Before Friday night, the two-day conference of the Democratic State Committee in Atlantic City had been a decidedly ho-hum affair, lacking any of the drama one would expect from a political organization whose leaders are locked in a bitter fight.
But by sheer luck, what up to that point had been a non-event ended with a cymbal crash in the form of a keynote address by a national leader at the center of the most important political drama to hit Washington in decades.
“Ladies and gentlemen, it is now my great pleasure to introduce the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Nancy De’llasandro Pelosi,” said Gov. Phil Murphy who’s been battling other top New Jersey Democrats for much of his tenure.
Pelosi’s appearance had been scheduled weeks before, when she was still reluctant to endorse the call by the progressive wing of the party for impeachment. But since details of President Donald Trump’s phone conversation with the leader of Ukraine emerged, the momentum for impeachment hearings has surged, and Pelosi is now at the center of the domestic political universe.
It was as good a get as any political party conference could want. But rather than throw red meat to Democrats looking for blood, Pelosi talked about the seriousness of the circumstance, and the weight of history about to unfold.
“So this is not a cause for any joy, that we have to go down this path,” she said. “It’s a difficult decision to make, but we have that obligation because the actions that were taken could undermine the Constitution and the oath we take to protect and defend, including the oath that the president takes.”
Citing Thomas Paine
Pelosi quoted Thomas Paine who, in “the dark days of the Revolution … said ‘the times have found us.’ We think that the times have found us, all of us.”
“Not that we place ourselves in the category of greatness of our founders, but we do place ourselves in a time of urgency, to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States, a republic, if we can keep it, if we can keep it. So the best way I think for us to go forward is with prayerfulness, somberness, calmness.”
It was a tone the San Francisco representative kept up through the weekend in conversations with congressional Democrats, according to news reports.
On Monday, her counterpart in the Senate, Republican Mitch McConnell of Kentucky said that Senate rules would require him as Majority Leader to take up any articles of impeachment that were approved by the House, swatting down talk that the GOP-controlled chamber could dodge the matter entirely.
“I would have no choice but to take it up,” McConnell said on CNBC. But he cautioned, “How long you’re on it is a whole different matter.”
If the House approves articles of impeachment they would be sent to the Senate for trial, a proceeding that could result in Trump’s ouster from office. McConnell suggested he does not have the 67 votes to change the rules. But the Kentucky Republican, the Senate’s chief strategist, left open what he means by taking up the issue.
Trump’s Twitter tirade
Also on Monday, Trump raged on Twitter against the Democrats, at one suggesting that Rep. Adam Schiff, the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, be arrested for treason. Meanwhile, the House plowed ahead with formal impeachment proceedings into whether the president pressured the leader of an Eastern European country to investigate former Vice President Biden and his son.
Polling showed some movement in public sentiment. A one-day NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll conducted Sept. 25 found that about half of Americans — 49% — approve of the House formally starting an impeachment inquiry into Trump. Earlier polls conducted throughout Trump’s presidency have consistently found a majority saying he should not be impeached.
Pelosi’s remarks hit the spot Friday evening among the friendly crowd.
“I celebrate Nancy Pelosi, her declaration that we are beginning impeachment proceedings, I’m grateful that she’s doing it now,” said U.S. Sen. Cory Booker, among the scrum of candidates vying for the Democratic presidential nomination. “I’m looking forward, and I’m going to continue to do my work on the Senate side to make sure from the Judiciary Committee and the Foreign Relations Committee that we continue to push for a thorough investigation of the president’s seeming misconduct.”
Two House Democrats from New Jersey applauded the Speaker for the way she’s handled herself in the job.
“I think Nancy Pelosi has done a terrific job,” said Albio Sires of Hudson County. “She’s not only handled Trump, but she’s handled our caucus and she’s brought our caucus along, so a lot of credit should go to Nancy Pelosi and the way she has handled this whole thing.”
Donald Norcross, whose district sits along the Delaware in South Jersey, described Pelosi as “brilliant. She has tremendous experience. But she also understands in terms of history, how critical the times we’re in.”
“As she said, the times have found us,” he added.
This story contains material from the Associated Press.