“I’m not for impeachment,” the California Democrat said in an explosive interview published Monday.
“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,” Pelosi said. “And he’s just not worth it.”
The speaker’s statement will almost certainly provoke further divisions in her already fracturing caucus. Many progressives have called on their colleagues to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump, while Pelosi and her leadership team have said Democrats should wait to see special counsel Robert Mueller III’s report before evaluating that step.
Even as more Democrats jumped on the impeachment train after former Trump attorney Michael Cohen testified before the Oversight Committee that the president broke the law while in office, Pelosi continued to take the wait-and-see approach.
“We have two investigations: the Mueller report that we’re all anxiously awaiting and, as was indicated, the one thing I did see widely reported was that the witness said that other issues that he was aware of were under consideration by the Southern District of New York. So let’s see what that is,” Pelosi told reporters in her weekly news conference Feb. 28, the day after the Cohen hearing.
“But, again, impeachment is a divisive issue in our country, and let us see what the facts are, what the law is, and what the behavior is of the president,” she added at the time.
Pelosi’s decision to announce that she is not for impeachment before Mueller’s report is even released — breaking from the standard she’s set for months — will certainly draw criticism. But it reflects a strong likelihood that regardless of what the Mueller report says, the public will not be broadly on board with impeaching Trump.
And for Pelosi that would be a deal breaker. She reminded the Post what she tells reporters weekly if not daily: “Public sentiment is everything.”
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler has laid out a similar view of what it would take to impeach Trump, saying Democrats would need to convince some of Trump’s 2016 supporters that there’s a case for it.
“If you’re serious about removing a president from office, what you’re really doing is overturning the result of the last election,” Nadler told Roll Call in November. “You don’t want to have a situation where you tear this country apart, and for the next 30 years, half the country’s saying, ‘We won the election, you stole it.’”
Nadler has repeated this standard, but unlike Pelosi, he has yet to rule out Democrats’ ability to convince Trump voters that there is a case for impeachment. However, he has recently acknowledged that “it is a very high bar.”
The timing of Pelosi’s impeachment announcement is odd, as it comes after a week of headlines highlighting divisions in the Democratic Caucus over the party’s response to comments from freshman Rep. Ilhan Omar that many lawmakers said were anti-Semitic.
Democrats made clear as they voted on a sweeping anti-hate resolution last week — a compromise meant to condemn the sentiment behind Omar’s comments without directly rebuking her — that they wanted to put their divisions behind them and move forward with a unified focus on their policy agenda.
Pelosi knew she was making news by telling the Post she doesn’t favor impeachment, as she said so directly in the interview.
“This is news. I’m going to give you some news right now because I haven’t said this to any press person before,” she said. “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.”
So why would Pelosi deliver a sound bite that will only further divide her caucus? That answer was not immediately clear Monday as the interview published, but one thing was: Like the Omar controversy dominated the congressional news cycle last week, Pelosi’s opposition to impeachment will dominate this week’s headlines.