Lots of people would like to ask Nancy Pelosi one simple question: what took you so long?
After two-and-a-half years in which Donald Trump appeared in the eyes of his critics to abuse and twist every notion of what it meant to be presidential, the House speaker’s announcement could not have come soon enough.
So too, her assessment that the president’s actions revealed a “betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections”.
As it was, the 79-year-old Pelosi, the only woman to have held the office of speaker, and considered a wily master of Capitol Hill, had been loathe to reach this point. This was not because she did not think Trump’s behaviour in regard to Russian interference, or his attempt to derail Robert Mueller’s investigation into possible obstruction of justice, merited it.
Rather, her calculation was solely made on the grounds of how this would play out for the party in 2020, and she feared it would be damaging. There was little public support, polls told her, for another lengthy, drawn-out investigation of the president.
It appears that very quickly she changed her mind. Revelations about Trump’s call July 25 call to Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy when he asked him to investigate Joe Biden and his son – two days after Mueller testified before Congress – struck a chord with many.
How could Trump be so brazen as to narrowly escape censure over Russia’s actions in 2016, only to then seek help from another East European capital in regard to the 2020 showdown?
That was an argument the public could understand, Pelosi figured, and she ordered six House committees to put all their work into Trump’s actions under an impeachment umbrella. Those committees are likely to see not only the transcript of Trump’s conversation with Zelenskiy, but hear directly from the US intelligence official who first drew attention to what they considered an inappropriate conversation.
“Secretary of state Pompeo received permission from Ukraine government to release the transcript of the telephone call I had with their president,” Trump tweeted on Tuesday evening. “They don’t know either what the big deal is. A total Witch Hunt Scam by the Democrats!”
In triggering the impeachment inquiry, Pelosi has taken the US onto rarely trodden ground. And while she can control the actions of her committee chairs, she is gambling as to how Trump and his supporters will respond.
Will they dig up fresh dirt on Biden and his son? Will any of it stick. Will it hurt his chances as Democrats prepare to select a presidential challenger to Trump. Will Republicans strand by the president, or will more – perhaps the likes of John Kasich or even Nikki Haley – feel emboldened enough to mount a serious primary challenge to him.
“Speaker Pelosi happens to be the speaker of this House but she does not speak for America when it comes to this issue,” said House Republican leader Kevin McCarthy. “This election is over. It’s time to put the public before politics.”
What is certain, is that what was already set to be an ugly 2020 contest, will now be dragged down right into the mud.
Pelosi reckons the trade off is worth it, and she is banking on the American public thinking so too.