Pelosi wins breathing room on impeachment after Mueller findings

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

The summary of the special counsel’s report allows House Speaker Nancy Pelosi more space to rebut demands for impeachment and an opportunity to refocus on Democrats’ legislative agenda. | J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo

Speaker Nancy Pelosi was right.

The California Democrat has been warning for months that impeachment isn’t a magic wand to quickly remove President Donald Trump from office, especially if Republicans weren’t signing onto the effort. She‘s repeatedly urged her party to wait to see what special counsel Robert Mueller uncovers before deciding on next steps.

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Now that the results from Mueller’s probe have been delivered to Capitol Hill — via a controversial summary from Attorney General William Barr — the pro-impeachment wing of the Democratic Caucus has taken a major blow. Suddenly Trump, who has spent the last two years bashing Mueller, has decided the results of the special counsel’s probe are completely credible, while many Democrats are crestfallen.

“I think her instincts were correct, that we’re putting way too much into the Mueller report, and what if it disappoints?” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said of Pelosi. “What did we really think Mueller was going to do?”

Connolly said Barr’s report on Mueller’s finding “exposes some of those early calls [for impeachment] for being premature and not based on the evidence at hand. And I think it sets that back. It doesn’t let [Trump] off the hook, but you cried wolf way too early.”

No new indictments. No collusion by Trump or his campaign with Russian government officials, according to Barr’s summary. While Mueller didn’t rule on whether Trump had committed obstruction of justice — a major opening for Democrats — Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein announced there would be no criminal charges against the president.

Impeachment seems further away than ever before, and Pelosi’s caution has been vindicated. Even Tom Steyer, the billionaire funder of “Need to Impeach,” seemed put off by Sunday’s announcement. Steyer released a statement that didn’t once mention the word impeachment, but instead called for the release of the full Mueller report.

For House Democrats, Sunday’s bombshell was both a blessing and a curse. There was no “smoking gun” that would allow them to force Trump out of office before Jan. 20, 2021. That’s a major setback for many progressive activists who wanted to see an impeachment battle as a way to damage Trump’s reelection bid, a risky gamble but one they believe justified.

But there’s also a silver lining for Pelosi and other senior Democrats. Pelosi has more space to rebut demands from the left for impeachment, as well as an opportunity to refocus on the agenda that helped Democrats take back the House in 2018.

Mueller has also given Democrats plenty to work with in order to damage Trump politically.

Democrats will call Barr to testify on his quick decision not to seek criminal charges against Trump over obstruction, which will allow Democrats to point out Mueller didn’t exonerate Trump on that front. Mueller will be invited to testify, or if the Justice Department objects, subpoenaed. Federal criminal probes continue into Trump’s finances and the Trump inaugural committee. New York officials are going after Trump’s charity

“Not only was Nancy wise, but because of her experience she was able to lead us and guide us in the right direction on this,” said Rep. Marc Veasey (D-Texas). “It also takes a certain level of strength and character to be able to deal with this in today’s [environment].”

“I hope that the presidential candidates are paying attention very closely and will learn lessons from Speaker Pelosi on this,” Veasey added.

“You can hurt [Trump] more without impeaching him,” said a Democratic aide close to the issue. “If you’re going to go after him, it has to be a kill shot. But otherwise, you can keep cutting him over and over again, and then beat him in 2020.”

Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) issued a joint statement calling for the release of the full Mueller report.

“Attorney General Barr’s letter raises as many questions as it answers,” said the two Democratic leaders. “The fact that Special Counsel Mueller’s report does not exonerate the president on a charge as serious as obstruction of justice demonstrates how urgent it is that the full report and underlying documentation be made public without any further delay, Given Mr. Barr’s public record of bias against the Special Counsel’s inquiry, he is not a neutral observer and is not in a position to make objective determinations about the report.”

To keep her majority next year, Pelosi knows she will need to keep the same intense level of support from her base as Democrats did last year. That means she can’t shut the door on impeachment completely. Yet Pelosi knows that deploying such a weapon can backfire — as it did when the GOP impeached Bill Clinton — if it’s seen as a partisan ploy.

In the run-up to the 2018 election, Pelosi described her strategy in private meetings: they needed to be seen as “no drama” Democrats eager to govern, rather than a party salivating at the potential to oust Trump, in order to win back the House.

Since retaking the speakership in January, Pelosi has been even more outspoken about her distaste for the impeachment process.

In an interview with POLITICO last month, Pelosi dismissed Steyer’s multi-million dollar crusade pressing prominent House Democrats to support his push for impeachment.

“For what purpose?” she said, calling Steyer’s campaign “a waste of time and money” when the real focus should be on helping Democrats win more seats in the House.

And earlier this month in an interview with the Washington Post, Pelosi gave her most definitive statement yet, saying she’s “not for impeachment” because Trump is “just not worth it.”

“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, because it divides the country,” she said.

After Barr’s summary of Mueller’s report, it’s clear that moment is still far away.

In addition to Pelosi, that’s also probably a relief to Democrats in swing districts, who have consistently urged the party against focusing on impeachment as a way to defeat Trump and the GOP.

“I’m fully in favor of everything related to the Mueller report being made public but I am absolutely committed to us walking and chewing gum at the same time,” said freshman New York Democratic Rep. Max Rose, who won a swing seat in Staten Island.

“We won these people’s trust by a commitment to focus on lowering health care costs, doing infrastructure, substantive anti-corruption bills, that’s what we’re going to keep on doing.”

Laura Barrón-López contributed to this report.

https://www.politico.com/story/2019/03/25/mueller-report-impeachment-pelosi-1234093