How Trump Sees Himself photo from Unsplash

This is true, but to whom?

A narrative is taking hold firmly enough that historians will not be able to avoid it. The candidates leading in the Democratic primary — Biden, Sanders, Warren, and Buttigieg — all support impeachment. Most of the rest of the field does as well, some at higher volume than others.

The claim running loose among the punditocracy is that Nancy Pelosi has caved to the left flank of her caucus. There is no question that Pelosi has opposed impeachment while the Democrats on the left have supported it.

(Let us be clear that Pelosi’s personal politics, like those of her district, are left of center. There are not many persons in Congress who could flank her on the left, but her politics are beside the point. As Speaker of the House, she has obligations to the Democratic Caucus that come before any vote she might want to cast on behalf of her district.)

What makes Pelosi an excellent Speaker in terms of mastering the major requirement of the office is that she can count. That attribute not only saves embarrassment, it saved the Affordable Care Act. She has a history of keeping her caucus in the corral until turning them loose is necessary to seize the opportunity.

Pelosi’s tool of choice is the lasso; Donald Trump prefers the wedge. A House member who escapes Pelosi’s lasso lives to run again and be roped in or not. A Congress member struck by Trump’s wedge who does not get in line is at least injured and at worst politically dead.

In addition to her adeptness at steering legislation around the shoals of D.C., Pelosi has a sense of how the fight is playing in Peoria. She knows when her majority is in peril and it is in peril right now. The safest course would be directly through the deep water to the 2020 election.

It’s true that Russia has its thumb on the scales, but that will be the case with or without impeachment. Mr. Trump is in charge of the part of the government where law enforcement lives, and he is not going to sic the cops on his transactional allies until the transaction is over.

So what has changed to motivate the most powerful woman in the country to risk everything, including her position as third in line for the presidency?

Mr. Trump has made the fact issues go away in the Ukrainian scandal. It is hard to see a good faith argument that the POTUS did not solicit a foreign government to help him win re-election. He did it in public. When reporters started asking about it, he did it again.

It is only slightly more difficult to see an argument that Mr. Trump did not shake down the newly elected president of Ukraine by withholding funds appropriated by Congress for defense against the Russian invasion until President Volodymyr Zelensky made a public announcement to U.S. media that Hunter and Joe Biden were “under investigation” for corrupt practices in Ukraine.

Finally, there is no factual argument that Trump did not instruct the entire executive branch of government to ignore lawful subpoenas. He did it in writing.

Robert Mueller’s report contained impeachable offenses alleged and a roadmap of how to prove them. Still, it would be necessary to prove them. Not so in the Ukrainian scandal, where the proof is on the face of the public record. If Mr. Trump tries to defend, the question becomes,

Were you lying then or are you lying now?

I cannot see that Pelosi’s political calculus has changed. Bringing articles of impeachment forward for a floor vote will force her members from swing districts to take painful votes and it’s rational to predict that those votes might swing enough seats back to the Republicans to return the Democrats to the minority.

Bringing impeachment to the floor would put Pelosi’s majority at risk with very little hope of removing the POTUS. The Republicans seem content to let Mr. Trump’s high crimes and misdemeanors go with,

Tsk, tsk, Donald. That was very bad conduct. Play right.

Pelosi described the box Donald Trump constructed for her to The Atlantic:

If this president were to get away with this, forget about it all. We might as well not even run for office. You don’t need this branch of government if he’s going to overturn the power of the purse, if he is going to overturn all of the other checks and balances, the power of inquiry.

In other words, Mr. Trump will have once more created a new normal where soliciting electoral help from foreign nations is no longer a felony. It’s the way campaigns are run.

In the new normal, Richard Nixon would not have to resign. He made a terrible political error when he let his enemies breach the stone wall where he started defending himself. All of those court orders he obeyed were a failure of nerve in the new normal.

In the new normal, Congress would have no duty of oversight and no power to accomplish oversight if it were a duty.

By stepping outside the rules openly, Trump challenged Pelosi to either ratify the new normal with silence or impeach him. When the impeachment goes to the Senate for trial, Trump is confident that the Senate will ratify the new normal by failing to convict in the face of evidence even clearer than the evidence of Bill Clinton’s perjury.

Article V of the Constitution contains the difficult procedures the Founders set up for amending the document. Donald Trump, who knows less about the Constitution than any POTUS in my lifetime, is about to amend the Constitution dehors Article V.

After the amendments, the claim that Trump has made several times at his rallies — that Article II means he can do anything — -will be very nearly correct. The executive will not have any more power but it will have the means to keep the legislative and judicial branches from checking it.

If you were Nancy Pelosi, would you allow Mr. Trump’s informal amendments to happen or would you do what you could to “support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; …(and) bear true faith and allegiance to the same.”

Impeachment is short term political peril for Democrats who vote for it and for Republicans who vote against conviction. Since there is no path without risk, I’m not ready to criticize Nancy Pelosi for caving…to her oath of office.

Enrolled Cherokee, 9th grade dropout, retired judge, associate professor emeritus, and (so far) cancer survivor. Memoir: Lighting the Fire (Miniver Press 2020)

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