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Here's why impeachment should still worry Nancy Pelosi

Posted September 24, 2019 12:17 p.m. EDT

— Sometime late Tuesday afternoon, House Democrats are likely to take steps toward impeaching, or at least beginning the process of impeaching, President Donald Trump.

"We will have no choice," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (California) said Monday night of what now seems an inevitable march to impeaching Trump in the House.

Which is a major turnaround from Pelosi's long-held position that her caucus would be committing a major political error if they pushed for impeachment.

Remember Pelosi's answer on impeachment way back in March to The Washington Post:

"I'm not for impeachment. This is news. I'm going to give you some news right now because I haven't said this to any press person before. But since you asked, and I've been thinking about this: Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there's something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don't think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he's just not worth it."

She's stuck to that line of thinking all the way up until the news broke late last week that a whistleblower complaint had been filed in August regarding a communication between the President and a foreign leader.

Trump's subsequent admissions that he talked to the newly elected Ukrainian President about the totally unproven allegations of corruption regarding Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, have effectively ended the standoff among House Democrats as to whether or not Trump should be impeached. A number of moderate Democrats who hold swing sweats have come forward in the last 24 hours alone to say they believe Trump now has to be impeached. And Pelosi -- per her quote above -- seems to have accepted that course as a likely reality.

But it's very important to note that the main reasons Pelosi was holding off on pushing for impeachment for so long -- because the public wasn't clearly behind it and because it would not be bipartisan -- haven't changed a bit over the past five days.

In poll after poll conducted over the last few weeks and months, a clear majority oppose Congress impeaching Trump. A recent Monmouth University poll showed that 6 in 10 people opposed impeaching Trump. (That same poll showed 7 in 10 self-identified Democrats favor impeaching Trump.)

You can argue that this Ukraine story has changed all of that, that the public will now turn from a majority opposing impeachment to a majority favoring. We will see! I can't prove you wrong, simply because there hasn't been any polling done on the impeachment question in the last 96 hours. But my strong guess would be that while these latest Ukraine revelations might move some people from uncertain about impeachment to in favor of it, it won't radically change the dynamic.

And you only need to look as far as how congressional Republicans are reacting for evidence that the Ukraine story isn't going to make the idea of impeaching Trump a bipartisan effort.

"It is regrettable that House Intelligence Committee Chairman (Adam) Schiff and Senator (Chuck) Schumer have chosen to politicize the issue," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said from the floor of the Senate on Monday. And Texas Sen. John Cornyn had this to say about the whistleblower: "I am a little troubled that apparently some of the initial reports came from somebody that didn't have firsthand knowledge, and then it sort of took off like a wildfire." On Tuesday, North Carolina Republican Rep. Mark Meadows went even a step further, praising Trump for his actions. "I think Biden's actions need to be investigated," Meadows said. "I certainly applaud him for highlighting that. I think it's something that should be looked into. It's very serious."

In short: This impeachment effort -- and you better believe it's coming -- isn't going to be a bipartisan one. And, at least at the start, it's not going to be something that a majority of the country believes is the right thing to do. (Worth noting: Impeaching a president very rarely is popular in polls.)

Pelosi, a political realist, likely understands that she has no choice but to pursue impeachment charges against Trump given the feelings of an increasingly large number of the House Democratic caucus.

But Pelosi is also a sharp political strategist. And as such, she knows that what she and her colleagues are likely to begin today not only doesn't have any sort of guarantee of success, but also amounts to a major political gamble.

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