Welcome, Madame Speaker. We’ve been waiting — and waiting — for you.
When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi finally announced Tuesday a formal impeachment inquiry against President Trump, it felt as anticlimactic as celebratory. After so many months trapped between a brazenly lawless president and inert House Democrats, it’s tough to imagine that there may be signs of life toward resolution and accountability.
In detailing her reasons for the inquiry, Pelosi said Trump’s actions with President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine “revealed the dishonorable fact of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security, and betrayal of the integrity of our elections.”
While Pelosi’s most ardent supporters have always claimed everything was proceeding as she intended, I’m not convinced this is what the speaker wanted at all. She likely preferred that Trump not force her hand. Allowing the voters to decide in the 2020 presidential election whether Trump remained in the White House was her mantra.
Meanwhile Trump, like the authoritarian he thinks he became when he “took over the United States” — his words — continued ignoring the rule of law without facing repercussions of any kind. Deliberate inaction looked like complicity.
Then came Trump’s admission that he withheld $391 million in military aid for Ukraine about a week before a phone call to Zelensky in which Trump is believed to have pressured him to find dirt on Hunter Biden, son of former vice president and Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden.
Trump now says he will release “the complete, fully declassified, and unredacted transcript” of his conversation” with Zelensky. It’s bitterly hilarious that we’re expected to trust a pathological liar who claims the transcript won’t be censored or doctored.
Still, the Ukraine scandal became a bridge too far even for some once-reticent House Democrats, including Pelosi.
While speaking Tuesday at the Atlantic Festival, Pelosi said, somewhat condescendingly, “We have many other, shall we say, candidates for impeachable offense in terms of the Constitution . . . but this one is the most understandable by the public.”
Two lawmakers from Massachusetts — Representative Ayanna Pressley and Senator Elizabeth Warren, who is vying to replace Trump in the White House — have been calling for an impeachment inquiry for months. Now a steady trickle of discontent has become a deluge.
As of Tuesday afternoon, 174 of 235 House Democrats were calling for an impeachment inquiry. When Representative John Lewis, the civil rights icon and moral heart of his colleagues, spoke on the House floor, it seemed as if he were speaking directly to Pelosi.
“There comes a time when you have to be moved by the spirit of history to take action to protect and preserve the integrity of our nation,” he said. “I truly believe the time to begin impeachment proceedings against this president has come. To delay or do otherwise is to betray the foundation of our democracy.”
In the history of this nation, there’s no road map for what Trump is doing in broad daylight, but its cure is spelled out quite explicitly in the Constitution: “The House of Representatives . . . shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.”
It’s possible that Trump’s “very good brain” has convinced him that he’ll be humiliated next November, and he’ll settle for breaking everything on his way out the door. During impeachment hearings, he’ll bathe himself in martyrdom, and his cronies will claim this is nothing short of a bloodless coup. He may even ramp up the notion that the sure-to-be acrimonious proceedings will energize his loyal, easily-aggrieved base enough to propel him to a second term in office.
It can also inspire a Democratic base that has watched helplessly as Trump’s lawlessness perverts the Constitution, and everything in his path. Never should it have taken this long.
Pelosi is one of the savviest politicians of her generation, and she hasn’t lasted this long as a power player in the cesspool of American politics without understanding how to win against a stacked deck. Yes, an impeachment inquiry will bring this nation terrible grief. Still, Pelosi now recognizes what many of us have long known — it will be nothing compared to the ongoing horror of one more minute of Trump amok and unchecked.