Let us pray for Nancy Pelosi.
Let us pray that the Democratic Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, who last week insisted that she always prays for the man her party wants to remove from office, knows what she is doing by risking the 2020 election on an impeachment strategy that could backfire badly.
Oh, sure, Ms. Pelosi insists that Tuesday’s tabling of formal articles of impeachment against U.S. President Donald Trump is not about the election. It’s about the Constitution, she says. Only, everyone knows that, in U.S. politics, it’s always about the next election.
That’s why Ms. Pelosi spent months resisting attempts by the more excitable members of the Democratic caucus to impeach the (insert expletive here). Ms. Pelosi’s judgment turned out to have been sound after special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election contained no grounds on which to impeach Mr. Trump.
For the average U.S. voter, the Mueller report was a wet firecracker that only served to buttress Mr. Trump’s characterization of the probe as a “witch hunt.” It was not that, of course, and it confirmed U.S. intelligence reports that Russia sought to sway the election outcome in a “sweeping and systemic fashion.” But it came up with no proof that Mr. Trump was in on it.
Democrats had hoped that Mr. Mueller would nail Mr. Trump for obstruction of justice. And there was certainly plenty to suggest his guilt, from the not-so-veiled threats against potential witnesses to his firing of Federal Bureau of Investigation chief James Comey. But Mr. Mueller rendered a bizarre non-conclusion on the obstruction charge that left Democrats with nothing to go on. And their initial bid to impeach Mr. Trump fizzled.
Then, in late August, came news of a whistleblower’s account of Mr. Trump’s phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which the U.S. President was accused of putting pressure on his interlocutor to initiate an investigation into former vice-president Joe Biden, who was then the front-runner to become the 2020 Democratic presidential nominee.
In late September, Ms. Pelosi reluctantly allowed the Democratic-led House intelligence committee to begin hearings into whether Mr. Trump committed an impeachable offence by withholding a White House invitation from Mr. Zelensky and freezing US$400-million in military aid until the Ukrainian President announced an investigation into Mr. Biden and his son, who had joined the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company while his father was vice-president.
Throughout the intelligence committee hearings, Democrats charged that Mr. Trump had engaged in a “quid pro quo” and “bribery” by withholding military aid. But that charge was based entirely on hearsay and second-hand accounts of what happened. What’s more, the military aid to Ukraine was released in early September, Ukrainian officials never did launch an investigation into Mr. Biden and Mr. Zelensky has still not snagged a White House invite.
So, on Tuesday, unable to pin the bribery charge on Mr. Trump directly, they simply dropped it. Did they think no one would notice?
The two articles of impeachment sent to the House judiciary committee this week are, instead, “abuse of power” and “obstruction of Congress.” Abuse of power is an undefined offence; unlike bribery, it means different things to different people.
The charge that Mr. Trump obstructed Congress by ordering current and former members of his administration to defy subpoenas to testify before the House intelligence committee is based on even weaker evidence. What U.S. president has not resisted congressional subpoenas? Besides, it is up to U.S. courts to decide whether subpoenas must be obeyed.
Democratic House members who represent swing districts that Mr. Trump won in 2016 will find it hard to defend these articles of impeachment, drummed up by committee chairmen Adam Schiff and Jerrold Nadler, both of whom come from solidly blue districts. Ms. Pelosi may need to allow some moderate Democrats to vote against impeachment to save their seats.
Still, enough House Democrats will vote yes, perhaps as early as next week, to make Mr. Trump only the third U.S. president to be impeached. To turn back now would be to concede that they have wasted most of 2019 indulging their hate-on for the President for nothing.
The Senate will acquit Mr. Trump, however, maybe even without calling witnesses. And if Mr. Biden does end up as the Democratic nominee – the odds remain about even – his son’s still-unexplained membership on the board of a natural-gas company in a notoriously corrupt country all while Mr. Biden was vice-president, will surely come back to haunt him.
So, pray for Ms. Pelosi. She and her party may need all the prayers they can get in 2020.