As the president of the United States rants and rages about the prospect of his impeachment, the woman who set the gears in motion is a study in serenity.
It had been just over a week since she had announced that a formal impeachment investigation would begin in the House. Like the rest of us, Pelosi can see that the pressure is getting to President Trump, as he erupts in profane outbursts and spews reckless accusations of treason at those who would challenge his actions.
“Sometimes, I think he is having a limbo contest with himself, to see how low he can go in his rhetoric,” she said. “I think he was surprised that this happened, because he thinks he can do whatever he wants.”
For many months, Pelosi had resisted the calls within her party to commence the process that could lead to Trump’s impeachment. What forced her hand, the speaker said, were the facts, the sheer impropriety of Trump pressuring Ukraine’s president to turn up dirt on Trump’s leading presidential rival, former vice president Joe Biden.
“He has committed impeachable offenses even before this, but I do think this is more easily understandable by the public,” Pelosi said. “He gave us no choice. And if he doesn’t understand and the Republicans can’t grasp that — the fact that he undermined our national security, our Constitution and our electoral system — that’s their problem.”
Pelosi remains determined not to give in to the impulses of some Democrats to make impeachment a vehicle for everything about the president that stirs their rage. All of that should await November 2020, she said, when voters will have their opportunity to weigh in on Trump’s policies, his temperament and his character.
“So many of the things that people are unhappy about about the president are not about impeachment. That’s about the election. Take it up with the election,” Pelosi said. “If you think he’s a coward on protecting children from gun violence, and you think he’s cruel for not protecting ‘dreamers,’ if you think he is in denial on climate change, take that up in the election. That has nothing to do with what we are doing here. If you think his vocabulary and his behavior and his immorality and his indecency are personally offensive, take it up in the election.”
It took some by surprise when Pelosi declared that “it doesn’t matter” whether Democrats lose their majority in the House over their decision to drive toward impeachment.
But she is not backing down from her contention that the constitutional questions at hand outweigh the politics. “I don’t think that it’s a healthy thing for a country if people just come here and say it’s about winning the next election,” she said.
None of which is to say that her concern for her more vulnerable members is not weighing upon her. “As we take brave steps like this, we have to have a ‘M.A.S.H.’ team to protect those who may be more in danger,” she said, adding that means “owning the ground, not yielding one grain of sand to the Republicans.”
The speaker is closely monitoring what her members are hearing back home in their districts during this congressional recess and noted that some are already being hit by Republican ads accusing them of staging “a coup.”
Fighting back means marshaling money, organization and a message. It was by design that Pelosi opened her news conference Wednesday talking about the legislation the House has passed to lower prescription drug costs, even as House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), the leader of the impeachment investigation, stood by her side.
The point she wanted to get across was a rejoinder to the president’s tweeted claim that “The Do Nothing Democrats should be focused on building up our Country, not wasting everyone’s time and energy on BULLSHIT.”
In fact, the House has spent this year passing measures to lower drug costs, strengthen the Affordable Care Act, encourage more employers to offer retirement plans, tighten background checks of gun buyers, reduce gender-pay disparity and reauthorize the 1994 Violence Against Women Act. All of those measures are languishing in the Republican-controlled Senate.
“I’ve been kind of unhappy about the fact that most people in the country didn’t know what we were doing. I’m tired of whining about the press not printing it. We’ve got to go advertise it ourselves, and we’ll do that,” Pelosi said.
In the meantime, Trump’s chief adversary at the other end of Pennsylvania Avenue is settling in for the duration, however long it might be. “I have never talked about any timeline. I don’t have the timeline,” Pelosi said. “It will go expeditiously — that is to say, we’ll use the time well to get the facts. We’re not moving hastily, though.”
For a president who grows more agitated by the day, that might be the worst news of all.