It’s a huge risk, but at this point it might be a bigger political risk to refrain from it. After months of pressure from progressive activists and angry members of the House Democratic caucus, Pelosi might have finally given her blessing to a formal attempt to remove Donald Trump. Both the Washington Post and NBC report this morning that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi might be the latest convert to the impeachment cause after the Ukraine-Gate eruption last week:
There’s new pressure building on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to pursue an impeachment investigation against President Trump amid overnight revelations about the president’s phone call with the leader of the Ukraine. @kwelkernbc has the latest. pic.twitter.com/THgLQZo5kQ
— TODAY (@TODAYshow) September 24, 2019
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been quietly sounding out top allies and lawmakers about whether the time has come to impeach President Trump, a major development as several moderate House Democrats resistant to impeachment suddenly endorsed the extraordinary step of trying to oust the president.
Pelosi, according to multiple senior House Democrats and congressional aides, has been 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. She was making calls as late as Monday night, and many leadership aides who once thought Trump’s impeachment was unlikely now say they think it’s almost inevitable.
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak frankly.
Pelosi’s conversations — and reconsideration of her long-held position that impeachment is too divisive — come amid a growing clamor for impeachment that extends beyond the party’s liberal base and many Democratic presidential candidates to moderate lawmakers in competitive House seats.
Impeachment has seemed like an inevitability for a while, but Pelosi had been trying until now to wait out the tide anyway. The risks are obvious; impeachment won’t motivate Democrats’ base any more than they already are, but a political impeachment will enrage Trump voters and more importantly the broader Republican base. Given the Democrats’ hysteria-pitched rhetoric over Trump literally since the day he won the election, there is no way that impeachment will be seen as anything but vindictive.
That’s one ongoing risk. The acute risk in this case is that no one has yet to see the transcript of Trump’s call to Volodymyr Zelenskiy. The Trump administration is withholding it thus far in order to protect executive authority over diplomatic communications between heads of government, but the intelligence community must have their own transcript in hand. If Pelosi launches an impeachment before the transcripts come out, or on the basis of not getting the transcripts from the White House, she runs the risk of them turning out to be a nothingburger and exposing the entire enterprise as a political hatchet job. That would all but moot other impeachment threads in the House and demoralize Democratic voters heading into the presidential election.
One has to wonder whether Trump has that in mind by delaying the release of the transcripts, or whether the conversation really was as bad as critics assume. It’s not illegal to mention one’s political opponents in a conversation if that’s all that happened, so perhaps the transcript will exonerate Trump as he claims. If so, Trump is still playing with fire by gaming the release, but likely will only get singed. Democrats might step into the trap but it will be clear who set it and why. Even that might cheer up Trump’s base, even if it gives everyone else a headache.
If, on the other hand, Trump is withholding the transcript because he stepped over the line, then he’s got a real problem on his hands. It’s probably not bad enough to warrant removal by the GOP-controlled Senate unless he actually issued an explicit quid pro quo demand in the conversation to nail Biden, but it’s going to make impeachment much more understandable to voters and might demoralize his own base. Unless it has that worst-case scenario, Trump would be better advised to release the transcript in toto before the intel community and Democrats start leaking bits and pieces out of context.
Until we see the transcript, we are flying blind in this controversy. More importantly, so is Nancy Pelosi — and she might just end up running Democrats into the side of an electoral mountain if she guesses wrong on Ukraine-Gate. With progressives grabbing at the wheel, however, Pelosi might not have much choice but to shift directions now.