The night she was sworn in as a freshman member of Congress, Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib told a crowd at a reception hosted by MoveOn.org: “When your son looks at you and said, ‘Mama, look, you won — bullies don’t win.’ And I said, ‘Baby they don’t, because we’re gonna go in there and we’re gonna impeach the motherfucker.’”
The response to the early January comment foreshadowed the divisions that have broken out all over the Democratic caucus in the months since—left vs. right, push vs. pull, polite civility vs. brutal honesty, impeachment vs. non-impeachment. House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, who later decided that he was too busy impeaching the president to consider impeaching accused sexual predator Brett Kavanaugh off the Supreme Court, scoffed at both Tlaib’s language and the content of her message.
While Speaker Nancy Pelosi defended Tlaib’s right to say this and said she wasn’t in the “censorship business,” she also made it clear that Tlaib was on the fringe of the caucus. “That is not the position of the House Democratic caucus,” Pelosi said in an MSNBC appearance. “I don’t think we should make a big deal of it.” But after fighting an impeachment inquiry tooth and nail for the past nine months, only succumbing after allegations that Trump threatened to use military aid as a bargaining chip with Ukraine’s president in order to get his government to investigate Joe Biden’s son’s firm (and the avalanche of support for an impeachment inquiry that followed), Pelosi is finally doing just that.
While this new round of allegations are bad, it’s not as if we didn’t already know Trump was willing to abuse his power for his own personal and financial gain. Even setting aside the Mueller report, which was a case study in presidential grift and earned the practical equivalent of an eye-roll from the Democratic leadership, Trump has run one of—if not the most—brazenly corrupt administrations in history. It’s difficult to believe that anyone in the Democratic caucus thinks this new scandal is a uniquely impeachable offense, but rather the latest item in a laundry list of impeachable offenses dating back to before Trump even took office. (It also doesn’t hurt that the purported attack is against someone who could potentially be the Democratic nominee for president next year.)
Too often in politics, those who get on the right side of history last get the most credit; see: John McCain and his vote to save the Affordable Care Act. So it’s worth a reminder that the potential Trump might finally be held accountable for his actions—some of them, at least, as it’s likely Congress will never impeach him for the absolute worst things he’s done—owes just as much to the people who’ve been calling for that accountability for months and years prior than it does to those who called for it yesterday in an op-ed.
At the other end of this—whatever “this” ultimately ends up being—is going to be a story. If history is any indication, the version that’s going to be most prominent will hold that Pelosi and other moderate Democrats displayed an enormous amount of caution and restraint and courage in defying their base and not working to impeach Trump from the jump, and that their patience finally paid off.
In addition to some truly embarrassing tweets, liberal and moderate political analysts nearly fell over themselves to give Pelosi and the moderates who flipped all of the credit. “Democrats were right to reject calls for impeachment. Most House members who represent swing districts were right about this, and so was Nancy Pelosi,” David Leonhardt wrote in a New York Times op-ed. “Rather than caving to the party’s left wing, which has been intent on starting impeachment proceedings from practically the moment Democrats took the majority in January, Pelosi held off,” Michael Warren wrote for CNN. He continued:
By waiting to assent to impeachment, Pelosi accomplished several strategic goals. Democrats have now created the appearance that impeachment of Trump is a last resort, not a first resort. She divorced the process from the mess of the Mueller findings. And she allowed those moderate freshmen who built her majority, rather than the divisive members on the left, to lead on the issue.
There’s no mention of the fact that had those “divisive members on the left” and the public not been pushing Pelosi and the moderates over and over again for the past several months, the anti-impeachment crowd very likely wouldn’t have had a breaking point at all, and almost certainly not this quickly. To pretend that the Ukraine scandal happened in a vacuum is to pretend that the last three years haven’t happened.
So here’s another version of that same story: Tlaib and Democrats such as Al Green, who called for impeachment well before Tlaib even got into Congress, were right. They were always right, even when their own leadership and the media dismissed them as crazy left-wingers on a suicide mission who didn’t care about sabotaging the re-elections of “majority makers” in purple districts. While the material stakes are exponentially lower in this case, Tlaib and her cohorts are analogues to the people who were right about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq from the start, the people who sounded the alarm about the risks of deregulating the banks, and so on. Is it any wonder that this country is in the midst of a decades-long crisis of accountability when we’re constantly waiting on the Adults in the Room to grow a spine?
Tlaib was as right then as she is now, as dozens more of her fellow Democrats have joined in her calling for an impeachment inquiry. And once again, the base of the Democratic Party—the “divisive left”—was lightyears ahead of its leadership on one of the most important issues of the day. Maybe next time it won’t take them so goddamn long to listen.