I was in the CNN studios last night for the town hall Jake Tapper moderated with Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Although it’s been scheduled for awhile and impeachment was always going to be a topic that was likely asked about, the timing worked out to be extremely interesting Speaker Pelosi held a press conference earlier in the day to announce the House will be moving forward with writing articles of impeachment.
For what it’s worth, the town hall had an audience of about 75 people in studio, which made for tight quarters because it was a relatively small space, and lasted for just over an hour. Members of the audience where asked to submit up to three questions when they registered for the event and CNN staff members then pre-selected the people who would be allowed to ask their questions on air. These folks actually had reserved seats right along the aisles so they could easily make their way to the designated spot when it was their turn.
It’s also worth noting that while the crowd was definitely filled with some political insiders, it was relatively diverse — not just racially diverse, but there were a variety of ages represented and (based on conversations I had with folks) a good mix of professional backgrounds and political beliefs. And there was a noticeably large contingent of college students as John Hopkins, George Washington, American, Maryland, and a few other schools had students in the audience — several of whom were selected to ask questions.
Considering how the first 40 minutes or so were devoted to impeachment related questions and impeachment was a big part of how CNN staff stressed the importance of the event to audience members before we went on the air, it was relatively clear this was going to be the topic of the day. With that in mind, here are some of the interactions worth highlighting regarding impeachment questions:
- Pelosi said she didn’t support impeaching George W. Bush despite calls from many Democrats to do so because she didn’t believe using misleading information about weapons of mass destruction in the lead up to the War in Iraq was an impeachable offense. She also said she didn’t impeaching Clinton because the GOP just impeached him “for being stupid” and suggested he did something relatively minor in hopes of sparring himself and his family some embarrassment.
- The Speaker repeatedly highlighted how the founders created a system of checks and balances because they didn’t want a President who was basically just like the king they’d overthrown. Members of Congress are therefore continuing their vision and upholding their Constitutional duty by using the impeachment process to hold the president accountable. She did take a jab at the GOP by saying that while she’s taken an oath of office, “they have taken an oath to Donald Trump.”
- When asked about the House was moving forward with impeachment when the election was relatively soon and could be used as a potential way to hold Trump accountable, Pelosi highlighted how the president openly encouraged foreign governments to threaten our electoral process before and is already doing it again to help his reelection campaign.
- The Speaker said members of the Democratic leadership are working collectively to write the articles of impeachment and wouldn’t say whether or not the findings of the Mueller report would lead to any of the charges.
- Pelosi said that the White House officials who have been subpoenaed should testify before Congress. She mentioned how one of the articles of impeachment being proposed for Richard Nixon focused on his obstruction of Congress.
While the majority of time was spent on impeachment, there were some other topics covered. The speaker did lightheartedly say after awhile that she wanted to move beyond questions that were addressing the White House’s perspective of the impeachment process.
- When asked about whether the USMCA would be implemented before the holidays, she said they’re still working on language to make sure it’s enforceable. She added that it can have some great ideas in there, but it doesn’t do any good if there’s no actual way to hold all the parties accountable.
- Pelosi said on several occasions that health care would be the most important issue of the upcoming campaign. It is worth noting that she said she’s a strong backer of Obamacare and is proud of the fact that she was speaker when it passed. When pressed, she said she would prefer to strengthen the Affordable Care Act rather than immediately go to Medicare for All. She did admit, however, that we might eventually get to a single payer system.
- Jake Tapper highlighted how Pelosi had stated she might have retired if Hillary Clinton had won the 2016 presidential election and wanted to know if she’d be retiring if a Democrat won in 2020. She responded by saying “I’m not on a timetable, I’m on a mission.” This might have been the biggest applause line of the night.
- Since we’re rapidly approaching a deadline for a new budget (or at least a short term CR), Jake Tapper asked if another government shutdown was likely. She said she didn’t foresee that happening after the last one showed the political consequences for the GOP if they failed to even consider working to come up with an agreement.
There wasn’t really anything tremendously groundbreaking that took place during the town hall. If it had taken place on any other day, the headline might have been that she was pretty clear about her support for making adjustments to Obamacare and perhaps adding the public option instead of going straight to Medicare for All. Since this has been one of the biggest discussions during the Democratic primary, the comments would have likely received a lot more attention if they weren’t overshadowed by the day’s events surrounding impeachment.
Combine what Speaker Pelosi had to say during the town hall with the rhetoric other Democrats have been using recently, however, and it’s pretty clear they’re trying to channel the founding fathers and suggest impeachment is part of their constitutional duties and they’re fighting for our democratic (small d) version of government. In other words, they’re being patriotic and standing up for American values while holding Trump accountable for blatantly disregarding the rule of law.