House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., opened the debate Wednesday on whether to impeach President Donald Trump solemnly. And after Trump became only the third president in the history of our Republic to be impeached Wednesday evening, there was no joyous celebration — in fact, the speaker icily stared down some in her own party who applauded the vote on the House floor.
That Trump was successfully impeached says a lot about the level of frustration with Trump in Washington D.C. right now. But it is also a sweet, sweet victory for Nancy Pelosi, who has been second-guessed and criticized at every step in the process.
It is also a sweet, sweet victory for Nancy Pelosi, who has been second-guessed and criticized at every step of the process.
The speaker has no time to celebrate, however. Now, Pelosi must decide how and when to send the approved articles of impeachment to the U.S. Senate, triggering a Senate trial. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has pledged to do everything in his power to exonerate Trump — including working with White House counsel — raising fears that any Senate proceeding will be rigged.
As a reminder, getting to this historic moment has been ugly. Pelosi was criticized by everyone from Trump to her fellow progressives, including myself. Obviously, Trump was outraged when she moved forward on impeachment. But many on the left felt she had moved too slow, arguing she should have opened an impeachment inquiry right after special counsel Robert Mueller released his detailed report in April.
That report, while not finding evidence that Trump had criminally conspired with Russia to help his 2016 campaign, did detail ten possible instances of obstruction of justice committed by Trump personally. “If we had confidence after a thorough investigation of the facts that the President clearly did not commit obstruction of justice, we would so state,” wrote Mueller.
Mueller’s word set off a firestorm among Democrats, many of whom argued this was enough evidence to impeach Trump immediately. By June, a Gallup poll found a whopping 81 percent of Democrats supported beginning impeachment proceedings against Trump. Yet Pelosi refused to move forward. In late July, a steadfast Pelosi declared “we will proceed when we have what we need to proceed. Not one day sooner.” Understanding the stakes, Pelosi noted that she knew this decision would be an unpopular one. “Everybody has the liberty and luxury to espouse their own position and to criticize me for trying to go down the path in the most determined, positive way,” she said.
And criticize her we did. On my SiriusXM radio show, countless progressives slammed her for not pushing forward. Some asked if Trump was blackmailing her, or worse, pondered if Pelosi actually wanted Trump to win in 2020. I, too, wondered about the delay and urged Pelosi to proceed. I criticized the speaker for not listening to the Democratic base. I even wrote an article for CNN arguing Pelosi’s apparent reluctance was helping Trump politically (at the time the president’s approval ratings were sliding upwards.)
But I was wrong. In fact, all of us who pressured Pelosi to begin impeachment before she was ready were wrong.
Pelosi understood that despite the damning words of the Mueller report, Democrats needed more evidence, especially Democrats in swing states. Indeed, as Pelosi was rebuffing our calls to impeach this summer, only about 38 percent of all Americans supported impeaching Trump, with 54 percent opposed. And at the time, only about 100 members of the House Democratic caucus (out of 235 members) were publicly on board with impeaching Trump.
Pelosi understood that despite the damning words of the Mueller report, Democrats needed more evidence, especially Democrats in swing states.
This started to change in the fall, after we learned that Trump had asked the Ukrainian president to investigate 2020 Democratic rival Joe Biden. Pelosi moved swiftly to hold a formal impeachment inquiry, announcing on Sept. 24 that Trump’s actions represented a “betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections.”
Public opinion on impeachment also started to shift, jumping from about 39 percent in support of impeachment to an average of 48 percent. A new Fox News poll released on Sunday reported support for impeaching Trump had reached 50 percent, up slightly from 49 percent in October.
At the same time, Pelosi spent the fall working hard to unite her diverse caucus — and for the most she part succeeded. Only two Democrats opposed the first article of impeachment, and just three opposed the second article (one lawmaker, Hawaii Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, voted “present.”) This was no easy task — while plenty of Democrats have been hardline supporters of impeachment, many others face challenging re-elections. Supporting impeachment could cost them in November, but even these representatives ultimately joined with Pelosi.
In 2018, former President Barack Obama summed up Pelosi’s gifts well. Her “skill, tenacity, toughness, vision, is remarkable,” he said. “Her ability to stand her ground and do hard things and to suffer unpopularity to get the right thing done… stands up against any person that I've observed or worked directly with in Washington during my lifetime.”
Pelosi’s skills as speaker and her ability to stand her ground have paid dividends. And she was right — about everything.
- Dean Obeidallah, a lawyer, hosts "The Dean Obeidallah Show" on SiriusXM radio's Progress channel and is a columnist for The Daily Beast.
This piece was first published by NBC Think.
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