The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Nancy Pelosi has a responsibility. With impeachment, she intends to fulfill it.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. (Jim Lo Scalzo/Bloomberg News)
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Earlier this month, after an interview with Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), I wrote that she takes her job as a legislator seriously. And that she takes her responsibility as a constitutional officer extremely seriously. Her reverence for the Constitution that girds our democracy is second only to her devotion to her Catholic faith. At 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Pelosi moved to protect the Constitution.

Standing in front a bank of American flags, Pelosi turned an expected announcement of impeachment action against President Trump into an address to the nation befitting the gravity of the moment in which we find ourselves. After saying, “The actions taken to date by the president have seriously violated the Constitution,” Pelosi laid down the hammer.

And this week, the president has admitted to asking the president of Ukraine to take actions which would benefit him politically. The action of — the actions of the Trump presidency revealed the dishonorable fact of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security, and betrayal of the integrity of our elections.
Therefore, today, I am announcing the House of Representatives is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry. . . . The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law.

Democrats have been calling for an impeachment inquiry for months. All the while, Pelosi resisted. The public sentiment wasn’t where she thought it should be. A Monmouth University poll released last month showed that 59 percent said, “No, should not” when asked, “Do you think President Trump should be impeached and compelled to leave the presidency, or not?”

But the controversy over Trump’s communications with the president of Ukraine changed the calculus for Pelosi, her caucus and the nation. Unlike the complex, not-easy-to-explain report from former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, the Ukraine matter was easily distilled by a group of seven first-term Democrats, in an op-ed for The Post:

The president of the United States may have used his position to pressure a foreign country into investigating a political opponent, and he sought to use U.S. taxpayer dollars as leverage to do it.
Senator Chris Coons (D-Del.) says President Trump's alleged misuse of his office has raised a new level of concern. (Video: The Washington Post)

In the face of all that we know already, Pelosi had no choice but to come before the American people and make the case for an impeachment inquiry. Only a simple majority of the House of Representatives is needed to approve articles of impeachment against a president, and Trump would be only the third president to experience such a vote. The trial — a decidedly political affair in which the court of public opinion holds sway — then moves to the Senate where a two-thirds majority would be needed to convict and remove the president from office.

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Neither Andrew Johnson nor Bill Clinton were convicted by the Senate. With Republicans controlling the Senate — they hold 53 seats — Trump is likely to enjoy a similar fate. Many Trump opponents fear that such an outcome would play right into the president’s hands, that impeachment without removal would lead to an emboldened Trump. Given what we know already, Pelosi deemed it a risk worth taking.

The speaker quoted Thomas Paine, the philosopher and Founding Father, when I asked her earlier this month whether Trump was a racist implementing a white-supremacist agenda. She dodged the question, saying, “I don’t want to characterize the president for what he is or isn’t. I just want to defeat him in the election.” What she said next turned out to be foreshadowing for what she would say on Tuesday.

PODCAST: Interview with Speaker Nancy Pelosi

“[In] the darkest days of our revolution, Thomas Paine said, ‘The times have found us.’ We think the times have found us now. Not to place ourselves in the category of greatness of our founders, but there’s a sense of urgency of protecting the democracy that they fought so hard to establish, to win independence and then to establish. And so we have a very serious responsibility, because we think nothing less is at stake than the Constitution of the United States, because of the disregard that this president has for it.”

Gary Abernathy

counterpointImperfect as they are, leaders with age and experience are worth keeping

Pelosi would repeat those words almost exactly at the end of her remarks in the Capitol on Tuesday. But it was her quote from Benjamin Franklin in the middle of her statement that spoke to the urgency of now. “They asked Benjamin Franklin, ‘What do we have: a republic or a monarchy?’ Franklin replied: ‘A republic, if you can keep it,’ said the speaker. “Our responsibility is to keep it.”

The impeachment inquiry is the first of many fraught steps toward fulfilling that duty.

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Read more:

The Post’s View: Congress, don’t fall into this trap

Megan McArdle: The irony in Democrats’ impeachment position

Dana Milbank: On impeachment, the worm has turned

David Ignatius: This isn’t just another spat. Trump compromised our security for his gain.