The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Nancy Pelosi sounds like she’s more open to impeachment than ever before

The Fix’s Amber Phillips analyzes the standoff between congressional Democrats and the Trump administration and whether it could lead to impeachment. (Video: The Washington Post, Photo: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) sounds like she’s more open than ever to impeaching President Trump. At the very least, she’s laying the groundwork to consider impeaching Trump if it comes to that.

By her own telling this week, President Trump is doing more and more to deserve it.

He's “becoming self-impeachable,” Pelosi said at a Washington Post Live event on Wednesday, referencing how Trump is blocking every single House Democratic congressional investigation into him and his administration.

“Every single day, whether it’s obstruction, obstruction, obstruction — obstruction of having people come to the table with facts, ignoring subpoenas, every single day, the president is making a case — he’s becoming self-impeachable, in terms of some of the things that he is doing,” she said.

At a news conference Thursday, Pelosi agreed with House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nalder (D-N.Y.) that the country is in a “constitutional crisis.” Then she spent a significant chunk of time saying that if Democrats did consider impeachment proceedings against Trump, it would be based on facts.

“It’s going to be based on the facts or the law, nothing else,” she said. “Impeachment is one of the most divisive things you can do ... you’re always balancing equities, the quality of the truth being known, made known to the American people. They are owed the truth. Uniting our country, keeping our country united. When is one in furtherance of the other, or is one to the detriment of the other? That’s a judgment we have to make.”

That’s stronger language than Pelosi has used since the Mueller report outlining how the president may have obstructed justice was released in April. Back then, Pelosi tamped down on impeachment calls from her colleagues and 2020 Democratic contenders. She said she thinks impeachment is politically unwise for her party an steered her colleagues instead to focus on investigating the president without using the other “i” word. “He’s just not worth it,” she said in March, before the full Mueller report was released.

But day by day, her position that impeachment should be off the table is getting less and less tenable.

Trump’s intransigence is forcing House Democrats to play more hardball than they want. Republicans, who control the Senate, have entirely acquiesced to Trump. So if House Democrats don’t act — for the rule of law, for Congress’s constitutional oversight powers, as a warning to future presidents — who will?

To that end, Nadler’s committee voted along party lines to hold Trump’s attorney general in contempt of Congress for not handing over the unredacted Mueller report. William P. Barr is the second sitting attorney general ever to be held in contempt. Pelosi has already opened the door to impeaching him as well.

They are seriously considering holding three more current and former Trump administration officials in contempt. Hundreds of former federal prosecutors, from both Democratic and Republican administrations, signed a letter saying that if Trump were not a sitting president, he would have been indicted on a charge of obstruction of justice.

But given the strength of their language, it’s beginning to look like Democratic leaders think something more is called for. Nadler didn’t have a solid answer Wednesday for why he’s not considering impeachment of Trump if he thinks the president is moving the country into a constitutional crisis. (“There are a lot of considerations for that and that may not be the best answer for this constitutional crisis,” he said Wednesday.)

Pelosi, too, has been describing the Trump administration in increasingly dire language. “This is brutal,” Pelosi told House Democrats in a meeting Wednesday, according to a Democratic aide in the room. “No sense of decency, no sense of a high ethical standard."

But moving forward with impeachment holds political risks. But Pelosi knows that no matter their intentions, Trump will weaponize it for his political gain. And he has a potentially sympathetic public. Polls show a majority of Americans don’t support it, even if most think Trump lied.

A reader's guide to all of Trump's fights with Congress

On Thursday, Pelosi added that she doesn’t think it has to be one or the other, “impeach or nothing. No it’s not that.” She said Democrats can keep investigating where the facts take them, then decide if impeachment is something they need to consider.

But Trump is successfully blocking that carefully divided compromise between the pro-impeachers and people like her who worry it will cost their party. Democrats are running out of options that have teeth to make him and his administration hand over information. Any contempt citation requires the Justice Department to enforce it, which ain’t happening under Barr. Legal battles could take years to sort out, and Congress doesn’t have that kind of time.

Against that backdrop, Pelosi throws out that Trump is “becoming self-impeachable,” that the country is in a “constitutional crisis” and is talking about the “i” word a lot this week. Is she signaling that eventually she may have no choice but to consider impeachment of Trump, too?