House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is playing a sophisticated game. Since her Democrats took the House, she’s the one who has steadfastly fought off a hasty plunge into the impeachment of President Donald Trump. In the process, she has appeared to resist the more volatile factions in her caucus, particularly the attention-grabbing newbies, along with impatient Democrats nationwide who have loudly demanded that she clear the way so they can drop the I-Bomb.
She will not like this comparison, but Pelosi has been the tortoise racing with her rabbits, her rabid-bunny fellow partisans. Except that it’s all a subterfuge. Pelosi knows the nuances of exercising power. She should. She has been around long enough to gain a huge amount of experience. Experience is routinely discredited by each succeeding generation as they are hellbent on making the same mistakes that their predecessors made. One mistake is making their big moves before they’re fully prepared.
Pelosi, by leaving the public impression that she wants to avoid any premature action that can be perceived as politically unfair, has put herself in the position that when there is some development so compelling, “she has no choice” but to change her mind and clear the way for impeachment. Reluctantly, of course.
At that point, she will have way more impact. Democrats were clearly hoping that the event to put her over the top would be the public hearings before Congress of Robert Mueller, the special counsel who led the methodical investigation into Russian involvement with Donald Trump and his campaign in various tactics to throw the election Trump’s way.
The Democrats seriously miscalculated. Mueller fell far short. First the Mueller investigation final written report landed with a thud. It said that there was not enough evidence of a conspiracy between the Russians and the Trump campaign and it made no decision on charging President Trump with obstruction of justice. Justice Department regulations didn’t allow that. So the Democrats tried to regroup.
Since the report’s release, Trump has claimed that it “exonerated” him, which it did not. So the new House Democratic majority insisted that Mueller appear in public televised hearings to give life to the report and somehow create new momentum, a new impeachment groundswell.
Another thud. Mueller fell far short of his image as a quietly ferocious protector of the law. He was halting but adamantly boring, constantly frustrating the desperate Democrats who were looking for at least one electric sound bite. About an hour into the first hearing, millions of Americans were reaching for their remotes and switching to other soap operas or frivolous talk shows. Suddenly, the members of Congress, and all the TV pundits who outnumbered them were talking to themselves.
So what does Nancy Pelosi do now, beyond telling all the zealots in her party “I told you so”? What momentum there is for impeachment – which is not supported by a majority of Americans – has been slowed even more. The only passion for impeaching Donald Trump exists within the Democratic Party’s substantial progressive wing. Pelosi’s point will continue to be that proceeding with impeachment would be counterproductive.
Putting it another way, if Democrats want to get rid of Trump as president, they will have to beat him on Election Day. Which, at this moment, looks less and less likely.
Bob Franken is an Emmy Award-winning reporter who covered Washington for more than 20 years with CNN. (c) 2019 Bob Franken Distributed by King Features Syndicate, Inc.