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Pelosi on impeachment: Slow down

WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, determined to keep her caucus’s eye on its liberal agenda, has jolted many fellow Democrats by declaring flatly that “I’m not for impeachment of President Trump.” She has added: “I don’t think we should go down that path because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it.”

Speaking as the inveterate legislator, she rules over a roost that has ambitious plans to attack various social objectives starting with better and more equitable health care for the middle class and the poor of all races and ethnicities and both genders.

Having beaten back Republican efforts in Congress to kill the hated Obamacare, the Democrats are nonetheless divided on how far to go forward with it. And this comes at a time when intensified progressivism has surged in the party.

But when Pelosi adds that Trump is “just not worth” going for his impeachment now, she may be underestimating both the imperative and the fervor within her party to rid the American democracy and its politics of the poison, immorality and rampant corruption of Donald Trump. Getting rid of him already is becoming the dominant core subject in the nation’s political conversation, especially on network and cable television.

Along with Pelosi’s headline-grabbing call for Democrats to put his impeachment on their back burner, she also said this in the same interview: “Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path.”

She didn’t add the word “yet.” It was an unspoken nudge to the various Justice Department, New York state and congressional investigations that are now breathing down Trump’s neck, whether they involve Russian meddling in our elections or Trump’s various shady business affairs.

At least six Democratic-controlled House committees are on Trump’s trail now, and Pelosi clearly was not saying impeachment was or should be off the table. She was arguing only that judgment on initiating the process, which constitutionally must begin the House, should await the more “compelling” and “bipartisan” evidence being sought there and elsewhere.

Much of what has been generated already should drive further inquiry into the president. But a two-thirds vote in the Senate is required to convict a president after indictment by the House, and the possibility that enough Republican senators would join Democrats to form such a supermajority remains at this point remote.

In 1974 during the Watergate scandal, Republicans in the Senate told President Richard Nixon flat out that he lacked the votes to save him from conviction in an impeachment trial.

As of now, their successors are holding the line for Trump. What Pelosi says is that until this GOP Senate protection substantially erodes, impeachment will be an empty gesture.

No evidence comparable to the incriminating Nixon White House tapes are known or said to exist that would push this sitting president to political hara-kiri.

So Pelosi’s no to impeachment is merely recognition that the president’s foes bent on getting rid of him are premature in their efforts. Moreover, she admonished her fellow Democrats to get on with the fight for their moderate to progressive agenda in Congress.

In the end, the 2020 presidential election may well become the only decisive referendum on Donald Trump and the most controversial presidency in our history. In the meantime, we must hope that he does no more serious damage to the republic.

(Jules Witcover’s latest book is “The American Vice Presidency: From Irrelevance to Power,” published by Smithsonian Books. You can respond to this column at juleswitcovercomcast.net.)

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Copyright 2019 The Associated Press.