Opinion

Where is Nancy Pelosi on impeachment?

The Democratic speaker is one of the last politicians in Washington who doesn't telegraph her every move

One of the many things American politicians have lost in recent years is the ability to hold a poker face and sit on one's hand for a bit. This is a bad thing in itself, but it is also a great loss for everyone in a democracy when one cannot complain about what a sinister, secretive bunch most of our leaders are. Smoke-filled rooms have given way to live-streamed dentist appointments and 40-page campaign PDFs. Anyone who thinks that President Trump's Twitter account is an aberration that will not be continued by his successors is not thinking through the implications of this technology for people as narcissistic as politicians.

Practically the only living elected official of any consequence who still does not give away everything she is doing or thinking is Nancy Pelosi. I suspect that this, more so even than her leadership status, is what makes her such a bogeyman in the right-wing imagination.

What, for instance, does Pelosi actually think about impeachment? No one resisted the process more forcefully and for longer than the speaker of the House, who correctly intuited long ago that it would be unpopular and, this close to the next election, unnecessary, at least for a party with any actual ambition of retaking the White House. When she found herself in September with no other choice, she allowed her caucus to hold hearings that have at least been described as "impeachment inquiries," and even began using the word herself. She has stepped up her rhetoric too. As Rep. Jim Jordan (R.) reminded us over and over again during the last week of intelligence committee testimony, she has called Trump an "imposter."

But this is not the same thing as actually desiring the impeachment process to advance as far as the drawing up of articles, much less to an up-or-down vote on the issue. "We aren't finished, the day is not over," she told reporters Thursday. Many people, especially among her party's activist base and even within her own House caucus will interpret this as a commitment to seeing impeachment through to the end. I am not so sure. When she adds that the "testimony of one person may lead to the need for testimony of another," what I take away from it is that she would prefer to see impeachment-related hearings go on for a few more months until suddenly she is able to declare, without losing any face among her more enthusiastic members, that the White House's continued obstruction has simply dragged on the process for too long and that the whole thing is, alas, no longer viable. Time to win at the ballot box!

Her party's fate in next year's elections — and not just in the presidential column — is clearly a subject with which she remains more occupied than she is with whatever Rudy Giuliani was whispering in the ears of Eurasian diplomats over the summer. While the country turned its eyes to the fourth and (so far) final day of impeachment hearings, Pelosi was meeting with Robert Lighthizer, Trump's point man on the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, the new trade deal negotiated by the White House to replace NAFTA. The day before that, she quietly passed a bill that would impose economic sanctions on China for its actions in Hong Kong. This was a political masterstroke. If Trump refuses to sign the bill out of concern for ongoing trade negotiations it proves that he has a dictator fetish and is too cowardly to defend human rights; if he does sign it and trade talks go south, well, look at what a mess he has made of things!

A year is a long time for this Congress to have gone without any significant legislative work apart from anti-Trump scandal-mongering, something that the president and his allies are likely to bring up over and over again in 2020. Pelosi has anticipated this line of criticism and is doing everything she can to shift the blame for congressional inertia on to the White House.

What does this tell us? Many things, chief among them how foolish some young eager progressive types are for snubbing Pelosi, much less even entertaining the idea of replacing her as speaker. Posting your latest Ikea furniture project on Instagram and calling Trump a "motherf—" is easy. Outwitting an incumbent president half the country supports during an election year with almost no help from your own party is not.

It is a testament to her remarkable instincts that Pelosi would be the last person to point this out.

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