Congress

Pelosi says Trump using tariffs to distract from Mueller. Is she doing the same on impeachment?

Speaker again tries to downplay Democratic divisions on impeachment, saying, ‘We know exactly what path we are on’

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., arrives for the House Democrats’ caucus meeting in the Capitol on Tuesday. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

President Donald Trump’s proposal to impose tariffs on Mexican imports if that country doesn’t stem the flow of migrants trying to enter the United States is “a distraction from the Mueller report,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday.

“And it’s served its purpose, right? Here we are,” the California Democrat noted as she faced questions about tariffs during her weekly press conference.

The speaker might have welcomed the distraction, however, if it meant Capitol Hill reporters paused from asking her about impeachment and divisions in her caucus about whether to begin those proceedings. Pelosi has repeatedly tried to avoid that issue by instead talking about Democrats’ legislative agenda. 

But impeachment questions persisted Wednesday, as Pelosi addressed the press before departing with a bipartisan congressional delegation to Normandy, France, for the 75th anniversary of the deadly World War II invasion known as D-Day.

“I see in some metropolitan journals and on some TV that we are trying to find our way or are unsure,” Pelosi said when asked again about Democrats’ oversight investigations and whether they’re leading to impeachment. “Make no mistake: We know exactly what path we are on. We know exactly what actions we need to take. And while that may take more time [than] some people want it to take, I respect their impatience.”

“We’re following the facts. We’ll take them where they lead us,” she added. “And as we go down that path, we will be as strong as we can be. There is no controversy, or ‘Try this, try that.’ We are on a path.”

Impeachment isn’t the means to an end that some people think it is, when it comes to ousting a president from office, the speaker said.

“You get impeached, and it’s an indictment. So when you’re impeaching somebody, you want to make sure you have the strongest possible indictment,” she said.

Pelosi’s words might lead some to believe that the path she said Democrats knew they were on would lead to a House indictment of the president, even if the Senate won’t convict. But others may interpret her comments to mean that the path is simply an investigatory one with a yet-to-be-determined conclusion. 

The speaker’s ability to play to both sides of the impeachment debate is what has managed the divisions in her caucus and further stirred them at the same time. While she advised the press to abandon the notion that House Democrats are wrestling over the issue — a tactic she’s deployed in hopes the media will start paying more attention to their legislative agenda — that’s highly unlikely. 

Distraction tactics

As Pelosi addresses the press weekly, knowing most of them simply want to ask about impeachment, she usually spends her opening statement ignoring the topic and touting Democrats’ legislative activity. 

This week, she talked about House Democrats’ passage of the Dream and Promise Act, a bill that would provide permanent legal protections and a path to citizenship for young undocumented immigrants brought to the U.S. as children, as well as Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure recipients. 

Pelosi noted that 100 percent of voting House Democrats had supported the measure, saying, “It was not without its challenges, so I congratulate them all for that.”

The speaker also noted that Sunday will mark 150 days that Democrats have been in the House majority and recapped a litany of bills that have been passed — many with 100 percent Democratic support — that are languishing in the Senate. 

The first question Pelosi got from reporters was about the president’s Mexican tariff proposal and a meeting she had Tuesday with officials from the Mexican government. 

“Actually we were going to have this meeting, but then the news came that the president had this notion that he was going to treat Mexico as an enemy,” Pelosi said. 

The speaker did not characterize any discussions the two governments had about the tariff proposal. Instead, she told reporters about the planned discussion over the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement, noting that Democrats reiterated they want to get to “yes” on the trade deal but that their concerns about enforcement, treatment of workers, the environment and pharmaceutical provisions needed to be addressed first.

Still, Pelosi made clear that she is vehemently opposed to Trump’s idea to use tariffs as a cudgel over Mexico’s treatment of migrants, calling it “bad policy” and saying the president’s authority over the matter will likely be questioned. 

“This is dangerous territory. This is not a way to treat a friend. It's not a way to deal with immigration. It’s not a way to meet the humanitarian needs at the border,” she said.

The speaker declined to say how Congress might respond if the president proceeds with the tariffs as threatened, saying, “Let’s see what they are sending forth and if they do send it forth.”

When asked about the possibility of Congress having enough votes to override a presidential veto if they do take action against the president on this matter, Pelosi noted that the House Republican leader has said he’d stick by the president and it’s unclear how many of his conference members would break with that. However, she predicted the Senate would have enough votes to override a veto.

In addition to tariff and impeachment questions, Pelosi was also asked about the contempt resolution the House is voting on next week to give its committees authority to enforce their subpoenas in civil court and whether she was ruling out other enforcement mechanisms.

“We could move more expeditiously to do civil contempt. It doesn’t mean we couldn’t go to inherent contempt at some other point, but we have to get started,” the speaker said, echoing a strategy conveyed by other Democratic leaders this week.

To a question about subpoenaing special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to testify, Pelosi deferred to the Judiciary Committee to make that decision.

“Hopefully, he would accept an invitation to come. Hopefully, if there is a subpoena it would be friendly, and he would come,” she said. “But we’ll see.”

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