If Pelosi wants to oust Trump in 2020, she should empower the House Judiciary’s investigation

The problem is vexing: Donald Trump is arguably the most overtly corrupt president in American history. But his penchant for unbridled power and outright disgust for the democratic institutions designed to check it also make him among the most dangerous leaders to occupy the Oval Office. With Republicans too limply afraid of Trump to actually uphold their oaths of office, the burden of saving our republic has fallen entirely on Democrats, the nation’s last best hope for liberation from Trump’s menace. 

And standing in the breach between Democrats’ constitutional duty and their fervent desire to safeguard the nation against a second Trump term to end all terms are Rep. Jerry Nadler of New York, chair of the House Judiciary Committee, and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, two veteran Democratic lawmakers who have served together for nearly three decades.

Nadler, with the support of a majority of the 23 Democrats on his committee, has privately made two impassioned arguments to Pelosi for initiating impeachment proceedings against Trump. Pelosi has rebuffed both advances. Even as the number of House Democrats on record in support of Nadler’s position has swelled to around 60, that’s “not even close” to a majority of the caucus, as Pelosi pointed out Tuesday during a Q&A at a fiscal summit in Washington.  

Pelosi has admitted to fearing, as she did in 2018, that if Democrats don’t beat Trump decisively in 2020, he will contest the results, leading to a political crisis the likes of which the nation has never seen before. That has driven her cautious approach to impeachment, along with the unavoidable realization that Senate Republicans will surely decline to convict Trump even if House Democrats vote to impeach him. Pelosi reportedly told her caucus that she’d rather see Trump “in prison” than impeached, suggesting an electoral defeat next year that could pave the way for Trump’s criminal conviction after leaving office. During her public remarks Tuesday, Pelosi declined to deny making the comment. “When we have conversations in our caucus, they stay in our caucus,” she told CNN’s Manu Raju during the moderated discussion. 

But Nadler is responding to the urgency of his committee members, many of whom believe that political expediency shouldn’t trump duty in the face of a president who is abusing his power and running roughshod over the Constitution. In fact, Trump’s across-the-board stonewalling of congressional oversight has nearly ground the panel’s investigations to a halt, though it did win a modest concession Monday from the Department of Justice for accessing additional materials related to the Mueller report. Nonetheless, the committee has come up entirely dry on securing the testimony of fact witnesses such as former White House counsel Don McGahn since the initial release of the redacted report almost two months ago.

Hearing from those witnesses is critical in the battle for public opinion that will almost surely end up in court. Nadler and his colleagues fear that they could lose the chance to secure public testimony if they are deprived of the ability to base their legal argument in the context of a formal impeachment proceeding. It’s a factor that also has significant bearing on Pelosi’s electoral strategy: She too needs a boost in public sentiment against Trump’s corruption even as she works to convince voters that Democrats are committed to addressing their pocketbook issues. 

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