LAST FALL, WHEN Speaker Nancy Pelosi led Democrats back to a majority in the House of Representatives she was showered with praise for her political acumen.

But less than a year later, Democrats are increasingly seeing the downside of having their most powerful elected official more focused on protecting moderate House members than looking out for the broader health of the party — and the country.

Of greatest concern is the pass she is giving President Trump and his administration on its law-breaking and unethical behavior.

Pelosi has practically ruled out impeachment, and her committee chairmen are seemingly slow-walking deeper investigations of his administration. This week, after the arrest of alleged serial pedophile Jeffrey Epstein, she put the kibosh on congressional investigations into Labor Secretary Alex Acosta, who gave Epstein a sweetheart deal more than a decade ago when he served as a federal prosecutor.


Pelosi suggested Congress had better things to do than pesky stuff like oversight. “We have a great deal of work to do here for the good of the American people and need to focus on that,” she said.

Thankfully, Acosta has now resigned. But Pelosi’s unwillingness to highlight a cabinet member’s role in covering for the heinous acts of a powerful, wealthy man is troublesome.

The speaker is seemingly doing everything she can to avoid getting in public fights with the Trump administration — even as she finds time to pick needless battles with prominent liberal members of her Democratic caucus.

Last week, her clash with freshman liberal firebrands Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley became the talk of Washington after she derided them for “their public whatever and their Twitter world” and was dismissive of their political power.

Unlike AOC et al., most of Pelosi’s freshman Democratic members won their seats in red or purple districts and will be vulnerable in 2020. Pelosi seems to believe that protecting these members means tacking to the center, avoiding messy partisan fights, and passing legislation that has zero chance of being enacted into law by the Republican-controlled Senate.


There is, no doubt, some political wisdom in this strategy. But her narrow, parochial approach risks undermining the Democrats’ fight against Trump and frustrating the party’s most committed voters.

As the most prominent elected Democrat in the country, Pelosi alone has the power to challenge Trump and the GOP by ramping up investigations and even impeaching the president. Yes, House committee chairmen are regularly sending out new subpoenas — subpoenas which the White House consistently ignores. But there is an unmistakable sluggishness surrounding the House’s investigations.

Pelosi has the power to go after Trump and his administration aggressively — a move that could pay political dividends by raising the partisan temperature in Washington a year-and-a-half before a presidential election that could turn on Democrats’ ability to mobilize their core voters.

Pelosi seemingly has smaller fish to fry. She has shown herself to be a creature of the House of Representatives, stubbornly refusing to act like a national Democrat and broaden her gaze beyond the three dozen or so moderate-leaning House districts that are essential to her remaining speaker.

At a time when the Democrats need a figure who is capable of sharpening the political and policy differences between the two parties, Pelosi is focused almost exclusively on the internal dynamics of the House. She is bringing a knife to a gun fight and showing, on an almost daily basis, that she’s not up to the immense task of challenging and defeating a corrupt and law-breaking president.


Michael A. Cohen’s column appears regularly in the Globe. Follow him on Twitter @speechboy71.