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Pelosi’s Secret Impeachment Strategy

July 4th, 2019 by dk

Is U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi slow-walking her caucus toward impeachment hearings? Yes, certainly, but with more strategy than she’s been willing to reveal. While most observers of Pelosi’s moves are looking at their watches, Pelosi’s eye is on the calendar.

Pelosi has the votes to impeach the president anytime she wants — that’s not the issue. If the Senate doesn’t muster 67 votes to convict, the House’s effort could help President Trump more than hurt him. Other Republican Senators may follow Sen. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) in supporting impeachment, but that’s not Pelosi’s only alternative.

Which brings us back to this view of her slow-walking strategy. When Newt Gingrich led the House of Representatives to impeach President Bill Clinton, Gingrich’s impetuous anger created political problems for his party. He should have paid more attention to the calendar.

Clinton was impeached by the House on Dec. 19, 1998. Republicans did what Pelosi has stoutly refused to do. Impeaching the president became their first order of business after the midterm elections. On Feb. 12, 1999, the Senate voted along party lines to not convict the president, leaving House GOP leadership in disarray.

All the hearings and wall-to-wall television coverage happened after the 1998 midterm election and before the 2000 presidential campaign was getting underway. Gingrich gave the president’s party a narrative of legislative overreach and ultimate exoneration. Clinton used it for the next 21 months, leaving office with sky-high approval ratings.

Gingrich’s decision to go for the presidential jugular immediately after the midterm elections proved fatal. Democrats gained seats in the House for three elections in a row. Pelosi seems determined to learn from this history.

2020 promises to be a tough cycle for Republicans to maintain control of the Senate. Democrats will be defending only 12 of their current Senate seats. Republicans have 22 seats in play. Here’s where attention to the calendar could become devilishly detailed.

Democratic presidential candidates would love to run on the coattails of impeachment hearings, but Pelosi wants to deny President Trump any narrative that includes an acquittal from the Republican-controlled Senate.

Pelosi can complicate things for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky) by delaying the House vote on impeachment articles until late next summer. If the Senate’s first chance to weigh in comes that late in the campaign season, McConnell will be faced with a difficult choice.

Should he keep his Senate colleagues in session during the fall to clear the president’s name? Or should he allow his members to stay home to campaign to keep their seats? If Pelosi times the impeachment hearings to this calendar, she can force McConnell to choose between defending the president or his Senate majority.

If the timing is right, Democrats can spend the summer describing the particulars and the inevitability of impeachment. They can also ask voters to give them control of the Senate, so they can finish the job.

This campaign message will work only if Pelosi circles strategic dates on the 2020 campaign calendar and slow-walks the House’s inquiries around those circles.


Don Kahle ( writes a column each Friday for The Register-Guard and blogs at

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