Until Robert Mueller files his report — or an indictment that has any connection at all to collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign — the question of impeachment remains hypothetical. And that’s where it’s likely to stay according to The Hill’s sources on Capitol Hill. Nancy Pelosi wants to take advantage of a relatively small window for wheeling and dealing with the White House, which means impeachment won’t be on the menu this year:
There are plenty of signals that Pelosi is leaning against impeachment despite intense pressure from parts of the liberal base who see it as the party’s duty to impeach Trump — and who aren’t interested in waiting.
Democrats didn’t campaign on impeachment last fall. Instead, they talked about their agenda, with health care, voting rights and campaign finance reform at the top of the list.
Pelosi and her deputies also have repeatedly said they want to see the results of Mueller’s probe, which is reportedly in its final stages, even as they have repeatedly cautioned against any rush to judgment.
And Democratic leaders put centrist-left freshmen on the House Judiciary Committee, the key panel for impeachment, instead of outspoken liberals such as Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (N.Y.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.) or Rashida Tlaib (Mich.) — who drew rebukes from both sides of the aisle after she said that “we’re going to impeach the motherf—er.” Tlaib subsequently apologized.
Pelosi, who cut deals with then-President George W. Bush on energy, education, ethics reform and national security during her previous Speakership, wants to make a compelling argument that voters should keep Democrats in control of the House because of their legislating. But that leaves a very narrow window given a shutdown and government funding fight that ate up January and much of February. The first Democratic presidential debate, which will really usher in the 2020 political cycle, is scheduled for June.
Just how much overlap could there be between the populist Trump and the progressives in Pelosi’s caucus on meaningful policy? Some, perhaps. Pelosi would love to take credit for expanded federal investments in infrastructure, an issue Trump has repeatedly raised but not prioritized. If both sides were truly willing to negotiate in good faith, a deal could be made on immigration too — DACA for the wall, for example, or an even broader comprehensive package. There are incremental reforms on health care that could have enough bipartisan appeal, such as prescription-drug pricing reform, again an issue both Trump and Democrats have highlighted.
Pelosi needs to give voters a reason to keep Democrats in charge in the House. That means governing more than investigating, even if the latter pleases her activist base much more. Absent a bombshell from Mueller, though, investigations alone will likely suffice to weaken Trump’s 2020 appeal. A death from a thousand cuts, or at least an affliction of dozens of them, still allows for higher-level cooperation.
That all disappears the moment impeachment gets laid on the table, and Pelosi knows it. “Say what you want about Nancy Pelosi,” GOP strategist Ford O’Connell tells The Hill, “but she’s a student of history.” That history comes from 1998, when the GOP rushed to impeach Bill Clinton over perjury and obstruction of justice charges without the requisite bipartisan consensus for removal. The failure of that effort in the Senate on removal created a backlash against Republicans in the midterms later that year and actually enhanced Clinton’s standing among voters.
Yesterday’s vote on the emergency border-wall declaration likely mirrors what an impeachment vote would look like absent any significant material from Mueller. It might garner a handful of Republicans unhappy with Trump’s mien and pettiness, but it will remain almost entirely a partisan effort. (Don’t forget that five Democrats voted to impeach Clinton in 1998 too, which did nothing to make it look bipartisan.) Removal has no chance at all in the Senate, which will make impeachment look purely vengeful. It would also drive a stake through any hopes of legislating effectively with a Republican Senate and White House.
What happens when the cooperation window closes in 2020? Pelosi might consider impeachment at that point, but the same potential for backfire exists. Voters will wonder why Democrats are attempting to remove a president over issues from four years earlier when they themselves will have the opportunity to decide to keep or boot Trump in a few months. That would make the situation even worse for Pelosi than it was for Republicans in 1998, when Clinton was in the middle of his second term rather than at the end of his first.
The sources talking to The Hill’s Bob Cusack and Ian Swanson likely have it correct. Unless Mueller drops a very large bombshell soon, impeachment is off the table.