Speaker Nancy Pelosi never wanted to impeach President Donald Trump. But now that it’s happening, she’s doing it her own way — in four inch heels and with an iron grip.
Pelosi has tightly scripted every step of the House’s march toward impeachment. All the key decisions — whether to move forward with an inquiry, who will be in charge of the probe, and whether to begin drafting impeachment articles — have been made solely by Pelosi, then conveyed afterwards to her 12-member leadership team, according to multiple lawmakers and aides who are regularly in contact with her.
Even her top committee chairmen — including Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.), head of the panel charged with drafting articles of impeachment against Trump — have been cast in supporting roles at times, learning details about Pelosi’s plans after she’s made them. Pelosi, long known for her top-down leadership style, has taken it to extremes these last few weeks as the House nears the final stages of the impeachment inquiry.
“It’s quintessential Nancy,” Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-Calif.), a close ally of the speaker, said on Pelosi’s approach to impeaching Trump. “She has a very, very deep faith, and next to that deep faith is her rock solid faith in the Constitution.”
She noted that one of Pelosi’s most-repeated lines recently is, “The times have found us,” but Eshoo has her own version: “I have often said, ‘The times have found her.’”
On Thursday, Pelosi jolted Washington by declaring that the House will begin drafting articles of impeachment against Trump — a task that she personally instructed her chairmen to begin. Pelosi stood alone before a bank of TV cameras, flanked by a row of American flags in the same storied spot where she announced the House would move ahead with an impeachment inquiry less than three months earlier.
Yet for the California Democrat, this is not just the latest episode in the long-running and frequently contentious “Trump vs. Pelosi” show. Despite all the shutdowns and the insults, the clapbacks and the walkouts, Pelosi has insisted that she respects the office of the presidency, if not the current occupant of that office. Both in public and private, Pelosi instructs her caucus to remain “prayerful” and somber as they pursue impeachment. Pelosi insists she often prays for Trump.
In a closed-door caucus meeting following her announcement Thursday, Pelosi ended her remarks by paraphrasing a Bible verse from the Book of Jeremiah urging members to “attend to matters of justice.”
“It spoke so clearly to what’s going on that everybody in there went, ‘Oh wow,’” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), a Methodist pastor who often leads the caucus in prayer at the start of meetings. “It was powerful.”
Pelosi has insisted that there is urgency to act because Trump’s behavior — current and past — presents a “threat” to the 2020 elections.
“The president has engaged in abuse of power undermining our national security and jeopardizing the integrity of our elections,” Pelosi told reporters.
But there is something of a contradiction in Pelosi’s handling of impeachment. Pelosi has been reaching out even more regularly than normal with her leadership team and her caucus to listen and to offer updates, a seemingly endless stream of conversations with her colleagues in her office, on the floor, and on the phone.
Some Democrats, however, say they have felt, recently, more like Pelosi is briefing rather than consulting them, often being told of the decision after she has already made up her mind.
Pelosi’s supporters say she has repeatedly demonstrated the seriousness of the undertaking, including in non-scripted moments, like her uncharacteristic burst of emotion on Thursday when she admonished a reporter for shouting a question over whether she hates Trump.
“As a Catholic, I resent you using the word ‘hate’ in a sentence that addresses me,” Pelosi said, pausing as she walked off the stage after a press conference. She then abruptly turned back to the podium, so the whole room — and the cameras — could catch her final remarks.
“Don’t mess with me when it comes to a word like that,” Pelosi added, in a stunning departure from her usually composed demeanor, especially in a televised event.
For some Democrats, it was reminiscent of Pelosi’s finger-wagging at Trump during a contentious meeting on Syria just weeks earlier — a moment captured in a now-viral photo that the speaker’s office was quick to adopt as a show of the power dynamic between the two national figures.
“Ten years from now, when people look back on this, I can honestly say I think the process had integrity. I think she’s been very conscious of that,” said Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.). “History is testing us.”
Even amid the flurry of impeachment, Pelosi has forcefully protected moderate Democrats from backlash back home.
The latest poll from House Democrats’ campaign arm, conducted in nearly 60 battleground districts in late November, found that voters’ opinions on the impeachment inquiry were essentially unchanged despite two weeks of high-profile House Intelligence Committee hearings.
But the poll also revealed that reducing health care costs — not impeachment — was the top issue for voters. Less than two hours after Pelosi embraced impeachment on Thursday, she announced the House would vote on Democrats’ signature prescription drug pricing bill next week.
Many Democratic moderates have praised Pelosi’s split screen approach: steaming ahead on impeachment while aggressively pursuing other legislation on the floor.
And they’ve said Pelosi’s tone, devoid of political undertones or snide attacks against Trump, has been fitting to the mood of the caucus.
“This is the second most serious thing we could be doing. Making a decision about declaring war — that’s the only thing I would compare this to,” said freshman Rep. Max Rose (D-N.Y.), a combat veteran who was awarded a Purple Heart after being wounded in Afghanistan.
“I do not feel like we should be pushing this any faster than what the facts tell us,” Rose said.
Democrats, including on the Judiciary Committee, have been tight-lipped about their next steps — including how, or when, articles of impeachment will be drafted over the coming week. That’s because they’re awaiting word from Pelosi on what they will be voting on, lawmakers and aides say.
The process has been so controlled that lawmakers on the Judiciary panel have been told to remain in Washington throughout this weekend, but still have no word on precisely what they’ll be working on or when they’ll be needed.
Pelosi has repeatedly said the impeachment inquiry has “absolutely nothing to do with politics.” But as the leader of her caucus for nearly two decades, she is acutely aware of the danger that such a polarizing undertaking poses to the vulnerable lawmakers who delivered her the House majority and made her speaker a second time.
Pelosi’s freshmen are keenly aware of the risks they face. Within hours of Pelosi’s announcement, Trump’s campaign manager tweeted directly at one of the first-term Democrats, Rep. Kendra Horn (D-Okla.), with polling from her district on impeachment — and warned there was “more to come” on other Democrats.
“Nancy Pelosi is marching members of her caucus off the plank and into the abyss,” Brad Parscale, Trump’s 2020 manager, wrote in a tweet. “Impeachment is killing her freshman members and polling proves it.”
In a dramatic display of freshman angst a few weeks ago, more than a dozen moderate Democrats stood up in a closed-door caucus meeting and stressed the need to pass a new North American trade deal before the holiday recess, warning that going home with just impeachment to tout could cost them the majority next year.
Pelosi got to work, organizing a meeting between freshman Democrats and Richard Trumka, the labor leader whose support is key to securing a new trade deal, early the next week.
She has also been closely involved in a sweeping prescription drug bill set to reach the House floor next week — playing an even bigger role than her committee chairs, who would normally be tasked with health legislation.
And with a government funding deadline just two weeks away, it’s Pelosi who will work with White House officials to avert a disastrous shutdown just before Christmas — balancing the aggressive agenda that many in her caucus are far more interested in accomplishing than impeachment.
“At some point, you gotta call BS when you’re presented with it. It’s just time to get it done and put it behind us,” moderate Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) said.
Ally Mutnick and Adam Cancryn contributed reporting.