happens. I think it is important, however, to both temper expectations and to consider Speaker Pelosi’s strategic calculus to this point and the assumption of risk.
My impression has been that Speaker Pelosi’s plan is to not move until she has the votes. She can count, and right now, even with last night’s op-ed and additional Democratic representatives coming out in favor of impeachment, she doesn’t have the votes. She may have them by this afternoon or be close enough that she feels that she can act, but she may also not. I honestly don’t know if this is a good strategy. My impression is that it isn’t, but it appears to be the one she is using. I think that part of her strategic calculus is the result of learning the wrong lessons from GOP and conservative misbehavior. She specifically stated in 2007 that she wouldn’t even consider impeaching President Bush and/or Vice President Cheney, nor did she have her committees spend a lot of time doing highly political/politicized investigations of them, because she was convinced, and I think not incorrectly, that the Republicans and the conservative movement that sustains them had decided that impeachment of presidents you oppose, which means for Republicans and conservatives, any Democratic president, is a standard, acceptable, and routine political action of Congress. She correctly understood that the GOP and conservative movement as it had evolved had learned the wrong lessons from Watergate, especially about impeachment. So by taking it off the table for President Bush and/or Vice President Cheney, she thought she could retrain them. That was a fool’s wish and errand, but I think she carries this assumption with her now.
This assumption has led her to conclude that if she moves the House to impeach Trump, even if it correctly rebalances some power to Congress and places some brakes on his lawlessness and puts so much negative pressure on Senators Collins, McSally Gardner, Tillis, and even a couple of other Republican senators so that the Democrats retake the Senate next year, that as soon as a Democrat is elected president, say in 2020, and as soon as the GOP retakes the House, they’ll just immediately impeach him or her – potentially after the midterms in 2023. I think she both understands, but can’t really bring herself to move on this despite her knowing and understanding just what the Republican Party and conservative movement have become. And the result is what you’re seeing.
The problem with this strategic calculus is that other than preventing really bad legislation from getting rammed through a Republican controlled House and Senate, as of right now there is nothing to justify the current Democratic majority in the House, why they should keep that majority, and why they should be given the majority in the Senate. No one cares how many bills the Democrats have passed given that they’ll never become law because Senator McConnell controls the Senate. And Senator McConnell only has two items on his agenda: confirming Federalist Society chosen judicial nominees and maintaining his majority next year. Every effective strategy requires the assumption of risk. And sometimes choosing not to assume one risk, or set of risks, means that by default one is assuming other risks or sets of risk. Up to this point Speaker Pelosi seems to be afraid of assuming the risks of formally opening an impeachment inquiry, which, as a result, means she is assuming the risk that the President and the Republican majority in the Senate will not simply devour the entire Federal government, the Constitution, and all laws, norms, and customs before the President can be voted out of office and that he will, indeed, be voted out next November.
I think this is the wrong strategic calculus, but no one is really asking me.