Why Pelosi Changed Her Mind About Impeachment

The number of House Democrats in favor of impeaching Donald Trump has jumped up to 198.

American president Donald Trump answers questions from reporters in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, July 18
American president Donald Trump answers questions from reporters in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington DC, July 18 (White House/Shealah Craighead)

That didn’t age well.

Just a few days ago, I wrote that House speaker Nancy Pelosi was dragging her heels on impeaching Donald Trump and cautioned against assuming that the most successful woman in American politics was making a mistake.

Now Pelosi has come around and only the third impeachment of a president in American history will soon be underway.

What has changed?

Closer to a majority

There were two reason for Pelosi’s reluctance:

  1. Only 137 out of 235 House Democrats, and one former Republican (Justin Amash), supported impeachment.
  2. One in two Americans were against it.

The revelation that Trump conditioned military aid to Ukraine on the country opening an investigation into the son of his Democratic rival, Joe Biden, could change those numbers.

In just a few days, the number of House Democrats in favor of impeachment has jumped to 198. That’s close to the majority required for impeachment to succeed.

(But only in the House of Representatives. It would still take a two-thirds majority in the Republican-controlled Senate to convict and remove the president.)

Public opinion

Public opinion hasn’t caught up yet, but it may.

When the Watergate hearings started in May 1973, just one in five Americans wanted Richard Nixon out. As the hearings went on, and Nixon attempted to stonewall the inquiry, support for his impeachment grew. When the House formally recommended impeachment a year later, in July 1974, a majority of Americans agreed that the president had to go.

But, as I also pointed out on Saturday, that was at a time when party discipline was looser and there was no Fox News, and no online conservative echo chamber, to invent alternative facts and blame Democrats. The impeachment of Donald Trump is almost certainly going to be even more destructive to Americans’ trust in their institutions and in each other.