California Democrats are beyond excited. In 2020, the Big Blue state will finally matter in the Super Tuesday Democratic primary. In fact, vote-by-mail ballots will be sent out Feb. 3, the same day as the world tunes into the critical Iowa caucuses.
With the field-thinning Democratic debates coming up on June 26-27 and the ever-increasing need for money and grassroots support, a number of Democratic presidential hopefuls showed up at the California Democratic Party’s organizing convention in San Francisco on June 1 to win over enthusiastic party activists.
But all eyes were focused on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, wondering if the Queen of Political Strategy would buckle under the growing pressure to launch impeachment proceedings against reviled President Donald J. Trump.
The atmosphere was electric. A near-giddy Gov. Gavin Newsom promoted California’s preeminence in the progressive movement. “We are nothing less than the progressive answer to a transgressive president,” he said.
Out Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins and buoyant out Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara touted their lesbian and gay identities on the first day of LGBT Pride Month and many officials noted Pride through official statements. In her Pride statement, Pelosi noted the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall uprising.
“In a moment that would change the world, these proud LGBTQ Americans refused to be silenced or shamed, declaring that they would no longer stand by and have their rights, their dignity and their lives attacked or denied,” Pelosi said. This month, “we recommit ourselves to building a brighter, more just and equal future for all Americans.”
But the not-so-subtle theme for the convention was who stands where on impeachment.
California rock star Sen. Kamala Harris—who surprisingly was bested in the applause-o-meter by “I’ve got a plan for that” Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren—emerged ebullient but turned very serious.
“Democrats, we have a fight on our hands. And it’s a fight for who we are as a people. It’s a fight for the highest ideals or our nation. And Democrats, with this president, it’s a fight for truth itself,” Harris said. “We need to begin impeachment proceedings and we need a new commander in chief,” an especially poignant comment on the eve of the 75th anniversary of D-Day.
But the floor belonged to Warren who has probably inspired many of these same progressive activists at Netroots Nation. She embodied the ferocity and courage to fight Trump.
Out South Bend, Ind. Mayor Pete Buttigieg also wowed the audience with his applause line: “There is no such thing as an honest politics that revolves around the word ‘again,'” managing to tag both Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden.
Biden skipped the convention, choosing instead to speak at the Human Rights Campaign gala in Columbus, Ohio. One wonders how Biden would have been treated if the left wing progressives learned he still supports the Hyde Amendment that prohibits federal funding to any clinic that performs abortions.
Impeachment obsessives were clearly disappointed by Pelosi’s predictable restraint. But the mainstream media jumped on about 30 seconds of disruption of Pelosi’s roughly 10-minute speech as if it was a grassroots insurrection. So far, the speaker has refused to begin impeachment hearings, despite tacit encouragement from Special Counsel Robert Mueller for Congress to take up that constitutional responsibility.
But Pelosi has another responsibility – to ensure that control of the House remains in Democratic hands and that Trump not escape justice, which could happen if the House proceeds with impeachment and indicts Trump, only to have the Senate acquit him, which would be the likely outcome. Trump could then claim the House pursued a witch-hunt since he was totally exonerated by the Senate – ergo, he should be re-elected, which means he also continues to escape criminal accountability.
“I don’t want to see him impeached, I want to see him in prison,” Pelosi said at a private meeting with Democratic leadership, Politico reported June 5. As long as Trump holds office, the Justice Department cannot or will not charge him with a crime.
But a Trump defeat at the ballot box requires an education of the public about how corrupt, unpatriotic and bad Trump has been as president. Though Pelosi has apparently scotched Judiciary Chair Nadler’s two pitches to launch an impeachment inquiry immediately, the Speaker has not disallowed talk of impeachment as the Judiciary, Intelligence and other committees begin hearings on the Mueller report and the obstructionist conduct of Attorney General Barr, among other potential Trump-related high crimes and misdemeanors.
Pelosi has seen the nation divided before. In January 1977, a few years after Watergate and President Richard Nixon’s resignation, she was elected CDP Northern California chair as the state debated the anti-gay Briggs Initiative; openly gay San Francisco Supervisor Harvey Milk was assassinated the next year. In 1981, she was elected CDP chair, just as Republican President Ronald Reagan and his political evangelical cronies came to power. Pelosi won her House seat in 1987, during the formation of ACT UP and the Second Wave of AIDS. A decade later, she witnessed the House’s impeachment of President Bill Clinton, the Senate’s acquittal and the electoral backlash against Republican control of Congress.
It is against that backdrop that Pelosi smiled when interrupted by calls for “Impeachment’ from the floor of the convention. “I told you this was like coming home for me,” she joked.
But Pelosi knew her audience. It was “the extraordinary leadership at the grassroots level” that helped elect “a transformational class” of seven freshmen in the 2018 elections: Gil Cisneros, TJ Cox, Josh Harder, Katie Hill, Mike Levin, Katie Porter and Harley Rouda—all of whom are up for reelection with the GOP salivating for their defeat in 2020.
“Now, we must keep the Blue Wave Rolling. We must defend and expand our majority in the House of Representatives and win back the U.S. Senate – for the Democrats, for the people,” Pelosi said. “[A]nd we must elect a Democratic president of the United States.”
The way to do that is to keep passing important legislation while also holding informative hearings – which could lead to impeachment if the evidence is “insurmountable.”
“For expanding freedom in our country, we took historic action to pass the Equality Act – to end discrimination against the LGBTQ community! And next week, we will pass the American Dream and Promise Act – to protect TPS recipients and our patriotic young Dreamers!” she said, which they did on June 5 to much applause.
“Our House investigations are breaking through the Trump Administration’s cover-up to get the truth for the American people,” Pelosi told the delegates. “We are winning in the courts, with two resounding court victories last week affirming Congress’ subpoenas must be obeyed.”
She noted that the Mueller report “lays out 11 instances of possible obstruction of justice” by Trump, among other evidence.
“It is our patriotic duty to push back on the Trump Administration’s undermining of America,” Pelosi said. “In the darkest hours of the American Revolution, Thomas Paine wrote: ‘The times have found us’ – and today they have found us again. We do not place ourselves in the greatness of our Founders – but we do place ourselves in the urgency we face in securing our democracy that they established.”
But, Pelosi emphasized, the commitment to hold Trump accountable “isn’t about politics. It isn’t about partisanship – Democrats versus Republicans. It’s about patriotism. It’s about the sanctity of the Constitution. And it’s about the future of our nation,” she said. “We will go where the facts lead us. We will insist on the truth. We will build an ironclad case to act. Because in the United States of America, no one is above the law – not even the president of the United States!”
Pelosi said in closing, “We will strive to unify, not divide, our country as we protect and defend it. The times have found us, each and every one of us, to have the courage and the strength to win.”
Mayor Pete Buttigieg may have provided the best summary of how conflicted Democrats are over impeachment.
“I think to a lot of people, impeachment means removal from office but it’s really a process and it’s the only process we’ve got left because the DOJ has said you can’t charge a sitting president, and I don’t think it makes a lot of sense to suggest that the president is above the law,” Buttigieg said at a town hall in Fresno on June 3.
“Basically it means the only place we can have a procedure, the only place we can have a due process, the only way we can get through the evidence and so forth as long as he is in the Oval Office is in Congress in the form of impeachment proceedings — which is what I think we’re going to have to do,” he said. “But in order to do that, it better be an air tight process. So I do recognize that while we’re still trying to get information, the investigations are ongoing, there are witnesses that have yet to come before Congress, that there may be some strategic wisdom in following that sequence. I’ll leave that to Congress.”
But if he had the vote, Buttigieg said he would vote to impeach. However, “I would also think twice before offering strategic advice to Nancy Pelosi.”