The names of the five House Democrats who have not yet backed an inquiry show this is so. Three of them — Reps. Collin C. Peterson (Minn.), Kendra Horn (Okla.), and Anthony Brindisi (N.Y.) — represent seats that are normally heavily Republican at all levels. Two others — Reps. Jared Golden (Maine) and Jeff Van Drew (N.J.) — represent seats that flipped from backing President Barack Obama in 2012 to going for President Trump in 2016. Voting against the resolution will effectively insulate these members from any blowback should impeachment prove unpopular. It’s hard to see how that helps Republican chances of defeating these members.
A canny Pelosi could also let more of her vulnerable members off the hook. Assuming these seven all vote no, that leaves a maximum of 202 no votes if all 197 current Republicans oppose the resolution. With former Republican Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.) favoring impeachment even before the Ukraine revelations, that gives the speaker a maximum yes-vote total of 230. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to note that she can afford to let many swing-district members skip the vote, avoiding putting themselves irrevocably on the record, and still prevail.
Many of those potentially vulnerable members might not choose to avail themselves of this option. Some are true believers in impeachment, while others might wish to avoid a primary challenge from their left. But the GOP loses a talking point for each targeted member who decides to vote “present” or not vote at all.
Nor does the procedure the resolution establishes help the GOP cause much. Pelosi is entrusting her loyal lieutenant, Rep. Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), with primary responsibility over the investigation. That means that when the effort does shift to public hearings, key Republican members such as Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) won’t be present to defend the president. Primary responsibility for the president’s defense will fall to Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), while other members such as Reps. Will Hurd (R-Tex.) and K. Michael Conaway (R-Tex.) are retiring and might not offer strong lines of questioning.
The Republican focus on the Democrats’ secretive process was always bound to be thrust aside as the inquiry gathered steam. Defenders of the president can only hope that the party has used the time gained by this assault to develop a strategy that engages with the emerging facts and offers a defense on the substance of the charges. If Republicans have not, then Thursday’s vote will do little more than demonstrate Pelosi’s utter mastery of the House.