Republicans immediately crowed that the speaker’s move constituted nothing more than window dressing, a fake impeachment that lacked the imprimatur of a full vote in the House, which had taken place in the case of President Andrew Johnson in the 19th century and President Bill Clinton in the 20th. “Today the speaker of the House issued a false and feeble decree,” declared Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. “Today isn’t what impeachment looks like, and [Pelosi’s] press conference changes nothing legally.”
In response, Pelosi’s spokeswoman Ashley Etienne pointed out that the Constitution imposes no procedural requirements on how impeachment begins. On the question of what, exactly, Pelosi’s proclamation had changed, however, Etienne was more vague. She argued that the speaker’s announcement would bolster the Democrats in federal court, where they have been fighting the Trump administration’s refusal to cooperate with their investigations. “This ups the ante and further signals to the court that the House, across six committees, is investigating to determine whether to refer articles of impeachment,” Etienne said.
Read: Nancy Pelosi has had enough
Yet to some of the Democrats who had been pushing Pelosi to sign off on impeachment for weeks or even months, the significance of her announcement was immediately clear. “It transforms the politics of the situation because now Nancy Pelosi is essentially the captain of the impeachment effort,” Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said in an interview.
Representative Ro Khanna of California added, “It has made it far more likely that we’ll have a vote in the House on articles of impeachment.”
In a private meeting yesterday afternoon, Pelosi told House Democrats she wanted the investigation to be “expeditious,” and she impressed upon them the urgency of seizing on the allegations that Trump tried to enlist the president of Ukraine to launch an investigation that could implicate one of his challengers for the White House, former Vice President Joe Biden. “We have to strike while the iron is hot,” the speaker told the members of her caucus, according to a Democrat in the room.
In the Ukraine scandal, Pelosi sees a fresh and straightforward case of abuse of power that the public can easily understand, in contrast to the lengthy and complicated allegations of election interference and subsequent obstruction of justice by Trump that unfolded over many months and led to a 448-page report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, which few Americans read in full. The latest case “concerns the behavior of the president as president, not a candidate,” Khanna said, “and it concerns an upcoming election. It’s not relitigating the past.”