House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in an interview that she opposes moving to impeach President Trump, even though she believes he is “unfit” for office — her first definitive statement on the subject and one that stands to alienate members of her own Democratic Party who are intent on ousting the president.
“I’m not for impeachment,” she said in a Wednesday interview conducted for a future issue of the Washington Post Magazine.
“This is news,” she added. “I haven’t said this to any press person before. 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. And he’s just not worth it.”
Yet, Pelosi also said that she does not believe Trump is up to the job of running the country. Asked if he was fit to be president, she countered, “Are we talking ethically? Intellectually? Politically? What are we talking here?” When a reporter said all, she said he was not.
“All of the above. No. No. I don’t think he is,” she said. “I mean, ethically unfit. Intellectually unfit. Curiosity-wise unfit. No, I don’t think he’s fit to be president of the United States.”
The apparent contradiction shows that Pelosi is well aware of the political risks of impeachment and how pursuit of the president could energize Republican voters ahead of the 2020 election. Still, her comments will almost certainly infuriate the far left wing of the party, which has been clamoring to begin impeachment proceedings over controversies ensnaring the Trump administration.
Most House Democrats agree that they should give the chairmen of investigative committees the space to conduct their probes before engaging in serious impeachment discussions. But Pelosi’s suggestion that she doesn’t support those moves at all because “he’s just not worth it” won’t sit well with some in her caucus.
Pelosi’s comments come one week after the House Judiciary Committee, the panel with jurisdiction over impeachment proceedings, issued document requests to more than 80 people affiliated with Trump’s administration, campaign and businesses. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the committee, called the requests the first step in a larger probe into obstruction of justice and abuses of power by the president. Meanwhile, other committees in the House are beginning probes of campaign-time contributions that Trump’s lawyer Michael Cohen made to silence women alleging affairs with Trump as well as Trump’s plans to build a tower in Moscow and how he managed his private company.
For months, Pelosi, of San Francsico, has treated the possibility of Trump’s impeachment delicately, publicly noting the need for bipartisan support and significant evidence of wrongdoing before pursuing the president’s removal.
“If and when the time comes for impeachment, it will have to be something that has such a crescendo in a bipartisan way,” she said in a CBS News interview in early January.
She echoed that bipartisan requirement in the Post interview. However, given congressional Republicans’ unwillingness to push back on their leader in the Oval Office over the last two years, some Democrats disagree with Pelosi’s assessment that any impeachment proceedings must have support from the GOP. House Democrats, they argue, have a job to do in holding the president accountable — regardless of the GOP’s stance on impeachment.
Pelosi has, at times, referenced the failed 1998 impeachment of President Clinton by congressional Republicans as a formative experience in her thinking — an argument she renewed in the interview.
“There was no question that was horrible for the country. It was unnecessary and the rest,” she said. “But in terms of where we are, as Thomas Paine said, the times have found us. And the times have found us now. We have a very serious challenge to the Constitution of the United States in the president’s unconstitutional assault on the Constitution, on the first branch of government, the legislative branch…. This is very serious for our country.”
Meanwhile, members of Pelosi’s caucus have been outspoken about their desire to impeach Trump. Earlier this month, Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) marched on Capitol Hill with impeachment supporters, and Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles) has discussed impeaching Trump in numerous interviews.
Two House Democrats, Reps. Al Green of Texas and Brad Sherman of Northridge, have already drafted articles of impeachment. Green moved in December 2017 to force the House to consider impeachment articles; the effort was killed on a 364-58 vote.
And outside the Capitol, liberal billionaire Tom Steyer has pledged to spend tens of millions of dollars in an effort to impeach Trump, forming a group called Need to Impeach that has taken out television ads and constructed a grass-roots network to push the issue. Steyer has also vowed to target the chairmen of House panels investigating the president to ensure they do their job, as his organization has said.
“He’s brought us to the brink of nuclear war,” Steyer said in one nationally televised ad. “He’s obstructed justice at the FBI. And in direct violation of the Constitution, he’s taken money from foreign governments and threatened to shut down news organizations that report the truth. If this is not a case for impeaching and removing a dangerous president, then what has our government become?”
Mike DeBonis and Rachael Bade write for the Washington Post.