For weeks, Nancy Pelosi has been coming up with increasingly outrageous excuses for why the Democrats simply can’t open up an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. It’s political, but also not political; bad for the country, and also Democrats’ electoral prospects; Trump is a criminal who engaged in a cover-up, but nothing should be done about it.
We have our latest iteration of this in a Politico piece published last night, which recounts a Tuesday night meeting between Pelosi and senior House Democrats including House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler, whose committee’s subpoenas of Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn were blatantly ignored, the latter at the direction of the White House.
Nadler pressed Pelosi to allow his committee to launch an impeachment inquiry against Trump — the second such request he’s made in recent weeks only to be rebuffed by the California Democrat and other senior leaders. Pelosi stood firm, reiterating that she isn’t open to the idea of impeaching Trump at this time.
“I don’t want to see him impeached, I want to see him in prison,” Pelosi said, according to multiple Democratic sources familiar with the meeting. Instead of impeachment, Pelosi still prefers to see Trump defeated at the ballot box and then prosecuted for his alleged crimes, according to the sources.
This is the kind of line that was probably meant to sound tough and edgy, but there’s nothing of substance there when you peel it back. (Also, given Pelosi’s warm reminiscing about George W. Bush, forgive me if I doubt Pelosi’s real desire to see Trump in a jail cell.)
Pelosi and the Democrats do not have the ability to throw Donald Trump in prison. The best they can do is begin an investigation to see if he’s committed crimes worthy of impeachment. And Pelosi won’t even support that. Why? Politico again (emphasis mine):
They said she was expressing solidarity with pro-impeachment Democrats who want to hold the president accountable while disputing the idea that it is now time to take that step. Pelosi has long argued that certain conditions must be met before Democrats begin impeachment — public support and strong bipartisan backing, neither of which have so far materialized.
“Strong bipartisan backing” is never going to materialize, I’m sorry to say, because the Republican Party will never abandon their big, beautiful, wet president. And as for “public support,” the Democrats are just firing off subpoenas right now that the White House is perfectly comfortable ignoring because the Democrats have made it clear that they won’t do shit about it. (Pelosi has also reportedly floated the hilarious excuse that the public won’t understand what an impeachment inquiry is versus actual impeachment, a remarkable display of faith in the ability of her party to communicate with voters.)
And even under those circumstances, public support for impeachment stands at around 40 percent (after reaching as high as 47 percent in September); support for impeaching Bill Clinton in 1998, for comparison, only ever got as high as 29 percent. Given what we already know, a thorough impeachment inquiry would likely not make Trump look any better than he is now, as a president or a presidential candidate.
There is a certain, very specific type of Democratic politician for whom the Reagan Democrat, or even the Nixon Democrat, is burned in their memory as the median American voter. Unfortunately for the rest of us, the most prominent of these politicians is Pelosi. She and other top Democrats are terrified of rattling the monster—guys Selena Zito talked to in Pennsylvania diners, the Reagan Democrats of today—and so yet again, Pelosi is punting. Because if there’s anything voters love, it’s a weak, ineffective opposition that makes threats and then fails to follow through on them.