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Here's Why Pelosi Is Right To Delay 'Impeachment'

Nancy Pelosi is heroically facing a torrent of abuse for dragging her feet on formal impeachment hearings. Here's why she's correct to do so. Why “heroically”? Because she's right. Here's a challenge to conventional thought.
Here's Why Pelosi Is Right To Delay 'Impeachment'
Members of a veterans group protest in front of Trump Tower on July 25, 2019 in New York City. Image from: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Nancy Pelosi has been taking a lot of flak over her seeming reluctance to support full-throttle impeachment proceedings. Despite House Democrats' multi-pronged investigation of Donald Trump since taking power last January, their votes to contemn uncooperative witnesses, and their (so far) successful efforts to enforce subpoenas against a "sandbagging" White House -- and even after the House Judiciary Committee let the cat out of the bag by confessing, in a court filing, that the hearings, subpoenas, document requests, etc. they've been engaged in are part of an “impeachment inquiry" -- some pundits continue to chastise the Democratic leadership for “dragging their feet” (and some commentators -- even some Congresscritters -- remain confused about whether or not an “impeachment inquiry” actually is underway. Pro tip: it is.)

There's one thing Pelosi's critics from the left are correct about: even though the impeachment inquiry/investigation/hearings have been underway for several months now, Pelosi is loath to actually call them that. Instead, she seizes every opportunity to minimize impeachment talk -- and, heroically, is shouldering a tremendous amount of abuse for doing so.

Why “heroically”? Because she's right. The inquiry is underway, but the "official" impeachment hearings (and the consequent stirring-up-the-public rhetoric) won't, and more pointedly SHOULDN'T, begin for months -- maybe even a year.

(Ouch. Please stop shouting. You're hurting my ears.)

Yes, I know it's painful to think that impeachment itself may wait that long, but let's talk it through. Let's do this: you tell me your concerns and I'll answer them as best I can:

"Well, Basically, We Demand Impeachment Hearings!":

OK. What do you think the Mueller hearings were?

"But Those Were Boring and Ineffective At Capturing The Public Imagination!"

Correct. Just like formal impeachment hearings would be at this point, which is why Pelosi's not holding them yet.

"But Calling It Impeachment Makes It Easier To Get Documents!"

Eh. Not so much, actually, for several reasons:

First: the “i-word” isn't as magical as you may think. It mainly makes it easier for Congress to obtain grand jury materials, not counterintelligence, taxes, information relevant to ongoing investigations, etc. that may prove more damning to Trump than Mueller's report was -- and even without saying “impeachment,” Congress keeps winning its lawsuits to get those other materials.


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Second, the rule regarding impeachment and grand jury materials is just DC Circuit precedent; a Trump-friendly SCOTUS could easily reverse or distinguish it to make grand jury materials unavailable to Congress even in impeachment.

And third -- and most importantly -- as noted in the intro above, the House Judiciary Committee now has formally notified the judge overseeing the grand jury that it is conducting an “impeachment inquiry” (the magic words required by the Watergate-era precedent). Nothing else is needed, subpoena-enforcement-wise.

"But if we don't do SOMETHING, we won't energize the base!"

Agreed. But WHEN do we want to energize the base -- now or in Nov. 2020? If this lawless White House won't produce documents or witnesses now, what makes you think it will do so even in impeachment hearings? Even in impeachment hearings, Trump will force Democrats to go to court. And remember what you said above about how boring the Mueller hearings were to many pundits. If the only way to collect materials to use in impeachment is to go to court, isn't it wiser to do it BEFORE announcing "IMPEACHMENT!" so that delays don't dissipate all the energy and attention that will come from that announcement?

"You talk about the election and timing and appearances. But impeachment is a matter of principle, not politics!"

What silly person told you that? Of COURSE impeachment is about politics! In Federalist 65, Hamilton himself said so:

Hamilton: "[Impeachment proceedings] are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated POLITICAL, as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself. ... The prosecution of them, for this reason, will seldom fail to agitate the passions of the whole community, and to divide it into parties more or less friendly or inimical to the accused."

Again: that's Alexander Hamilton, who knew his stuff. Impeachment IS politics.

"But if impeachment = politics we lose, because the GOP Senate won't convict."

Ah, NOW we're getting somewhere! A couple of thoughts in response:

First: maybe you're wrong. The Senate won't convict based on what we know NOW. But Mueller didn't investigate his finances, and didn't disclose his counter-intelligence findings. Congress is THIS CLOSE to winning its lawsuits to see both. What if impeachment, when it finally comes, is based on outright tax fraud? Russian money laundering? Foreign bribes? Trump being blackmailed by foreign agents? The pee tape? Rape? By hewing to a strategy of collecting the "strongest possible hand" before impeaching, Pelosi's preserving the possibility that she MIGHT be able to impeach for well-documented, easy-to-understand crimes that even Senate Republicans can't swallow. It's a long shot, but worth exploring (which is why she's exploring it).

Second: the goal here isn't "impeachment" per se, is it? The goal is "getting rid of Trump and his enablers, so people can be safe and America can regain its moral compass.” Nixon wasn't technically impeached; he stepped down before the Senate trial even began. But no one pretends his “impeachment” wasn't successful, because the goal was to remove him, and he was removed. Mischief managed!

"Well, even an unsuccessful impeachment would at least send a message to Trump and future presidents!"

You mean the message that they can get away with treason and corruption? That (and I apologize for using a technical term of art here, but) is a Very Bad Message To Send. In the words of Conan the Barbarian, I would much rather crush Trump, see him driven before us, and hear the lamentations of his women.

"OK, fine. Let's crush him. But if our real goal is to get rid of Trump and his enablers as soon as possible, how does DELAYING impeachment help ?"

Because there's Plan A and Plan B. Plan A is straight impeachment: as noted above, the current subpoenas and lawsuits may reveal crimes even Republicans will impeach for. If so: problem solved! But, admittedly, that's a long shot. This Senate probably will acquit Trump even if video surfaces of him on Epstein's island snorting caviar off Deripaska's pubescent granddaughter's tummy as Ivanka and Putin bump uglies in the background on a burning American flag. So: what's plan B?

Plan B: if the Senate's unlikely to convict, then "impeachment" must be constructed to serve a second purpose as well: it must maximize the chances of Trump losing reelection AND (ideally) Dems winning the Senate (while retaining the House). Again: a POLITICAL solution, but an effective one.

Or, stated in the negative (which I find even more compelling): the first imperative is to do no harm. If impeachment is unlikely to succeed in the Senate, then if Democrats impeach anyway, they must not do so in a way that accidentally IMPROVES Trump's chances of re-election or the GOP's position in Congress. That would be disastrous malpractice, and would help none of the people we're trying to serve.

And that's the problem with the "Stop playing politics! Just impeach now! On PRINCIPLE!" argument: it risks IMPROVING Trump's chances of re-election and the GOP's position in Congress. We have to be more strategic than that. Or, as Pelosi put it last week: “Let's get sophisticated about this, OK?”

"Wait, you're saying impeachment could HELP the GOP? How?"

Lots of ways! First, imagine an immediate impeachment that goes all the way through a Senate trial and results in Trump's Senate acquittal, all well before the Republican Convention next summer. Trump's 2020 campaign would be "See? It WAS a hoax!" – and many low-info voters would believe him. It would be incredibly hard for Dems to run on Trump's corruption and Russia ties if the trial were over and Trump had won. You and I would know it would be just another sign of GOP corruption, but your great-aunt Hazel wouldn't, and she's the swing vote.

Next (and I know I keep repeating this): remember the pundits yawning an hour into the Mueller hearings? Imagine Pelosi announcing "IMPEACHMENT!" followed by months of sporadic hearings interrupted by witnesses refusing to testify, months-long detours to the courts, no momentum or narrative to keep the public attention. Booo-ring! It sucks to say this, but Marshall McLuhan was right: bad TV makes bad politics. Boring, extended impeachment hearings would make DEMOCRATS look boring. This process needs to culminate in gripping, densely narrative, “must-see TV.” While people scream “start filming!” at her, Pelosi's keeping her head down and doing the necessary preproduction work: arranging financing, tightening the script, recruiting the right cast.

Another way impeachment done wrong could hurt the Dems: what if some truly damning evidence comes to light, and impeachment SUCCEEDS -- but succeeds in, say, late 2019 or early 2020? Trump is gone (yay!), but a sexist, racist, anti-science Evangelical who SEEMS sane to a lot of people is president through January 2021, and the GOP has plenty of time to run a non-Trump candidate in the election.

"But bad as he is, Pence still would be better than Trump!"

I agree with you! Pence is a dangerous man, made even more dangerous by the fact that compared to Trump, he seems relatively sane -- but let's get back to what I was just saying: think big picture. If early impeachment leads to Trump's early departure, the GOP will have time to conduct a primary and run a seeming moderate in 2020. Dems no longer could "run against Trump." With Trump gone, voters will be asked to choose between a Republican who seems moderate but who nevertheless embraces order and "free" markets and whiteness (Romney keeps positioning himself for this "savior" role) and a "Democrat Party socialist" (because remember, ALL Democrats are socialists, according to that Facebook story my great-aunt sent me). And the 2020 Congressional election will occur with no Senate Republicans having been forced to go on record supporting Russia over the United States.

Honestly, if Trump's gone early, it's a toss-up whether Republicans keep the White House, and they definitely will keep the Senate. So the question isn't, is Pence better than Trump? The question is: what's better, one more year of Trump followed by Democratic control of both the White House and both houses of Congress, or FIVE more years of GOP control of the White House and Senate?

Or, to put it more starkly: do you think RBG will last five more years?

"But I want to impeach NOW as a matter of PRINCIPLE, even if it can't succeed!"

Oh, my lovely, idealistic friend, please check you privilege. Families fearing deportation, people facing catastrophic pregnancies, and patients confronting uninsured illnesses don't want to "send a message." They want to be safe. And no one will be safe while the GOP is in power. No one. The goal isn't to send a message. The goal isn't even to impeach. The goal is to succeed. The goal is to excise this cancer – not just the obvious tumor (Trump), but all its metastases, in Congress and statehouses and the courts.

And the way to actually succeed is the way Pelosi is pursuing: assert Congress's right to conduct oversight in the courts. Force the administration to produce witnesses and documents. Gather all the evidence. Find out everything Trump has done. Conduct discovery. Build the case. In short: Load the gun --

-- THEN pull the trigger.

And "pulling the trigger" means having the ducks in a row, then conducting short, powerful, narratively compelling hearings hammering Trump with Russia, tax fraud, money laundering, personal impropriety, obstruction of justice: BANG! BANG! BANG!

One or two weeks at most of absolutely addictive TV, followed by an overwhelming vote to impeach, with voters belatedly but finally learning who Trump truly is, and then looking at the Republicans who vote "no" and thinking: “dude, didn't you HEAR this stuff? Weren't you WATCHING? How the hell could you vote NO?”

And Trump wigging out on Twitter.

And all of this timed (perhaps even while early voting's underway) so that, regardless of the Senate outcome, voters finally understand what we've been screaming about, finally are educated about the horrific corruption Twitter junkies have known about for years, and FINALLY vote the rascals out --

-- and usher in at least two years of Democratic control of the White House and Congress, passage of universal healthcare, Ruth Bader Ginsburg's long deserved retirement (and her replacement by, what the hell, @AOC), and a taco truck on every corner.

THAT'S the Dem strategy. And it's a good one.

"OK, you're right. I see now that Pelosi's actually brilliant, savvy, fierce, and correct. Also, you're SUPER smart and I want to be your friend.”

Thanks! I like you too. I'm glad we were able to have this little talk.

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