Yesterday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced that the House of Representatives would not move forward with a vote on impeachment any time soon. The statement comes as a month of pressure has built up behind efforts to unseat the president over a phone call with the Ukrainian president. While Democrats insist, contrary to precedent, that they do not need to hold a vote, their unwillingness to hold one may show the impeachment train is skidding off the tracks.
In the giddy early days of the “impeachment investigation” over Ukraine, Democrats saw the polls move in their direction. But those polls have now stabilized and in some cases crept back against impeachment. Even at the peak, impeaching and removing the president was only popular among those who already opposed the president.
So as the groundswell subsides, could Democrats really reverse course and abandon an impeachment that just last week seemed imminent? Surprisingly, yes, they could.
The central thing to consider here is that impeachment is a political, not a legal, process. Despite their insistence that there are plenty of reasons to impeach Trump, Democrats have yet to do so. Why not? It seems clear that they do not believe they have sufficient political support in the country for the move. Not only do they risk infuriating Trump’s base, there are also many independent voters who seem to have little interest in this process.
Along with this, consider that when and if the House Democrats ever actually hold a vote on impeachment, which could leave incumbents in purple seats vulnerable, the ball will move into the Senate’s court and Pelosi and the House will have no more control over it. That’s a very big deal, because from the day they took over the House the Democrats have been able to frustrate Trump with impeachment talk any time they want to step on his initiatives or triumphs. Once a vote is held, that is over.
Put simply, the build up to impeachment is much more politically valuable to Democrats than impeachment itself. An actual vote to impeach Trump puts the story out of their hands and into Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s. He could choose, like a cat playing with a soon-dead mouse, to drag the inevitable acquittal of Trump out as long as he wants. Meanwhile, the entire Democratic Party, including its eventual nominee for president, will be demanding a Senate conviction that won’t happen.
Instead, Senate Republicans and Trump himself would use the Senate trial as an opportunity to prove that this has all been a witch-hunt. They would argue that, after the special counsel investigation, once promised to be Trump’s Waterloo, failed, the floundering Party of Jefferson and Jackson found a second-rate scandal to hang impeachment. Yet it isn’t any kind of crime or misdemeanor, high or otherwise.
An eventual Trump victory in a Senate trial, whenever it comes, perhaps leading into his convention for example, will be used by the president to proclaim total exoneration. “Not guilty!” he will insist. “Proof of the witch hunt!” He’d take victory laps that would put Mario Andretti to shame. And what can the House Democrats say when that happens? That they knew it would happen? That it was inevitable with a GOP majority in the Senate? Well, if so, why did they engage in this farce to begin with?
No. Today the inevitable is starting to seem far less likely. The pros of formally impeaching the president are a molehill next the mountain of cons. If they finish their process, impeach, and yield to the Senate, they become irrelevant. Their constant yammering about wrongdoing turns into a legal process where facts will be demanded and the president will walk free.
Anyone paying attention knows this is what Pelosi has feared from day one, and with good reason. Her far-left caucus has been goading her, as has the president, into an informal impeachment, and she clearly still does not want it. She is wise not to.
There is one more issue here: the media. Won’t the leftist press be outraged if once again the House Democrats demure on impeachment? No, they won’t. As always, they will call the move brave and wise, and laud Pelosi for keeping the House the narrator of the White House story with forever investigations instead of handing that story to the Senate. Nothing ventured, something gained, the stories will say.
The bottom line is this. Once the gavel falls on an actual impeachment, the House, the only chamber the Democrats hold, becomes irrelevant. That is a political disaster, and it is why the Democrats are still very unlikely to actually pull that trigger.