House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is moving quickly to quell impeachment talk in her Democratic caucus, telling colleagues she wants to see President Trump “in prison” but not impeached and greenlighting a contempt resolution for the attorney general aimed at placating frustrated Democrats.
Pelosi (D-Calif.) told five of her committee chairmen Tuesday night during their weekly check-in about the status of investigations that she would rather see Trump defeated in 2020 and facing charges of a crime after leaving office — than impeached and acquitted by the Republican-led Senate.
“I don’t want to see him impeached. I want to see him in prison,” Pelosi said, according to the officials, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share private conversations.
On Thursday, Pelosi’s leadership team unveiled a promised resolution that would hold Attorney General William P. Barr and former White House counsel Donald McGahn in contempt. The measure would authorize the House Judiciary Committee to go to court to force the two to comply with congressional subpoenas.
Both Pelosi’s comments and the contempt vote scheduled for Tuesday constitute the speaker’s attempt to appease some House Democrats eager to start impeachment proceedings against Trump. While the vote probably will buy Pelosi more time on impeachment, it’s unlikely to stop the campaign for an inquiry. Nearly 60 House Democrats have publicly expressed support for impeachment, with 2020 presidential hopefuls pressuring House Democrats to act.
Privately, Democrats say the numbers favoring impeachment probably will grow.
So, too, could the tensions between Pelosi and some of her committee chairmen investigating Trump. Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee that has impeachment jurisdiction, has been pressing Pelosi to approve an impeachment inquiry for several weeks.
Pelosi has resisted, as she did during the Tuesday night meeting first reported by Politico. Nadler has laid out the legal justification for an inquiry as committee staff and lawmakers argue that opening official proceedings will only strengthen their legal standing to compel the release of documents and testimony.
But Pelosi has countered that impeachment will cost her party politically. She has encouraged Democrats to focus on the legislative agenda that won them the House majority in last year’s midterm elections while at the same time advocating a methodical investigation of instances of possible obstruction of justice by Trump described in former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report.
Pelosi also has suggested a need for greater public support for launching an impeachment inquiry, noting that there is a common misperception that a president is immediately removed from office following impeachment by the House.
During excerpts of a Fox News interview in France on Thursday, Trump deridingly referred to Pelosi as “Nervous Nancy.”
“Nancy Pelosi is a disaster, okay?” Trump said in the interview slated to air Thursday night. “She’s a disaster. Let her do what she wants.”
Asked about impeachment proceedings during a MSNBC appearance in France on Thursday, Pelosi said she wouldn’t discuss the topic at the commemoration of the 75th anniversary of the storied D-Day invasion.
Other Republicans criticized the speaker.
During a television interview Thursday morning, White House spokeswoman Mercedes Schlapp said that Pelosi’s comments about wanting to see Trump in prison were reflective of a Democratic Party “obsessed with investigations.”
“I think it clearly shows the true colors of Speaker Pelosi and the Democratic Party,” Schlapp said on Fox News.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) also chided Pelosi during a Thursday morning Fox News interview from the site of a ceremony in Normandy that he and Pelosi attended.
“At that moment, we weren’t about party,” McCarthy said. “We were about country. I hope we take that back to Washington, not wanting to put somebody in jail but putting Americans first.”
Pelosi is less concerned about Republican criticism than her own party. Senior Democrats hope the contempt vote will give pro-impeachment Democrats a chance to look more favorably on their investigations and Pelosi’s approach, according to the officials.
The divisions within the Democratic ranks have created awkward dynamics. Asked by CNN’s Wolf Blitzer on Wednesday night whether he and Pelosi were on the same page on impeachment, Nadler looked down, paused for a moment, then offered an answer that bypassed the question.
“When that decision has to be made, it will be made not by any one individual; it will be made probably by the caucus as a whole,” Nadler said. “Certainly, Nancy will have the largest single voice in it.”
Pelosi’s resistance has infuriated the party’s left flank, which has used more pointed language to criticize her leadership in recent days. During a news conference on Wednesday, Pelosi pushed back against those speaking out against her approach.
“Make no mistake: We know exactly what path we’re on,” she said. “We know exactly what actions we need to take.”
The Judiciary Committee voted along party lines last month to hold Barr in contempt over his failure to produce the full contents of Mueller’s report to Congress — something Barr has argued he cannot do without breaking the law, as releasing grand jury material would require a court order.
The panel also issued a subpoena for McGahn to deliver documents and testimony regarding what he knew about Trump’s alleged efforts to obstruct justice. The White House blocked McGahn, who was a key witness in Mueller’s report, from testifying, saying it planned to invoke executive privilege.
The resolution also reiterates that other committee chairmen can go to court to enforce subpoenas absent a vote by the full House. Panels merely need the approval of the Bipartisan Legal Advisory Group, a panel of top House leaders who would vote on the matter.