Pelosi splits Democrats with doubt on impeachment
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's insistence that impeaching US President Donald Trump would not be worth the ensuing political firestorm has split Democrats, upsetting some progressive members and triggering a debate about the threshold for removal from office.
The California Democrat's comments came amid an aggressive push by House committees to investigate Mr Trump and his administration - and in the midst of Republican efforts to cast Democrats as obsessed with ousting the president.
If Ms Pelosi's intent was to push back on suggestions that Democrats were interested only in Mr Trump's scalp, her words also prompted concern from some in her party who argue that they should not worry about the political ramifications of holding Mr Trump accountable.
The chairmen of several powerful investigative committees backed Ms Pelosi, but a crop of members on the left disagreed with her insistence that Republican support was a key ingredient for impeachment.
"If the [reports] indicate that that's become necessary, then we must fulfil our oath and proceed with impeachment," said Rep Ilhan Omar, a freshman progressive firebrand.
Pramila Jayapal, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, agreed, arguing that voters "really are angry about what is perceived to be happening in the White House" and that Congress has an "obligation" to see where the facts lead.
"I don't think it's something we decide whether or not it's 'worth it'," Ms Jayapal said.
"If it's a consistent pattern of abuse of power, of obstruction of justice... then that to me seems like it will be impeachable."
Ms Pelosi told 'The Washington Post', in a magazine interview conducted on March 6, that impeachment would be divisive unless "there's something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan". Otherwise, she said, "I don't think we should go down that path, because it divides the country. And he's just not worth it".
Her comments brought to the fore a debate that has been raging inside the party for months.
At its crux is whether Democrats should proceed with impeachment hearings if Republicans refuse to join in that endeavour.
"The question we really have to ask ourselves is whether the country is worth it," Rep Al Green said during an interview on CSPAN. "We in the House have to take up our responsibility."
Mr Green, who has forced votes on previous impeachment resolutions, said he plans to do so again but wouldn't discuss timing.
During her 'Post' interview, Ms Pelosi spoke at length about how the impeachment of president Bill Clinton divided the country.
The public - and some Republicans - must support impeachment to proceed, she warned.
But other Democrats pointed to the GOP's refusal to challenge Mr Trump over the past two years.
They worry that compelling evidence of wrongdoing from special counsel Robert Mueller - who is probing Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election - would not change Republicans' minds, and they say Democrats need to be prepared to act on their own.
"I took an oath to the constitution, not to the Democratic Party," said Rep Gerald Connolly, a senior member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee.
"If I feel that I have a constitutional obligation to follow that procedure, then I have a legal and moral obligation to do so - even if no Republican wants to do anything."
Ms Pelosi's comments were expected to take centre stage at a closed-door House Democratic caucus meeting yesterday .
But difficult questions about how and whether to proceed with impeachment will likely drag out for weeks, as Mr Mueller's investigation comes to a close and as House Democrats ramp up their own investigations.
Ms Pelosi, for her part, has told lawmakers that they should not impeach the president for political reasons, nor should they refuse to impeach him for political reasons.
Ms Pelosi was clearly sensitive to political head winds that await the party should Democrats fail to garner public support for such divisive action.
For moderate Democrats in swing districts fearful of accusations of partisan overreach, Ms Pelosi's cautious approach to impeachment has been a welcome dose of reality. (© Washington Post)