President Nancy Pelosi? “It could happen,” promises the Washington Post headline, as an outcome of the impeachment process that the House Speaker endorsed with her alea iacta est declaration. No, it really can’t, but it speaks volumes that this part of the spitballing process that’s going into the media’s approach to impeachment:
What happens when a Democratic speaker of the House — third in line to the presidency, according to the Presidential Succession Act of 1947 — is suddenly thrust into the Oval Office, succeeding a Republican president and vice president who resign, embroiled in scandal?
Such a scenario is attracting attention — #PresidentPelosi was trending on social media after last week’s announcement of an impeachment inquiry — even though it may seem far-fetched that President Trump and Vice President Pence would be forced from office over abuse of power related to the administration’s dealings with Ukraine or other misdeeds.
It doesn’t only seem farfetched. Farfetched might be a compliment to this absurd idea. The idea that Pelosi would succeed to the presidency as a consequence of impeachment was farfetched when Democrats pressed her to proceed on the basis of Russiagate, which at least tacitly implicated Mike Pence as part of the overall campaign, even though Pence came on board after the supposed collusion hypothetically took place.
Ukraine-Gate, on the other hand, has nothing to do with the vice president or the 2016 election that put him in office. Pence had no part in Trump’s call with Ukraine, which is now the sole focus of Pelosi’s impeachment inquiry — necessarily so since Russiagate fell apart and relatively few voters saw it as a legitimate issue for impeachment. Even if Trump gets impeached and removed from office, which is itself a farfetched scenario, the House has no grounds on which to take action against Pence. There is also zero — zero — chance that Pence will resign his office over this, or over Russiagate either for that matter.
Even more, they have very good reasons to avoid drawing Pence into this fight. If they attempt to impeach and remove Pence along with Trump, especially over Ukraine-Gate, it will become an obvious and naked attempt to undo a legitimate election. It won’t just look like a legislative coup — it will be a legislative coup, or at least an attempted one, since the Senate’s not going to go along with it. It would paint the entire enterprise as one of nothing but naked partisan ambition and destroy the Democrats ahead of the next election. They have to focus on Trump and Trump alone to preserve whatever legitimacy they can muster for this effort.
In fact, this idea is so absurd that the rest of the Washington Post article doesn’t talk about Pelosi or Ukraine-Gate at all. Instead, it draws parallels between this situation and the succession question in Watergate, where there are no parallels. In late 1973, the issue was confirming a new vice president in the middle of the Watergate investigation, where impeachment was a growing possibility. The whole article is a non-sequitur in that sense, since Pence was elected to the office and won’t need to step down before the House settles matters with Trump one way or another. And even in 1973, House Speaker Carl Albert had little chance of succeeding to the presidency, because the Senate was always going to confirm the well-liked House Minority Leader Gerald Ford to the VP slot. That took place on a 92-3 vote in November 1973, about six weeks after Spiro Agnew’s resignation and nearly a full year before Richard Nixon’s.
The #PresidentPelosi hashtag is a signal of deep unseriousness, both in analysis and in the impeachment process. If Pelosi’s smart, she’ll stamp it out quickly.