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Zugzwang: Why Nancy Pelosi Refuses to Hold an Impeachment Vote

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AP Photo/J Scott Applewhite

Anything worth doing is worth doing right, or so Hunter S. Thompson would say. Clearly Nancy Pelosi is not a fan of the late gonzo journalist. If she were to adopt that simple belief, perhaps the country could move on from the most recent and ridiculous manufactured impeachment crisis. If Nancy Pelosi were interested in doing things the right way, she would hold a vote on the House floor to open an impeachment inquiry. A vote that was held for the Clinton impeachment inquiry, a vote that was held for the Nixon impeachment inquiry, but a vote that Pelosi refuses to hold today. 


She cannot hold the vote because it would endanger her more moderate members by having them voice their support for overturning an election on partisan grounds. She cannot hold the vote because she would then be compelled to give both parties, not just her own, subpoena power and access to witnesses. She cannot hold the vote because she cannot afford to allow the American people to see, in open hearings, the spurious claims upon which the impeachment fantasy is based. She cannot make a move without damaging her and her party’s position. Zugzwang would be the term in chess.

Currently we have a non-impeachment, impeachment inquiry because Speaker Pelosi will not take the simple step of holding an impeachment vote on the House floor. This week, the White House correctly asserted that they view any impeachment inquiry, absent a full House vote, as partisan and illegitimate. The White House rightfully believes that, like previous impeachment inquiries, both parties should have the power to subpoena witnesses and the ability to cross-examine them. That the evidence for Congress’s most extraordinary step be in plain view of the American people, not merely relayed from closed door hearings via the mainstream media. A House vote to open the impeachment inquiry would give them that. What is the problem with such a proposition? Only that it would weaken an already shaky Democrat narrative. Pelosi cannot allow an open and fair inquiry to ensue. She cannot allow the American public to see the weakness of her case against the President. If she did, her case for impeachment would fall apart faster than Adam Schiff’s claim to have Russia collusion evidence.


Speaker Pelosi has spent months insisting that she would only move forward with impeachment proceedings if there was broad bipartisan support. Were she to hold a vote now, the myth of a bipartisan process would instantly evaporate. The most recent count in the House has not even universal Democrat support, much less a single Republican vote. The Speaker simply cannot afford to hold a vote or keep with precedent, not if she intends to maintain the veneer of bipartisanship. A one-sided vote to overturn an American election, coming one year before Americans vote in a presidential election, is just not good optics. Nancy Pelosi knows this, and she cannot afford a vote on it.

The Speaker is also painfully aware that the Democrats captured the House in 2018 by winning 31 districts that President Trump won. She cannot rationally believe that compelling those 31 members to overturn their own districts’ choice for President is a good move for a party that wants to hold onto the House. She needs to protect those members from the inevitable public disapproval they would face at home. It is one thing for these members to comply within the confines of an internal whip count, it is another thing entirely to ask them to go on the House floor, and on the record, to support a move repugnant of democracy. She simply cannot hold an impeachment vote and risk almost certainly losing the House next year.

True, the Constitution does not specifically say that the House must vote on impeachment. The Constitution only states that, “the House of Representatives shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.” But what is “the House”? Is it one Congressman, one Chairman of a partisan committee? Adam Schiff and Nancy Pelosi would certainly like to think so. Or is “the House” a majority of the body as has been established by precedent, precedents that garnered bipartisan support. Nancy Pelosi seems to believe it’s the former, the White House, the latter. Fortunately, there exists a third branch of government to resolve such disputes and ambiguities, the judiciary. But naturally, Pelosi cannot allow the matter to go before the courts.


To put this matter before the courts, and ultimately before the Supreme Court, Pelosi would be asking the highest court in the land to ratify a belief that one, or two, highly partisan members of Congress constitutes the “House” for purposes of impeachment. The Court would never accept that rationale. To do so would open every single future President to unbridled impeachment inquiries launched by one or two members of a 435-member body. This is probably why Adam Schiff declared that any attempts to involve the judiciary, the third co-equal branch of government would constitute obstruction. Yes, Adam Schiff believes that involving the judiciary in the administration of justice is obstruction of justice. Pelosi knows she cannot put this matter before the courts, but only the Supreme Court can resolve this ambiguity.

Nancy Pelosi is in an impossible situation. The White House will not allow her to proceed absent a full House vote, and courts are likely to agree. A vote would expose her vulnerable members to the wrath of the electorate. A vote will give equal powers to both parties and open the investigation to public scrutiny which will inevitably sink the current impeachment move. A vote will destroy the carefully crafted and guarded myth of bipartisanship. A vote may not go her way. Nancy Pelosi, leader of the ‘Democrats’ knows that democracy is the last thing she needs right now.

Nancy Pelosi is on the clock. She has to make a move, but she cannot move without damaging her position. Checkmate. Zugzwang.


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