House Speaker Nancy Pelosi got quite a bit of flak for her public remarks earlier this month raining on any prospective impeachment parade. She did clearly indicate that she might change her mind if “something compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan” came to light about Trump’s conduct. And very likely one thing she had in mind as a theoretical game-changer was the Mueller report, at that point a rumbling on the near horizon.
Yes, it is possible that Attorney General Barr mischaracterized Mueller’s findings in the “summary” he sent to Congress this weekend. But Republicans have already decided Trump has been “exonerated” by Mueller’s decision not to pursue additional indictments and Barr’s decision that obstruction of justice charges are unwarranted. So unless something very surprising happens next, Pelosi’s disclaimer about “overwhelming and bipartisan” sentiment about Trump is not about to be satisfied. So if anything, she will likely set her face even more strongly against the initiation of impeachment proceedings, and will probably get less backlash from impeachment-happy Democrats going forward.
There is one argument we may hear that pushes in the opposite direction: If Trump does, despite his long pattern of bad behavior, manage to slither beneath the wheels of a justice system he ultimately supervises, impeachment proceedings could be the only way he and his crew can be held accountable. If, for example, the administration refuses to release the full Mueller report as Pelosi and other Democrats have demanded, suspicions that something incriminating is buried there grow stronger. In an implicit threat, John Lewis, a leading member of Pelosi’s House leadership team, said over the weekend that at this point impeachment is still on the table. The lawmaker who would actually initiate impeachment proceedings, Jerrold Nadler of New York, who has echoed Pelosi’s position, also made it clear that demands for the full Mueller report are unconditional, as the New York Times reports:
Mr. Nadler said he rejected Mr. Trump’s claim of vindication, and zeroed in on Mr. Barr, whom he described as having prejudged the matter of obstruction.
“He auditioned for his job by writing a 19-page memorandum giving a very extreme view of obstruction of justice in presidential power and saying basically no president can commit obstruction of justice,” Mr. Nadler said, referring to a memo Mr. Barr wrote in June 2018 about executive authority. Mr. Nadler pledged to use every tool at his disposal to gain access to the full report and evidence — the public release of which Mr. Barr said Sunday raised challenges given grand jury and other sensitive information.
It’s also possible other prosecutors, or House investigators themselves, may still turn up evidence that changes the political calculation against impeachment. But if Barr isn’t hiding something important from the Mueller report, it’s definitely a blow to Team Impeachment, including its chief bankroller, billionaire Tom Steyer, as Politico notes:
Even Tom Steyer, the billionaire funder of “Need to Impeach,” seemed put off by Sunday’s announcement. Steyer released a statement that didn’t once mention the word impeachment, but instead called for the release of the full Mueller report.
At this point, time is not on the side of those who long for impeachment proceedings. The 2020 presidential election cycle is now underway, with the first Democratic candidate debate already scheduled for June. Any impeachment proceeding that coincides with an election process that could remove Trump from office at the end of his term will seem like an attempted coup d’état to hard-core Trump supporters, and superfluous to many other Americans. Since a successful move against Trump in Congress would require a lot of Republican support — in terms of Senate votes, not just Pelosi’s criteria — every day we draw closer to the battlements of the titanic partisan struggle just ahead, a first-term impeachment fades further away. No one should forget that Republicans managed to produce the first midterm gains for the party holding the White House since 1934 when they moved toward impeaching Bill Clinton in an election year. Before too long, even the most adamant impeachment advocates will be focused on removing Trump from office on November 3, 2020.