House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a novel suggestion Thursday morning: President Trump is acting so irrationally that his family and staff should stage an “intervention” to assess his psychological “well-being”—“for the good of the country.”
Pelosi, of course, has no influence over whether Trump’s family or staffers do what she suggests. She knows they’re not going to follow her advice. If the situation is as grim as she says, there is an obvious remedy that Pelosi can influence, of course: the start of an impeachment inquiry. But the House Speaker continues to insist Democrats are not going down that “path.”
“The White House is just crying out for impeachment,” she said, and she’s equally determined not to give Trump what he wants.
I’m on record as a great admirer of Pelosi’s smarts, and it’s possible she’s playing a long game here that I don’t understand. Still, refraining from impeachment because it’s what Trump seems to want gives the president all the control.
Clearly Trump is devolving under the stress of the job and the many valid investigations of him, his administration, his businesses, and his family members. As Pelosi notes, he’s losing in the courts: Just this week, a federal court ordered Trump’s accountants to release his tax returns as requested by House leaders, and ordered Deutsche Bank and Capitol One to provide information about his borrowing and other business details. On Wednesday he showed up for a meeting to discuss a possible infrastructure deal and refused to even sit down with Pelosi and Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer; instead he blew out to the Rose Garden to denounce the Democrats for investigating him and refusing to work with them on any business if they continue.
“What happened in the White House would make your jaw drop,” Schumer later told reporters. “I pray for the president of the United States,” Pelosi said, adding “and I pray for the United States of America.”
Pelosi has certainly raised the level of drama. But Americans need more than thoughts and prayers from Pelosi; they need to see that she is prepared to do her duty. Every time she makes the case that Trump’s bad behavior is escalating, she begs the question: Why not move on impeachment? Even on Thursday morning, Pelosi admitted that Trump’s actions obstructing justice and defying subpoenas “could be impeachable offenses.” But she called that path too “divisive” for Democrats to walk at this time. Existing House investigations “may take us to a place that’s unavoidable, in terms of impeachment,” she admitted. “But we’re not at that place.”
Honestly, many House Democrats are making little sense right now. Representative Brad Sherman, ostensibly a backer of impeachment proceedings, on Thursday told CNN House Democrats will move in that direction “once we have a credible reason to think we’ll get 20 Republicans to vote with us.” That day is unlikely to come. Bloomberg reports that some Senate Republicans are concerned about the president’s threatened work stoppage on Wednesday. But there’s little reason to expect that to matter: Lindsey Graham may huff, and Susan Collins will puff—and then they’ll go on voting behind the president anyway. Not one single Republican has joined Michigan Representative Justin Amash in saying that the Mueller Report provided a strong case for impeachment, certainly on obstruction of justice. In fact Amash’s nominal libertarian confrere, Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, came out and blasted the Michigan conservative this week.
Pelosi argues that Trump will hit Democrats as too divisive if they proceed to impeachment. But he’s already acting that way, refusing to cooperate on any joint projects as long as they’re carrying out their lawful responsibility of oversight. As Lawfare editor Quinta Juracic has argued repeatedly and convincingly, not moving to impeach Trump accepts his multiple levels of outrageous behavior as the new normal. She calls impeachment “a way of marking a breach, declaring that the presidency should not be what a particular president has tried to shape it into.”
The House Speaker may be hoping that her escalation of rhetoric about the president’s behavior, the faux-sympathy for his “well-being” that reads as mockery, will satisfy Democratic base voters who are anxious for their party’s leaders to take a stronger stand against a lawless president. But in fact, Pelosi’s colorful new denunciations of Trump’s unfitness for office may serve to underscore her own inaction. Trump is already depicting Democrats’ legal oversight efforts as lawless overreach. They may suffer the political downside of impeachment without any of its upside: being able to show the American people evidence of the president’s “high crimes and misdemeanors,” while Senate Republicans stand by and protect Trump anyway, in an election year. If Trump truly needs an “intervention,” Pelosi has an obligation to stage the one the Constitution provides her.