Pelosi herself showed the weight of that responsibility in a strikingly sharp exchange with James Rosen, a reporter for the Sinclair Broadcast Group, who asked her at a news conference after her announcement yesterday about the articles whether she hates the president.
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“I think the president is a coward when it comes to helping our kids who are afraid of gun violence,” Pelosi said, walking back to the lectern to answer Rosen, who had posed his question as she was leaving the briefing room on Capitol Hill. “I think he is cruel when he doesn’t deal with helping our ‘Dreamers,’ of which we’re very proud. I think he’s in denial about the climate crisis. However, that’s about the election. Take it up in the election. This is about the Constitution of the United States and the facts that lead to the president’s violation of his oath of office.”
“And as a Catholic, I resent your using the word hate in a sentence that addresses me,” Pelosi continued. “I don’t hate anyone. I was raised in a way that is a heart full of love, and always pray for the president. And I still pray for the president. I pray for the president all the time. So don’t mess with me when it comes to words like that.”
Trump and his conservative allies scoffed at that. “I don’t believe her, not even close,” the president tweeted, while the headline on Glenn Beck’s daily email newsletter read, “Nancy Pelosi’s LEAST sincere presser ever will make your eyes EXPLODE.” (As it happens, I once watched a paying audience in Missouri, during the run-up to the 2012 election, react with puzzlement to Beck’s insistence that he prayed for Barack Obama’s safety.)
But Downey says Pelosi was simply stating a literal truth. “She’s a very old-world Catholic woman,” he says. “She does pray, and she prays for her enemies, and she follows the teachings of the Church.” In the CNN town hall, Pelosi elaborated, explaining that hating a person was verboten in her childhood home. “You might reserve it for vanilla ice cream,” she said, noting her love for chocolate, “but not for a person.”
“The reality is that the president has given her no choice,” Downey adds, echoing Pelosi’s own words. “Of the options here, none of them are good, but the worst option—both in the judgment of history and for the precedential reasons that she’s elaborated—is to do nothing. The House has to say that this is unacceptable, and we’ve exhaustively looked at the facts and we find you to have violated your oath of office, and so you’re going to be impeached. That’s the beginning and the end of our responsibility. To do nothing is to say the behavior is okay, and it’s not okay.”
Just over a year ago, Jerry Nadler, the House Judiciary chairman whose committee will draft the impeachment articles, sounded a note of extreme caution on impeachment. “You have to be able to think, at the beginning of the impeachment process, that the evidence is so clear, of offenses so grave, that once you’ve laid out all the evidence, a good fraction of the opposition, the voters, will reluctantly admit to themselves, ‘They have to do it,’’’ he said then. “Otherwise you have a partisan impeachment, which will tear the country apart.”
However reluctantly, Pelosi has now embarked on just such a course, one that will test to the limit how well and how long the seams of the nation can hold.