a citizen’s journal by Thomas Nephew

Pelosi’s Choice

Posted by Thomas Nephew on August 5th, 2007

The weekend closes with me still processing a couple of articles reporting on Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s statements on Tuesday about impeachment. As first reported by the Nation’s Ari Berman:

“The question of impeachment is something that would divide the country,” Pelosi said this morning during a wide-ranging discussion in the ornate Speaker’s office.* Her top priorities are ending the war in Iraq, expanding health care, creating jobs and preserving the environment. “I know what our success can be on those issues. I don’t know what our success can be on impeaching the president.” Democratic Party leaders do not have the votes to pass an impeachment resolution. And Democrats could be judged harshly for partisan gridlock, just as the American people turned on Congressional Republicans in the 90s for pursuing the impeachment of President Clinton

Writing for the Washington Post, Harold Meyerson reports:

Pelosi understands the gravity of the damage that the administration has done to the Constitution and why that has impelled some of her colleagues to advocate impeachment. “If I were not the speaker and I were not in Congress,” she said, very quietly, as she concluded her answer, “I would probably be advocating for impeachment.” But the consequences she foresees from stopping the nation’s business for an unwinnable fight outweighs those considerations.


She is greatly disturbed by the lawlessness of this Administration and its contempt for checks and balances. “I take an oath to defend and protect the Constitution, so it is a top priority for me and my colleagues to uphold that.” She notes the vigorous oversight hearings held by committee chairman like John Conyers and Henry Waxman.

But Pelosi sees impeaching Gonzales and his superiors as a distraction from the ambitious agenda she has crafted for the House. … “If I can just hold my caucus together,” she says, “I can take them to this progressive place.”

Pelosi’s remarks can be confirmed in the transcript of Pelosi’s remarks and the embedded recording to the upper right*; little about the questions posed or the broader context of Pelosi’s remarks changes what is, at least to my mind, a very strange message. To recap:

  1. Pelosi acknowledges she has taken “an oath to defend and protect the Constitution, so it is…
  2. a top priority” for her and her colleagues to uphold that.
  3. But because she “doesn’t know what her success on impeachment could be” and because…
  4. “the question of impeachment would divide the country” she opposes impeachment even though…
  5. …if she were not the Speaker and in Congress she’d probably be advocating for impeachment herself. Meanwhile…
  6. …if she can just hold her caucus together she can lead us to “this progressive place.”

In response, I suppose I think

Dear Nancy,

  1. I’m glad you acknowledge the oath you took, but…
  2. …that oath makes defending the Constitution more than “a priority,” it makes it an inescapable responsibility…
  3. …whether or not you know you can succeed, and…
  4. …whether or not it would “divide the country.” Here’s a late breaking news flash: everything divides the country. Impeachment is a chance for you to stick up for your side of the debate and do what’s right, all at the same time.
  5. But until then, please don’t ever say again that you’d advocate impeachment as a private citizen. You utterly devalue and demean that goal so many of us are working for by saying it’s suddenly out of the question and off the table once you’re in power. You can’t have this cake and eat it, too.
  6. Finally, wherever this “progressive place” that you’re talking about is located, if it’s a place where you let the Constitution burn in order to (probably not even) pass an SCHIP bill into law, I think it’s frankly a stupid place to want to be.**

There’s no doubt that Pelosi and other leadership Democrats feel they face a stark choice in the days and weeks and months ahead; do they sacrifice their principles, or do they sacrifice their policy goals?

Let me suggest that things are really simpler than that. It’s clear that Democrats will not achieve more than a very small fraction of their policy goals anyway. The Senate Republicans have gotten away with making everything require a supermajority of 60 votes to pass, and what little gets past that hurdle faces a Bush veto — even if the bill is about insuring uninsured children.

In truth, just like Sophie in the book, Nancy doesn’t really have much of a choice — but it seems a good deal clearer which choice she should make. Given her apparent lack of power in pushing her domestic and Iraq policy agendas, she is a private citizen to all intents and purposes — but one with an oath to uphold and an office to do it from.

If it were me, I’d try to save the Constitution. That is, I’d try to save it for at least a little while, before this president or one down the road finishes it off altogether — no doubt with this Speaker or another one wringing her hands and saying to defend it would divide the country.

* Available via the “Maria Leavey Breakfast Series” in memory of Maria Leavey.
** And Harold Meyerson is a git for using one of the few soapboxes permitted to liberals and progressives to repeatedly insist otherwise.

5 Responses to “Pelosi’s Choice”

  1. tom Says:

    I wrote a letter to Klobuchar. I don’t know if she ran some numbers and figured out that she needed votes in Stillwater to win reelection in 2012. Or maybe she figures people will have forgotten about it by then. The gist of my letter was pretty simple though. In six months reverse the vote or I’m voting for the Independence party.

  2. Thomas Nephew Says:

    I’m honestly just catching up with the FISA business after an early warning by Nell — I’ve probably been too focused on local impeachment stuff.
    I’m going to write a similar letter to Senator Barbara Mikulski — a big disappointment on this now as well as on the Iraq supplemental vote a couple of months ago (has it been that long). Problem is, of course, that reversals are subject to veto — it’s much more of an uphill battle now that they’ve caved on this. [[UPDATE: well, not quite what I said — I see that the 6 month sunset provision survived, so I assume it starts from scratch 6 months from now — February, middle of the primaries. I’m afraid Dems won’t be any braver then.]]
    Fundamentally, this and impeachment both need to be presidential campaign issues; we could have used some leadership from more candidates about both issues before now.

  3. Thomas Nephew Says:

    Maybe “fundamentally” is a bad choice of words there. I’m so deeply disappointed with Democrats now — impeachment, now this — that I’m re-evaluating a lot of assumptions. In some ways the 6 month sunset is the cruelest cut of all — it asks me to suspend my disbelief for half a year and *then* see whether my lifelong party has any point left to it. At this point in my life, I’m not sure I can wait that long any more.

  4. » Blog Archive » A delicious yummy mess of pottage Says:

    […] back.  And that was because we were looking forward to that “progressive place” Pelosi prattled on about once — serious liberal Democrats like Harold Meyerson and Chris Van Hollen and Eric Alterman […]

  5. » Blog Archive » Next stupid wingnut trick: phony 12 year olds Says:

    […] administration. Harold Meyerson was pleased, though, so it must have been all right. Via “Pelosi’s Choice,” this blog. UPDATE, EDIT, 10/9: parenthetical rewritten (“within several […]

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