Why you should care
Because this game of impeachment chicken is getting serious.
It’s never easy for a president to deal with a speaker of the House of the opposing party. Newt Gingrich and Bill Clinton sparred over impeachment, government shutdowns and making Gingrich use the back door to deplane Air Force One. Barack Obama and John Boehner seemed temperamentally simpatico, even getting in a golf round, but brought the nation to the brink of credit default because they couldn’t complete a spending deal.
As for Nancy Pelosi, she’s on her second tour of Pennsylvania Avenue combat.
At a White House news conference the day after the 2006 midterm elections, a Democratic sweep that would see Pelosi installed as the first female speaker of the House, CNN’s Suzanne Malveaux teed up a doozy of a question for President George W. Bush.
“With all due respect, Nancy Pelosi has called you incompetent, a liar, the emperor with no clothes” — at this point Bush smirked and tugged a bit on his suit jacket — “and as recently as yesterday, dangerous. How will you work with someone who has such little respect for your leadership and who is third in line to the presidency?” Bush replied that he had had nasty things said about him in campaigns before, and he was genuinely interested in working with Democrats. “If you hold grudges in this line of work, you’ll never get anything done,” he said.
In his own post-midterm news conference, President Donald Trump made noises about wanting to work with Pelosi, and he appears to genuinely appreciate her ability to command her Democratic troops. But he also drew the line then: If Democrats spent their time investigating him, he would assume a “warlike posture” and there would be no legislating.
So this week’s blowup, when Trump stormed out of a meeting with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, should have been no surprise. The meeting topic supposedly was a massive infrastructure plan that was always doomed to fail — for weeks each side has been merely positioning to blame the other for the failure. But Trump walked in and scolded the Democrats for their investigations, then went out to talk to the press with a handy “no collusion, no obstruction” sign already in place.
But this is more than the usual Washington gamesmanship. The fight is getting uglier and more personal by the day. Hours after calling himself an “extremely stable genius” and calling on staff to tell the press corps how stable he is, Trump tweeted a Fox Business segment that creatively edited a Pelosi news conference to imply that she was stumbling and incoherent, followed by talking heads speculating on her mental acuity. Pelosi, meanwhile, said Trump’s staff or family should conduct “an intervention for the good of the country.”
So what does this mean for the impeach-o-meter? It’s rising, but not yet at the critical stage. Trump, with his faux horror at the I-word, is goading Democrats into impeaching him by flatly resisting any oversight at all. The courts so far are ruling against Trump, but appeals will tie these things up for a while. In Democrats’ quest for the documents and witnesses they want in order to make the case about Trump’s unfitness for office, an impeachment inquiry might be helpful in court — and would certainly drive media attention on Trump scandals. But no one should pretend it will end with his removal from office.
Pelosi — just as she did by taking impeachment of Bush “off the table” in 2006 — is trying her best to hold off, surmising that even if House Democrats held together to impeach (no sure thing), a Senate “acquittal” on removing Trump from office would be invaluable fodder for the president’s reelection. This week’s Trump tussling took some of the attention away from her party’s internal divisions on whether to impeach, but they’ll bubble up again when Congress reconvenes after the Memorial Day break, and the grudge match will continue.