If she were not in the House–and not Speaker of the House–Nancy Pelosi says she "would probably advocate" impeaching President Bush.

But given her current role as party leader, at a breakfast with progressive journalists today (named after our great friend Maria Leavey) Pelosi sketched her case against impeachment.

"The question of impeachment is something that would divide the country," Pelosi said this morning during a wide-ranging discussion in the ornate Speaker’s office. Her top priorities are ending the war in Iraq, expanding health care, creating jobs and preserving the environment. "I know what our success can be on those issues. I don’t know what our success can be on impeaching the president."

Democratic Party leaders do not have the votes to pass an impeachment resolution. And Democrats could be judged harshly for partisan gridlock, just as the American people turned on Congressional Republicans in the 90s for pursuing the impeachment of President Clinton.

In the first question of the morning, Pelosi was asked if she supported a proposal by Washington Rep. Jay Inslee to impeach beleaguered Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.

The Speaker looked down and rubbed her temples wearily. "I would like us to stay focused on our agenda this week," she said. Today the entails finalizing ethics and lobbying reform. Tomorrow it will mean expanding children’s health care and boosting Medicare benefits. By the end of the week the House will likely pass an energy bill and legislation will be brought to the floor that reins in the Bush Administration’s warrantless wiretapping program.

Pelosi’s no fan of Gonzales or his bosses. "The Administration wants the Attorney General to sign off on what can be collected," she says of the wiretapping proposal. "Absolutely not."

She is greatly disturbed by the lawlessness of this Administration and its contempt for checks and balances. "I take an oath to defend and protect the Constitution, so it is a top priority for me and my colleagues to uphold that." She notes the vigorous oversight hearings held by committee chairman like John Conyers and Henry Waxman.

But Pelosi sees impeaching Gonzales and his superiors as a distraction from the ambitious agenda she has crafted for the House. [UPDATE: Pelosi’s staff notes she only said that she opposes impeaching Gonzales this week and did not comment on the larger policy. Listen to the recording for yourself at 19:30.]

"If I can just hold my caucus together," she says, "I can take them to this progressive place."

As to whether she fears a primary challenge from pro-impeachment activist Cindy Sheehan, the topic sadly never came up.