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House Speaker Nancy Pelosi laid down a firm marker against impeaching President Donald Trump, saying Monday the effort would divide the nation and is 'not worth it.'
Pelosi has long counseled her colleagues not to allow their talk on impeachment to get ahead of the facts – including the final report of Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
But in her latest comments to the Washington Post, she stated flat out that she is 'not for' impeachment unless the evidence reaches a threshold of being both compelling and bipartisan.
On that second criteria, Pelosi appears to be putting the decision of a GOP Senate majority that has so far refused to condemn Trump on policy matters such as his emergency declaration for a border wall, or on personal matters like his payments to lawyer Michael Cohen and hush agreement with porn star Stormy Daniels.
'I’m not for impeachment. This is news. I’m going to give you some news right now because I haven’t said this to any press person before,' Pelosi told the paper.
'But since you asked, and I’ve been thinking about this: Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he’s just not worth it,' she concluded.
Pelosi's comments come after senior Democratic chairs have stepped up their probes of Trump's finances and the Trump White House. Days ago, longtime Trump lawyer Michael Cohen testified that Trump was part of a criminal conspiracy to violate campaign finance laws.
'She is lowering expectations about the prospect of impeachment and reminding people of the gravity of that move and the impact it would have politically in dividing the country,' Rep. Gerry Connelly of Virginia told CNN. He called it a 'useful thing' and said it served 'to remind us of the fact that impeachment is the last resort in the Constitution, not the first resort.'
Pelosi and her leadership team were facing pressure on impeachment from as soon as the Democrats took power. On her first full day in office, Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan was caught on tape telling supporters it was time to 'impeach the mother******,' in comments pointed at Trump.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., fired off requests for information from 81 individuals and entities linked to Trump
The president regularly goes after Democrats by talking up the impeachment issue
White House press secretary Sarah Sanders on Monday said she was 'not aware' of specifics of the $35,000 check Trump wrote in December 2017 to longtime lawyer Michael Cohen. Cohen testified it was reimbursement for money he gave porn star Stormy Daniels, who claims she had an affair with Trump
By laying down a marker against impeachment, Pelosi leaves herself the option of joining or boosting the effort at some point down the line, while avoiding having to walk back a statement should Mueller come up short.
Yet even as she made the case against a hasty impeachment, Pelosi said Trump was unfit for office when asked.
'Are we talking ethically? Intellectually? Politically? What are we talking here?' she asked.
Then she answered: 'All of the above. No. No. I don’t think he is. I mean, ethically unfit. Intellectually unfit. Curiosity-wise unfit. No, I don’t think he’s fit to be president of the United States.'
Despite a growing chorus of senior Democrats faulting the president for tearing down U.S. institutions and even going against the rule of law with his attacks on investigators, Pelosi portrayed U.S. institutions as intact.
She said she didn't share that concern. 'Here’s why I don’t: Our country is great. It’s a great country. Our founders gave us the strongest foundation. … All the challenges we have faced, we can withstand anything,' she said.
'But maybe not two terms. So we have to make sure that doesn’t happen,' she added. That line stresses one concern raised by the anti-impeachment corner of the Democratic caucus: that by impeaching Trump, Democrats could damage their ability to take him down at the ballot box.
Billionaire Tom Steyer, who started a 'need to impeach' TV campaign, blasted Pelosi's comments.
'Speaker Pelosi thinks "he's just not worth it?" Well, is defending our legal system "worth it?" Is holding the President accountable for his crimes and coverups "worth it?" Is doing what's right "worth it?" Or shall America just stop fighting for our principles and do what's politically convenient,' Steyer asked.
Aides have indicated he is prepared to spend $40 million backing the impeachment effort.
The House GOP's impeachment crusade against President Clinton helped inspire a backlash in 1996 that is credited with helping Democrats gain House seats.
A successful impeachment would begin in the Judiciary Committee, then make it's way to the Democratic-run House. It would then lead to an impeachment trial in the Senate, where a two-thirds majority would be required.
Later in the interview, Pelosi struggled to define her relationship with Trump.
'Is there a relationship?' she said, laughing when asked about it. 'How would I describe my relationship to the president? My relationship toward him is respectful, respectful of the office that he holds. Straightforward, just tell him what I think. And I always say you’re not going to hear me saying anything publicly that I’m not saying here in the office. Hopeful that at some point we can find common ground that he’ll stick to. So, yeah, respectful, honest and hopeful,' she said.