So, this morning I was listening to DemocracyNow!, and I found myself in the uncomfortable position of possibly being wrong about something I’ve recently written about in politics: namely, regarding Nancy Pelosi’s (currently) negative position on impeachment.

Constitutional law attorney John Bonifaz is highly critical of Speaker Pelosi in this interview from this morning, even going so far as to claim her actions an “abdication of her responsibility and of her oath;” Bonifaz claims that the impeachment of Nixon, for example, never would have begun, had the same political standard that Pelosi is applying to Trump now, been applied to Nixon then. But, curiously, Bonifaz does not go into detail, in his description of the House Judiciary Committee hearings of 1973, regarding who in the House first brought the resolution. That resolution, H.Res. 975, was brought on May 9, 1972, by Representative William Fitts Ryan (D-NY). He was not a junior member by that time, having been in the House for eleven years, and having been elected five times. However, he was also not Speaker of the House. He died that same year, and would never see the fruits of H.Res. 975. But, he was the one who started it, where the formal impeachment process would not begin until almost two years later, on February 6, 1974. According to Wikipedia:

“An impeachment process against Richard Nixon was formally initiated on February 6, 1974, when the United States House of Representatives passed a resolution, H.Res. 803, giving its Judiciary Committee authority to investigate whether sufficient grounds existed to impeach Richard Nixon, the 37th President of the United States[1] of high crimes and misdemeanors, primarily related to the Watergate scandal. This investigation was undertaken one year after the United States Senate established a select committee to investigate the 1972 break-in at the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C. and the Nixon Administration’s attempted cover-up of its involvement.” –Wikipedia, Impeachment process against Richard Nixon

Bonifaz’ core message, it would seem to me, is that in this chicken-and-egg argument of who should start what, an ideal House of Representatives should always be willing to take action immediately, regardless of the presence of grassroots citizen pressure. This is in keeping, I would imagine, with Representatives’ oaths, and with what “the Constitution demands” (the title of his August 2018 book). When impeachment proceedings were first brought against Nixon in the House, Bonifaz observes, there was very little Senate support for impeaching Nixon, just as the situation in the Senate currently stands with Trump. It was the bringing of the resolution to impeach, Bonifaz point outs, that stimulated the national conversation that would later grow to a sufficient critical mass to compel the Senate to take action.

But, I don’t think that I ever suggested that the House not bring articles of impeachment. I think that I simply stated that I don’t believe that Speaker Pelosi should lead the charge.

Speaker Pelosi could do it. She still represents her constituency, a majority of which probably support impeachment. But, that is not the whole picture anymore, for her. Now she is also Speaker, and that carries with it a certain political responsibility to all of the other House members, many of whom are more ‘centrist,’ and who did not get elected by their constituencies on a promise to impeach, but to address ‘kitchen table issues’ regardless of what those elected Representatives believe, individually, the Constitution may (or may not) demand. At the end of the day, Representatives are elected by citizens, and citizens might not know what the Constitution says, or even care about what it says if they do. So, the political reality is often– and, I would imagine, particularly in times of impeachment– at practical odds with “what the Constitution demands.” As Pelosi may have implied, if the politics for impeachment are not there, then the Constitution, without the necessary political will, could collapse with the same house of cards.

As for Pelosi’s statement that Trump “isn’t worth it” to impeach, I’ve chosen to simply ignore it. Using the rules of English grammar as applied to human beings, and to presidents in particular, I have absolutely no idea what that phrase means, and so I’m not going to try to parse it, or hold it against her.

What I might have missed in my calculus is a distinction of nuance: most of what I said two days ago, if not all of it, I still suspect holds true. But, it may not have been a complete picture. I’ve already said that Pelosi needs more grassroots, national political support before she should get behind impeachment. But, that grassroots national political support, to synthesize into a kitchen table conversation, might require a catalyst in the House, brought by junior members doing what the Constitution demands, first. In my previous writings, I did not specifically make that distinction.

So, Bonifaz’s criticism of Pelosi might be one more based in idealism, or a strict reading of Constitutional requirement, than it is one based in practical political considerations. As I have pointed out with the William Fitz Ryan example, however, Bonifaz’ criticism does not appear to have very strong historical context. In this, I still suspect he’s wrong to criticize Pelosi, especially considering that Pelosi has appeared to use such nebulous language.

I do believe that Trump should be impeached as quickly as possible, and so I am in support of the junior House members bringing a resolution, much like Rep. Ryan did against Nixon in 1972. My writings on this have been consistent since November 9, 2016: I would prefer to see Trump removed from office before 2020, so that Democrats do not have to fight him in a campaign at all. If a movement to impeach brought by junior members were to fail, though, then it would fail when it was supposed to, and with the least amount of political harm done (I am also curious as to whether a resolution could be brought up again at a later time, where it might be presumed that there would be minimal harm to overcome from the previous failure, if the first attempt had started small, and then failed small). But, if Pelosi were to lead the charge, then it could spell real disaster. She would instantly become a premature focal point of the opposition instead of the junior members (Donald Trump has even thanked her in his most recent tweet), where that opposition could bring her entire leadership judgment into question, hobbling any possible future efforts to impeach. Additionally, her taking the lead would almost predict failure itself. Why should the Speaker take up the charge, without the junior members having done so first? Her doing so just doesn’t seem to make sense; that is, unless virtually all House members were willing to support the resolution all at the same time. And, that just isn’t going to happen.

So, I find myself in disagreement with Bonifaz’ criticism of Pelosi, just as I disagreed with Tom Steyer’s (virtually exact same) criticism of her. Neither appear to have taken the political reality fully into consideration, whereas Pelosi, it would seem to me, has. I still believe that Pelosi has made the correct, cryptic call. Remember: 72% of Republicans in America believe that Donald Trump is a good role model for children. If the House Democrats’ leader were to take the charge against such a walled fortress as that, then she would almost without question fall within the first volleys. What, then? Chaos.

I look forward to House Democrats bringing articles of impeachment for all of the impeachable offenses that we already know, or have very good reason to believe, Trump has committed. Stop the infighting, though. It does not send a good message to Americans to see Democrats criticizing other Democrats, and particularly their leader in the House. Under this nuanced understanding, junior House Democrats, I believe, should continue to press for a national conversation. Speaker Pelosi, I am confident, will do what she should do, when and if the time comes.

Impeaching Trump: Pelosi Says It’s “Not Worth It,” But Progressive Democrats Push Ahead

Story • DemocracyNow! • March 14, 2019