Pelosi is a sharp and pragmatic woman, and her evident belief that impeachment carries strategic risks for Democrats should be taken seriously. But it is incoherent to argue that Trump constitutes an existential threat to the Constitution, and that Congress should wait to use the Constitution’s primary defense against such a threat. Democratic fear of divisiveness — even as Republicans gleefully embrace it — is leading to unilateral political disarmament.
When it comes to holding the Trump administration accountable, contempt votes are a fine first step, but they’re mostly symbolic unless Democrats find a way to enforce them. A criminal contempt charge would have to be prosecuted by Barr’s own Justice Department, which it will almost certainly not do. A civil citation could take months or even years to move through the courts. A subpoena fight from the gun trafficking case known as “Fast and Furious” — which led to then Attorney General Eric Holder being held in contempt in 2012 by a Republican-controlled House — was only settled last month.
In the face of an administration that is trying to amass dictatorial powers, Democrats need to bring to bear all the powers of their own.