Prominent liberals in the House, impatient with Speaker Nancy Pelosi's opposition to impeaching President Trump, seemed to be on the brink of a major breakthrough one night last month
The chairman of the Judiciary Committee, a key Pelosi ally and the man who would preside over the hearings, was preparing to buck his party leader and join the pro-impeachment movement.
Pelosi moved swiftly. She summoned her top lieutenants to a late-night meeting and hatched a plan – that six party leaders, speaking in unison, would make it clear to the chairman why impeaching trump was a terrible idea
"Republicans are stewing in their own juices , "Pelosi told Rep. Jerrold Nadler (DN.Y.), arguing that the majority of the Democratic Caucus did not support impeachment and that the party should devote its time to calling Republicans for siding with a president trampling the Constitution, according to Democrats and other senior officials who, like others, spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely describe what transpired
Nadler left the room that night and has not publicly endorsed the impeachment. "Impeachment is a political act, and you can not imply a president if the American people will not support it," he said.
As pressure has mounted in recent weeks on House Democrats to move more aggressively against Trump, Pelosi has demonstrated the firm grip she wields over her caucus ̵
In January, Pelosi had blocked two ringleaders of the rebels who had tried to deny her speakers from securing their preferred committee assignments – even though the peace pact she had made to reclaim the gavel precluded retaliation. And veteran lawmakers keenly remember how she rebuffed former Democratic lawmakers Jane Harman (D-Calif.) And John Dingell (D-Mich.), Two occasional thorns in her side, in their quest for chairmanships, moves many seen as revenge for challenging her vision or authority.
"It's much better to be with her than against her," said Rep. Stephen F. Lynch (D-Mass.), And Pelosi antagonist who eventually backed her for speaker. "She does not make it easy, that's for sure."
"One, you want to be a team player and support the leader's position, but secondly you're worried about your own self. . . what can happen if you do not follow along, "said another Pelosi critic, Rep.
The reluctance to oppose the speaker, according to interviews with more than 20 lawmakers and aides, has undermined the push for impeachment despite the growing support for overstimbing Trump among the party's liberal base and several 2020 presidential candidates. An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll released Sunday found more Democratic voters backing impeachment – 48 percent up from 30 percent last month – but the nation divided, with Republicans and independents opposed
So far, impeachment proponents in the Caucus have been unwilling to call Pelosi out by name or rally support to begin the proceedings. Consequently, the campaign has slowed, with a minority of just over 60 lawmakers supporting impeachment – at least for now. Longtime Pelosi allies say the fear factor is vastly inflated "I, I say, are more of the members that respect the California Democrat, who has led them for 16 years and understand the political consequences of impeachment. Do not think there is anything more divisive we can do than impeach the president of the United States, so you have to handle it with great care, "Pelosi said Sunday in an interview with CNN. "
Pelosi's midterm election strategy of focusing on health care rather than president helped Democrats capture the majority last year, as the party won in 31 districts where Trump had prevailed in 2016. Pelosi knows the Democrats could lose those seats – and their majority – in a backlash over impeachment
"She is the single smartest strategist we've ever had. . . . People are not wanting to guess her because she's been right on so many fronts, "said Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.), And longtime Pelosi ally who has deferred to the speaker on impeachment
To be sure, the impeachment push is far from over and could become more difficult for Pelosi to manage as Trump repeatedly defies congressional
Pelosi is "holding it together but it's fragile because we're kind of one event, one piece of explosive testimony, one action by Trump away from that dam collapsing," said Rep Gerald E. Connolly (D-Va .).
But even if a majority of her husband calls for impeachment, Pelosi allies predict she will resist the pressure.
Over the past few weeks, Pelosi has worked behind the scenes to stifle the pro-impeachment movement in her caucus with strategically timed comments and announcements – and nudges her members to get in line. When House Majority Whip James E. Clyburn (DS.C.) said impeachment was inevitable during a television appearance in early June, Pelosi's staff mobilized quickly, calling his office and telling staff to have Clyburn walk it back, according to congressional officials familiar with those conversations.
When other senior Democrats started advocating for impeachment on television, Pelosi made sure at least some knew she was unhappy. During one recent private meeting, she snapped at Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, signaling she wanted him to soften his impeachment language and focus more on the legislative agenda, according to Democrats and other senior officials.
Both prose and anti-impeachment lawmakers say recent court rulings supporting the Democratic subpoena have helped solidify Pelosi's argument that her strategy is working. And the fact that members are torn about what is right means many are content with deferring to their leader
But Pelosi's aptly timed announcements have also played a major role in easing tensions. When Pelopo's Trump defies Congress, Pelosi has made a point to echo the frustration of a pro-impeachment base by accusing Trump of a "cover up" or saying he should be "in prison." Those remarks, her allies say, shield her as she pumps the breaks on impeachment.
Pelosi has also made a conscious effort to "let the air out of the balloon before it pops," according to one aide. Last week, she greenlighted a civil contempt vote on the House floor to give frustrated members a outlet to vent.
On Thursday, after Trump told ABC News that he would be willing to take opposition research from a foreign country in the future, Pelosi was likewise ready with a response: Weeks earlier, she had instructed her committees to prepare legislation forcing all candidates to report such contacts to the FBI. She discussed the legislation at a news conference, batting down reporters' questions about impeachment again.
Part of Pelosi's effectiveness has been planning ahead. At the end of May, after Robert S. Mueller III said he did not exonerate the president and set off another fire brigade, Pelosi asked her senior leadership to come to a meeting Monday, with Democrats and other senior officials.
During the huddle June 3, Pelosi went around the room to ask her top allies what they thought of impeachment; all agreed with her. Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) even suggested the brave thing for members to do would be to resist the base's call for impeachment.
Outflanked, the impeachment proponents did not push back.
A different speaker
Pelosi's grip on her caucus stands in sharp contrast to her Republican predecessors. Former speakers Paul D. Ryan (R-Wis.) And John Boehner (R-Ohio) have often faced fierce public resistance from their rank-and-file and grass-roots opposition that hindered their effectiveness.
The conservative House Freedom Caucus not only broke with Ryan but regularly circumvented his leadership and appealed to Trump to get what they wanted, undercutting his leadership. Before Ryan, Boehner faced the same conservative critics who threatened to overthrow him over his pragmatism, eventually forcing him to resign.
While the conservatives were suspicious of Boehner and Ryan, the Democratic base views Pelosi as one of their own – loyalty republicans actually inspired by her attack as a liberal boogeyman during campaigns, said former Boehner chief of staff Mike Sommers.
"I believe that she is the only person who can manage their caucus right now," he said. "She has a base of support that is unmatched within the Democratic Caucus."
Pelosi tightened her grip on the caucus by quashing a group of rebels who tried to prevent her from becoming a speaker for the second time in more than a decade and emerging stronger after a showdown with Trump in January over government funding
Pelosi's move to punish her adversaries, as she did on committee assignments, was not the first time she had used hard-line tactics. In 2006, Pelosi refused to name Harman as chairwoman of the House Intelligence Committee. The two had been at odds for decades, and when Democrats took the majority, Pelosi appointed Rep. Silvestre Reyes (D-Tex.), Quoting term-limit rules she could have overridden. In 2002, Pelosi backed and Dingell's primary challenger, who survived. One of her allies, Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), Then seized a committee chairmanship that Dingell wanted – with Pelosi's tacit approval.
"You can always disagree with her – no problem. But you do not take those out to a news conference, "said former Rep. Steve Israel (D-N.Y.), who worked alongside Pelosi for years. "
Nowadays, few House Democrats criticize Pelosi by name, even on the emotional question of impeachment. If they do contradict her publicly, many give her a heads up, as Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) Did before he announced his support for impeachment on Thursday, according to Democrats and other senior officials.
House Financial Services Committee chairman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), A vocal impeachment backer, said she was not organizing an effort to change minds on impeachment and defers Pelosi's leadership.
"I do not criticize her. I do not blame her, "Waters said of Pelosi's impeachment position. "It's the responsibility of doing the best job that she thinks she can do for this caucus."
Cicilline bristled at the notion that the speaker was upset with him or his pro-impeachment colleagues. Asked why he did not vote for impeachment, he said the issue is too personal to try to twist arms on the matter.
Still, he argued that it's only a matter of time before the number of pro-impeachment lawmakers grows: "In those cases where the president acts in a way where he believes he's above the law. . . "
This article is licensed under the GNU Free Documentation License.