House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that as the reports surfaced that President Donald Trump had asked the president of Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter, it was a clarifying moment that convinced her to launch an impeachment inquiry.
“I can’t tell if he knows right from wrong. He just done wrong,” Pelosi said of Trump’s July 17 call, which is now at the center of the Democratic-led investigation.
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Pelosi announced the impeachment inquiry on Sept. 24, but speaking at the New Yorker Festival, moderator Jane Mayer asked her what led her to favor launching the impeachment process after earlier opposing it.
“There was plenty the president had done, evidenced in the Mueller report and just other things, that were impeachable offenses,” Pelosi said.
Noting that “timing is everything,” and that they would proceed “when we get more facts, when the truth has more clarity, we will be ready.”
She said that the Ukraine scandal gave a moment of “clarity”: An easier to understand example of how Trump may have abused his power.
“That was a moment of revelation in terms of, OK, it’s understandable, it’s clarity. It’s not academic, a boost of power, plenty of that. Avoiding, not abiding by the rule of law, plenty of that. Obstruction of justice, plenty of that. But this had a story, this had clarity.”
Pelosi spoke to by phone Trump earlier in the day on Sept. 24. At first, the president wanted to talk about gun violence measures and background checks, but he switched the subject to the story that was dominating the news cycle — the July 17 phone call he had with Ukrainian President, Volodymyr Zelensky.
Trump told her the call was “perfect,” Pelosi said, but she told him, “It’s not perfect. It’s wrong.”
She said that Trump insisted that there was “no quid pro quo” but didn’t seem to get that asking a foreign leader to investigate a potential political opponent was problematic.
“His insistence that it was so ‘right’ made it imperative that we proceed,” she said.
Pelosi did not say whether they would hold a floor vote on the impeachment inquiry, not just the impeachment itself, as some Republicans have said is needed to make the investigation legitimate.
“There is nothing in the Constitution that says we have to take that vote,” she said, although she did not rule it out. “When the time is right…we may take it.”
She gave no timeline for the impeachment inquiry but said she didn’t want it to “take a long time because I don’t want it to be further divisive in the country. And that was one of the reasons I was reluctant to go down this path because I know it’s divisive. But then again, the president is divisive.”
She emphasized that even though they are conducting an impeachment inquiry, they have not yet decided to “go down that path” of impeachment itself.
“This has to be done strategically, fairly, prayerfully, solemnly,” she said.
She also cautioned Democrats not to “gloat” during the process.
“This is a very sad time, when the truth and the facts and the data show that the president has violated his oath of office.”
If the House does impeach Trump, it will then go to the Senate for a trial. It will require a 2/3 vote of the Senate for the president to be removed from office. For that to happen, 20 Republican senators would have to break with the president and vote to convict.
Asked whether she has faith in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell in holding a trial in the Senate, Pelosi said, “Let me just say that anybody who names himself with great pride the ‘grim reaper,’ I don’t have a lot of faith in doing the right thing as we go forward.”
Pelosi tried to talk about other issues during the 90-minute session, including Democrats legislative efforts on issues like lowering the cost of prescription drugs and gun reform legislation, but it is all but inevitable that the media focus for the foreseeable future will be on Trump and impeachment.
She said that the Trump’s ability to dominate a news cycle —- even with an outrageous tweets sent at 3 a.m. —- may be enabled by the media and come at the expense of coverage of other issues.
“The press is the guardian of our democracy,” but Trump is a “master of diversion,” she said. She said that he’s shown he can get attention for “the next 24 hours” and then “we don’t hear what else is going on.”
Those tweets have included biting nicknames that Trump has given to rivals and opponents. Mayer asked Pelosi about some of Trump’s nicknames for her. In contrast to those he has given to other figures, the ones he has directed at Pelosi have been relatively soft.
“Everything he says is a projection of himself,” Pelosi said. “When he says, ‘nervous Nancy,’ it means he is nervous himself.”
Pelosi did reveal that she recently got a meme from Mickey Hart of the Grateful Dead.
It read: “Donald, you own a casino. You know the House always wins.”