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Thoughts on Speaker Pelosi and Impeachment

WASHINGTON, DC - APRIL 04: U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speaks during her weekly news conference at the U.S. Capitol on April 4, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chen Mengtong/China News Service/VCG via Getty Images)
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May 21, 2019 1:49 p.m.

TPM Reader JP has thoughts about Nancy Pelosi and the difference between leading the Democratic caucus and being – whether she wants it or not – the Democrats current national leader. The inside game and the outside game, if you will. I have some comments in response below …

Was reading yet another reference to Pelosi’s infighting with her caucus:

In observing the public machinations and gyrations Speaker Pelosi continues to conduct regarding impeachment I found myself thinking back to the position she took during the ACA debate. More than anything I think it highlights the significant gap in her effectiveness at inside baseball (passage of legislation) and outside baseball (directing the public politics regarding a compelling national issue such as impeachment). Ultimately both goals are the same: keep your caucus unified and get a win for your side (and then sell the win to the country).

With the ACA she made a lot of very reluctant moderate/conservative Dems walk the plank for the ACA. They told her there were concerned this would cost them their seats and in the end their majority in the house. They were proved right but in the face of that she was able to to get them in line and the ACA was passed. Maybe she thought the Obama Administration would do the heavy lifting selling the ACA but she obviously decided that either this was worth giving up the House majority for or she was wrong on the politics and the subsequent Republican sweep caught her by surprise. Bottom line when she needed to exert pressure inside the Dems caucus she did so effectively.

Now comes the issue of Impeachment and she has yet to corral her caucus or make compelling public case for her position. She is not a great public speaker (I guess musicians would say she doesn’t have the “chops”) and substantively she cannot boil her position down to the kind of sound-bite that works for the media. The other issue I’m guessing is driving the caucus to scratch their heads is: So the ACA was worth giving up the house majority but Impeachment is not? She either lacks a coherent set of priorities or is just not good at reading and developing the public side of politics required to manage this kind of dispute with the Administration.

She is a terrific and effective actor inside the Capitol (see negotiations with the Progressives following the 2018 elections to quell the resistance to her as Speaker) but that does not necessarily translate to her being an effective public representative to manage this conflict brought on by the Administration. She either needs to get better at the public politics aspect of this quickly or turn it over to someone else.

JP’s comments crystallized a key issue for me. Whatever its shortcomings, it was worth losing the House majority to pass the ACA. We gain majorities not to keep majorities but to accomplish specific things. Whether it could have been handled differently, whether there could have been a better ACA if losing the House were a given or if the politics could have been managed better after the fact, I don’t know. But if the question were put to me, if you could do it over again, would you want to pass the ACA at the cost of losing the House, I’d say absolutely. Despite all the efforts to get rid of it, the ACA is still providing health care to millions of people.

Passing articles of impeachment is literally nothing. If there were more than a theoretical chance of removing the President from office it would be different. But there is not. So the idea that impeaching the President might be something worth losing the House over just captures the folly of this reasoning.

Now, as it happens, I don’t think that’s really the issue. I want to elaborate on this in a separate post. But I’m not against moving immediately toward impeachment because I think it’s bad politics. I’m against it because I think it’s irrelevant and I have no real desire to do irrelevant things when I think we’re in the midst of an on-going national crisis.

As I said, I’ll elaborate on these points in another post. But this reasoning illustrates to me how we are collectively beguiled by the word impeachment.

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