APB: The Democrats’ Scarlet Letter Strategy

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has evidently decided not to turn over the articles of impeachment to the Senate until Congress resumes its work January 7. Some observers think that’s a mistake that will cost Democrats on Election Day. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell seems to think so too, believing the longer the Democrats hold out, the more vindictive, uncooperative, even “unconstitutional” they will appear to voters. McConnell says he’s “fine” about Pelosi’s strategy, since it gives him a pass on having to make difficult decisions on the rules of trial procedure and which, if any, witnesses may appear at trial.

But I think Pelosi has the better strategy. She understands Trump’s psychology, and she’s targeting his ego. The thought of not being quickly cleared by the Senate—of not being “exonerated”—and having to wear the scarlet letter “I” for an indefinite time is probably driving Trump crazy. “He’s mad as hell” that he’s not getting his acquittal, says Lindsey Graham. Trump isn’t used to being on the defensive and forced to give ground, least of all to a woman. He will rant and rave daily, but nothing he says or does can erase that “I.” So Pelosi may be counting on McConnell, Trump’s Senate fixer, to give something to the Democrats, such as calling witnesses, to get a trial underway—and out of the way.

Trump knows that so long as he wears that letter, the chances increase of Republican defections—by those up for election and by traditional conservative groups. Guilt by association can produce interesting reactions. Let’s see who wins this test of wills and leverage.

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  1. Of course Moscow Mitch will say that Pelosi’s strategy is bad for her and good for him, because it is good for her and bad for him.

    I agree that Pelosi has the better strategy, esp. if she argues that Supreme John Roberts should set the rules and/or that she

    get assurances from Roberts or Mitch that witnesses will be summoned. She is counting on this, not just “may be counting.”

    Otherwise, just let the Articles sit. The Big Tease to Trumps’s ego, as you note.

    As for whether wearing the Scarlet Letter works for or against him, it remains to be seen. He will surely frame it as a battle wound

    deserving of a Purple Heart. The most Unfair thing that has ever happened to anyone, anywhere.

    My colleague David Harries will be in touch with you soon about using your excellent Afghanistan post.

    – Mike

  2. Mel, I thoroughly disagree with Pelosi’s strategm. The Dems have just spent an enormous amount of political capital arguing the case for the legitimacy of Impeachment as the constitutional remedy for authoritarian rule. Now, with her back to the wall, Pelosi reveals herself as all too willing to forego principle and democratic institutions for undisguised political advantage. She’s not going to win in the Senate and the decision to take the low road, now, will be seen as hyprocritical and grasping among those who support the principle of Impeachment she espoused.

    1. Thanks to everyone for your thoughts. I continue to believe it is McConnell who is taking the low road–no witnesses, no debate, just a vote and out. Maybe Trump will take Pelosi to court in his desperation to force the issue, or maybe Roberts will see fit to rule on the impasse. Hard to judge the impact on voters, but aren’t we already seeing some cracks in T rump’s ranks, as some commenters are saying?
      I invite others to share their thoughts. Looks like we have a long slog ahead.

      1. I’m a bit surprised we haven’t seen anything about a procedural work-around that the Senate could put in place by simple majority vote (I think). It derives from Senate Standing Rule XI. I found it in the Supreme Court decision (1993) in the impeachment of Judge Walter Nixon. (506 US 224). “[I]n the trial of any impeachment the Presiding Officer of the Senate, if the Senate so orders, shall appoint a committee of Senators to receive evidence and take testimony at such times and places as the committee may determine…”. The committee reports its findings to the Full Senate which acts on that report. This would provide an action-forcing method for starting an evidentiary hearing (over McConnell’s limp, warm body), wouldn’t tie up the full Senate as “jurors” during the hearing phase, and could be brought about by simple majority vote. [Constitional Scholars in the group, what think you?]

        As to Roberts ruling on Senate procedural questions, I think that’s a non-starter. It would produce an enormous constitutional battle over the separation of powers–hardly something the Court would want to wade into right now.

        Finally, I was attracted by mention of the “oath or affirmation” taken by Senators participating in the matter. The oath was one of “impartiality”. Hasn’t McConnell already managed to step in that one?


      2. All good points. McConnell has very directly abused his oath of impartiality. Too bad the chief justice won’t likely wade into that one either.

  3. I must say I agree with Larry Kirsh’s assessment: Pelosi has, indeed, taken the low road; and anything she does will now be suspect.

    Still, as you say: “the chances increase of Republican defections—by those up for election and by traditional conservative groups… .” Yesterday (Thursday, Dec. 19), in our local rag, The Eugene ‘Register-Guard’ ran an article: “Trump Conservative Critics Launch Super PAC;” with the note, ” A small group of President Donald Trump’s fiercest conservative critics, including the husband of the president’s own chief advisor, is launching a super PAC designed to fight Trump’s reelection and punish congressional Republicans deemed his ‘enablers’…”

    The prospects are intriguing, to say the least: Can some cracks be found in The Donald’s otherwise solidified base?

  4. Mel, Pelosi’s elegant reasoning. Christianity Today’s editorial. Your scarlet letter Great psywar moves.

    Best wishes, Bob

    Sent from my iPhone


  5. I think Pelosi knows what she’s doing, and Pelosi doesn’t pleaseTrump, ever. She makes him nuttier than he already is, if that’s possible.

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