Does Pelosi have a plan for impeachment?
Iím a lot more inclined to give Nancy Pelosi and House Democrats the benefit of the doubt than some, but it seems to me that the impeachment trains are running on three almost entirely unrelated tracks right now, and Iím not sure exactly how this plays out.
On one track, Democrats have pretty much allowed talk of impeachable offences to fall out of the national media. Part of that is the August congressional recess.
Part of it is that news about Democrats is increasingly going to be dominated by the presidential candidates and it simply doesnít make any sense to run for president on the platform that the current president should be impeached.
But a large part of it seems to be that Pelosi and most House Democrats donít find that it resonates as much as other topics.
On a second track, House Democrats are still, one by one, coming out in favour of an impeachment inquiry. The list (at least by one count) is up to 130 of the 235 Democrats, plus independent Justin Amash. Thatís still a long way from the 218 needed for a House majority, but itís been a steady increase (and many other Democrats are noncommittal; only a small number appear to be actively opposed).
And on the third track Ö thereís been a de facto impeachment inquiry for several weeks now, but I think itís pretty clear that whatís going on is an impeachment inquiry without formally naming it as such.
Presumably, the main reason to duck calling what theyíre doing an impeachment inquiry is because it invites the question of whether they are going to impeach or not ó and hands a rhetorical weapon to President Donald Trump if they formally conclude that they wonít take that step. Thatís fine as it is; sometimes fudging things is a good publicity strategy.
The problem is that itís pretty obvious that all those Democratic members calling for an impeachment inquiry, presumably in part because they think their constituents want them to, are eventually going to be on the hook for something, one way or another.
Can they really indefinitely ďcall forĒ something thatís already happening ó without having to then commit (or not) to the logical question at the end of the investigation? Especially with the political cycle clock ticking; itís hard to believe they would move towards impeachment very far into 2020.
Pro-impeachment folks are convinced that Pelosi is simply dragging her feet to run out that clock. Perhaps ó but if so, then wouldnít she shut down tracks two and three, the ones that are bringing it closer? She must know that this kind of thing can take on a logic of its own and be difficult to stop once it gathers sufficient momentum.
I donít know that thereís a good answer here for House Democrats. I still think there are good reasons to avoid a party-line impeachment that would hand the story to Mitch McConnell and Senate Republicans. But I donít know that Pelosi is making the choices that will get her to where she wants to go.
Jonathan Bernstein is a Bloomberg Opinion columnist. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org
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