Nancy Pelosi has a long history of knowing when to play it safe and when to rock the boat
✎ WAYNE K. SPEAR | JULY 12, 2019 • Politics
ON THE DAY Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was born, 13 October 1989, Nancy Pelosi was two years into a Congressional career that would yield the highest ranking female politician of American history. Pelosi inherited a seat twice vacated by death, the first of Phillip Burton and the second of his wife Sala. From the former Pelosi also inherited a commitment to AIDS research and legislation, concerns which at the time set her apart from the Washington establishment and in particular the Reagan administration.
I begin here to remind the reader—should the reminder be necessary—there was a time Nancy Pelosi was something of an Ocasio-Cortez figure, pushing controversial and outside-the-box thinking on recalcitrant colleagues. As a San Francisco Democrat, Pelosi came to Washington from a district that had been consistently blue since she attended her first national convention in 1952. In the alchemy of these contradictory themes, of safety and boat-rocking, the career of Speaker Pelosi was forged.
No one survives even in the safest of districts without wits, and Pelosi is a sharp and shrewd politician. Obamacare could well and with good reason have been called Pelosicare, dependant as its passage was on her considerable skills. She is among the most competent and effective Speakers of the House of the past forty years. But longevity has its hazards. It wasn’t long ago that Pelosi held up the liberal end of the argument. Today we have the younger and more strident voices of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ayanna Pressley, Rashida Tlaib, and Ilhan Omar—a fresh generation of Democrats keen to take on the President. Pelosi has now become the resistance, not of Trump but of the mavericks within her own party.
The President will not be removed from office by means of an impeachment vote. Pelosi’s calculation is that hearings will only aid Trump’s fortunes in 2020, by supplying fuel to his engine of paranoia and vindictiveness. She’s been around long enough to have noticed that impeachment is now (along with the special counsel) an all-weather political tool, drawn from the chest as a matter of routine business, a habit that does not exactly thrill the public. “You can’t impeach everybody,” she has said, when in fact her career seems to have taught her that you can’t impeach anybody—not even Bill Clinton, whose removal from office had the support of the House but not of the Senate.
The case for impeachment has two aspects, one political and one principle. On the political side one must calculate the electoral hazards, and who can doubt that Pelosi has done so. The principle aspect requires an answer to the question, Does the President merit impeachment? Pelosi’s rivals in the Democratic party have answered this question to their satisfaction. They want to exercise the oversight function of Congress and send a message that no President is above the law. Pelosi however appears interested only in the political calculation.
She believes the centre will hold and that Trump will succumb to something that she calls self-impeachment. The voters will decide. Perhaps in the meanwhile evangelicals will restrain the President in matters such as mass raids and deportations. Secretary Acosta’s illegal sweetheart deal with the child mass-rapist Jeffrey Epstein? The president’s call. There is no role for Congress. When presented a question touching upon the behaviour of the Trump administration, Pelosi spills the phrases I’m not focused on / don’t know much about / am not interested in that. “We have a great deal of work to do here for the good of the American people and we have to focus on that,” she says, without much by way of specifics. As for the mavericks in her party, “All these people have their public whatever and their Twitter world. But they didn’t have any following. They’re four people, and that’s how many votes they got.” Oof. Pelosi has gone beyond not wanting to rock the boat to not wanting to sit in it.
A year ago Joe Biden was the seasoned politician and the beloved Obama sidekick. He was untouchable until suddenly he wasn’t. Survive long enough and you will confront your own obsolescence. It may be that Pelosi is steps ahead of the rest of us, playing a Democratic version of Trump’s QAnon four-dimensional chess. Perhaps Trump will “self-impeach” and the world will be better for it. Perhaps the best course of action is to wait. Nancy Pelosi has a long history of knowing when to play it safe and when to rock the boat. She’s among the smartest politicians out there, until she isn’t. ⌾