Decisions, decisions. The (barely) voluntary departure of Rep. John Conyers (D-MI) from Congress has left his ranking member seat on the House Judiciary Committee open. Two candidates have stepped forward for the high-profile assignment, but Nancy Pelosi has a tough choice to make. According to The Hill, the finalists are Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) and Zoe Lofgren (D-CA), two stalwart progressives who have all the check marks for party loyalty and durability. But they come with two very different messages:
Nadler, the sitting ranking member following Conyers’s resignation over sexual misconduct allegations, is touting his seniority and decades-long focus on constitutional issues, which could prove a boon to the Democrats if a “constitutional crisis,” in Nadler’s description, emerges from the special counsel investigation into Russia’s election meddling. Impeachment is among the host of consequential issues falling under Judiciary’s domain.
“We are quite possibly headed into a major constitutional crisis … and we need our best constitutional lawyer and constitutional expert at the helm of the committee,” Nadler told The Hill in an interview. “And I’m widely recognized as such.”
Lofgren, meanwhile, is trumpeting her expertise in immigration law, a hot-button issue as Trump and the Democrats do battle over the fate of “Dreamers.”
She has also suggested that the recent wave of sexual harassment allegations makes the moment ripe for a woman to ascend on a committee that hasn’t had a female chair or ranking member since its inception in 1813. It is, she said in a letter to colleagues, “a watershed moment in the nation’s history.”
Does she make a statement on behalf of #MeToo, or does she place a down payment on Donald Trump’s impeachment? Oddly, both candidates later backed away from the impeachment issue when discussing the position with Politico:
Both Nadler and Lofgren know they’re signing up to be Trump’s chief antagonist in Congress. But, in separate interviews, they also emphasized the importance of Democrats not overplaying their hand.
They’re both acutely aware that appearing too eager about impeaching the president could alienate voters and vulnerable incumbents in their caucus who cringe when the topic is raised.
“I’m not running as an impeachment candidate and I don’t think Jerry Nadler is either,” Lofgren said during an interview in her office.
Nadler seemed to say the opposite in talking with The Hill, envisioning himself as the logical choice for an impeachment process. Nadler also went into the topic in depth with Politico but seemed to consider it a long-term possibility rather than an immediate project. Until an impeachment had a good chance of getting 67 Senators on board for removal, Nadler noted, what’s the point? And that won’t happen until the House convinces a good chunk of Trump voters that removal is required:
“There’s not much point in impeaching a president and having him acquitted in the Senate as happened with Clinton,” he said. …
“If you are actually going to remove a president from office, you are in effect nullifying the last election. Certainly the people who voted for him will think you’re nullifying the election,” Nadler said. “It’s OK to do that. It may be necessary to do that —as long as you have persuaded a sufficient fraction of the president’s former supporters, the people who voted for him, that you have to, that it’s necessary.”
All of this is moot unless two conditions are met. First, Democrats have to take control of the House, putting either Nadler or Lofgren in charge of the committee. Articles of impeachment won’t come up under Republican control unless the issue is so obvious and grave as to require it — and we haven’t seen anything that rises to that level, not even from the Mueller probe leaks, at least thus far. Second, as Lofgren explicitly says and Nadler hints, Mueller will have to come up with something pretty juicy to start that process.
Given that, Lofgren would be the logical choice for Pelosi. Nadler can’t do anything about impeachment for months, if ever, but Lofgren can work on Democrats’ claims to a “moral high ground” on sexual harassment and misconduct immediately. Even the fact that Pelosi has to make this decision resulted in decades-long predatory behavior by a member of Democratic leadership plays into this logic; the proper way to show atonement for looking the other way with Conyers is to put a woman in his place, as a show of poetic justice if nothing else.