I am curious as to why Nancy Pelosi (until 9/24/2019 17:00 EDT) seemed to be so reluctant to push for Donald Trump's impeachment. It seems that the Democratic Party is becoming increasingly outraged by what they perceive as Trump's corruption; lack of respect for the law and continued stonewalling of Congressional oversight. So, it appears that she is quite at odds with a large contingent of her party.

Has Nancy Pelosi made any public statements about why she is not supporting a push for impeachment, or what line Trump would have to cross, before she would support it?

The obvious answer is that she is concerned any push for impeachment would galvanize Trump's support base. But, is it that simple? What has she said?

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    "The obvious answer is that she is concerned any push for impeachment would galvanize Trump's support base." Doesn't this belong in an answer, not in the question? Sep 24, 2019 at 5:47
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    Might be a good idea to reference some experts or some documentation of those crimes (about 10 counts of obstruction of justice, and being named Michael Cohen's un-indicted co-conspirator in the federal crimes which now have Cohen serving time). Sep 24, 2019 at 10:05
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    Update: In the time since this question was submitted, Speaker Pelosi has changed her stance and announced the House will open a formal impeachment inquiry.
    – Seth R
    Sep 24, 2019 at 21:28
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    @SethR yes, indeed. It seems she has changed her position within the last 24 hours. I can only assume she must read Politics SE and wasn't able to answer the question herself ... ;-)
    – Time4Tea
    Sep 25, 2019 at 13:08
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    And if he actually gets impeached, we can celebrate your role in making it happen.
    – Barmar
    Sep 25, 2019 at 19:03

10 Answers 10


Has Nancy Pelosi made any public statements about why she is not supporting a push for impeachment, or what line Trump would have to cross, before she would support it?

On September 20, 2019, House Speaker Pelosi gave an interview to NPR, Pelosi Says Congress Should Pass New Laws So Sitting Presidents Can Be Indicted.

But despite the growing chants among Democrats for an impeachment inquiry in the House, Pelosi has remained reluctant about recourse. She fears it could alienate swing voters ahead of next year's elections and imperil moderate Democrats who were critical to her party's taking back the House last November.

Pelosi did not shift her position on impeachment and said Congress would continue to follow "the facts and the law."

From an earlier, linked, article, Who In The House Is Calling For Impeachment? updated September 17, 2019:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., now stands apart from most of her caucus in opposing such a move, at least for now. She recently cited ongoing litigation as a reason she is not ready to advance an impeachment process.

"My position has always been: Whatever decision we made [regarding impeachment] would have to be done with our strongest possible hand, and we still have some outstanding matters in the courts," Pelosi said during a news conference in July. "We have subpoenas in the courts. ... When we get that information we can make that judgment. ... This isn't endless, understand that. But we have live cases in the courts."

Pelosi, who has the most influential voice in the decision whether to move forward, has repeatedly stated that she is focused on public sentiment on the issue. She also stresses the need to focus on current congressional committee investigations into Trump before considering impeachment articles.

There is no line President Trump would have to cross; rather, it depends on facts and public sentiment.

From What Nancy Pelosi Learned From the Clinton Impeachment, June 19, 2019:

Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, told me she was too busy to talk about her own takeaways from the Clinton impeachment. But the House speaker has hardly kept her broader views a secret, making it clear that she prefers to have the relevant House committees continue their investigations into Trump’s potential misdeeds, and pressing the courts for access to documents and witnesses as needed in the face of the White House’s stonewalling. She hasn’t totally ruled out impeachment, but unlike some of her colleagues, she has been wary to commit. “Well, it’s not off the table,” Pelosi told CNN’s Manu Raju on Wednesday. “I don’t think you should impeach for political reasons, and I don’t think you should not impeach for political reasons. It’s not about politics. It’s not about Democrats and Republicans. It’s not about partisanship. It’s about patriotism to our country.”

Quotes reported after 5 PM, September 24, 2019

Pelosi launches formal Trump impeachment inquiry -- live updates, UPDATED ON: SEPTEMBER 24, 2019 / 6:40 PM / CBS NEWS:

5:43 p.m.:

"I'm directing our six committees to proceed with their investigations under that umbrella of impeachment inquiry," Pelosi said in her announcement.

5:57 p.m.:

Pelosi on Tuesday outlined the rationale behind her decision to launch a formal impeachment inquiry, a shift from her earlier reluctance to do so.

"The president must be held accountable," she said. "No one is above the law."

6:13 p.m.:

Later in the Capitol, Pelosi told reporters the Ukraine episode marked a "sea change" in how she approached the question of impeachment, and said it was a "sad day" for the country.

"The president of the United States has admitted that he spoke to the president of another country -- that would be the Ukraine -- about something that would assist him in his election," she said. "So, that has changed everything."

Pelosi said the inspector general's determination that the whistleblower complaint constitutes an "urgent concern" meant she "accelerated the pace of how we go forward" with the inquiry.

6:40 p.m.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the House is launching a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump, setting up a dramatic constitutional clash just over a year before the presidential election.

"Today I'm announcing the House of Representatives is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry," Pelosi said in a scathing statement at the Capitol late Tuesday afternoon.

The speaker has long resisted calls from many progressive lawmakers to initiate impeachment proceedings against the president, but Democrats appear to have reached a breaking point over the administration's refusal to hand over a whistleblower complaint related to Mr. Trump's interaction with a foreign leader.

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    Apparently there are some recent developments today on Pelosi's position. This answer could benefit from an update to reflect those updates.
    – Batman
    Sep 24, 2019 at 22:36
  • @AlexanderO'Mara - The question time frame was set as 5PM EDT as the latest. The problem, for me, is finding a direct quote prior to that time. I am not opposed to adding later quotes; but I prefer to try to answer the question as asked.
    – Rick Smith
    Sep 24, 2019 at 23:02
  • You're choice, but I think an update would be warented in this case, especially since it's still active and on the HNQ list.
    – Batman
    Sep 24, 2019 at 23:04
  • "would have to be done with our strongest possible hand". As soon as I heard that she was going forward, I thought exactly this. If they fail to impeach him, the political repercussions will be huge.
    – RonJohn
    Sep 25, 2019 at 19:58

An attempt to remove Trump from office via impeachment would likely fail because it requires a huge amount of Republican support, and Nancy Pelosi has a good enough reading of Congress to know that the support isn't there. Not even close.

If an impeachment attempt fails, then Trump may try to use it to proclaim himself innocent of any and all wrongdoing ever, and this might influence the small, but politically significant, sliver of voters who are sitting on the fence between Republican and Democrat.

Update: Looks like Pelosi may now feel the situation has changed.

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    While I personally think this is a very plausible reason, the question is looking for statements from Pelosi herself. Please find a quote to back this up.
    – Bobson
    Sep 23, 2019 at 21:23
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    Technical note: impeachment of a US federal official (e.g, the President) requires a simple majority in the House of Representatives, which currently has 235 Democrats, 198 Republicans, 1 independent, and 1 empty seat. So impeachment would not require any Republican support (rather than "a huge amount" as you say). Regardless of the outcome in the Senate, after a majority vote in the House, a president has been impeached (see Clinton and Jackson, who were both impeached by the house but not convicted by the Senate).
    – De Novo
    Sep 24, 2019 at 3:32
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    To clarify, I was using "impeach successfully" as shorthand to mean "impeach successfully and convict successfully".
    – klojj
    Sep 24, 2019 at 5:05
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    @klojj Calling a segment of voters "gullible to gaslighting" is insulting. I rewrote that section.
    – Philipp
    Sep 24, 2019 at 20:30
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    Clinton and Johnson, rather (I have transposed the two Tennessee democrats named Andrew). Re: impeach successfully meaning impeach and convict, I have my doubts that the senate could ever convict anyone.
    – De Novo
    Sep 25, 2019 at 15:30

I've upvoted the BurnsBA answer, but let's talk a little bit about why some people think Impeachment proceedings would be a bad thing without public support.

The last time (of the 2 in history!) that the House of Representatives underwent impeachment proceedings was in October of 1998 under President Bill Clinton. At the time, the opposition party controlled both houses of Congress, but were a dozen seats short of the required 2/3 majority in the Senate. Still, they could, in theory, have simply voted Clinton out of office if they could find something he did that they could argue was sufficient justification for it enough to convince a small handful of Democratic Senators.

A storm of investigations followed. During one of them, Clinton made an assertion under oath about his sex life that was later shown to be untrue (which is perjury), and Newt Gingrich's House seized upon that to attempt the impeachment. Most of the charges sailed though the House on a nearly party line vote, starting the trial phase in the Senate. This was conveniently scheduled for after the election of 1998, which Republicans had hoped might gain them some more seats to help the process forward. In theory this was a shrewd move, as Presidential 6th year Congressional elections are notorious for going badly for the sitting President's party1, and they would have hope the Impeachment process would help things along.

Here's a poll snapshot taking from a CNN story in August of 1998, during the House debate. enter image description here

There's where things started to fall apart for the Republicans. Few Americans who weren't hardcore Republicans actually supported impeachment going in, and those numbers just did not increase as it wore on. The trial lasted over a month, and during that time public support for impeachment and the Republicans in general did nothing but deteriorate.

The Republicans actually lost seats in the House in the election of 1998 and just managed to at hold steady in the Senate. This was the worst mid-term performance for an opposition party in 64 years2, and the politically ugly impeachment process was largely blamed. Newt Gingrich in disgrace not only resigned the Speakership, but the entire House of Representatives.

For sure, hardcore activist Republicans were demanding impeachment. However, the whole procedure was viewed by many of the rest as a naked attempt by the Republican Party to abuse the impeachment process to undo a democratic election they had lost. Clinton was actually fairly popular going in, but his popularity soared to 64% by the end.

enter image description here

So this is the ghost Nancy Pelosi is fighting. This all happened in her first two terms in Congress, so she got to witness it up close and personal. What she doesn't want is that same kind of political backfire happening to her and her party.

1 - The average loss in a mid-term election since the end of the Civil War has been a bit over 34 House seats, and 3 Senate seats.

2 - This made Clinton the first president not named "Roosevelt" since the end of the Civil War to get through a mid-term election without losing a single seat in either chamber.

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    "6th year presidential elections" -- what is this?
    – Roger
    Sep 24, 2019 at 19:22
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    @Roger - Oh my, that is confusing. I've tried again with "Presidential 6th year Congressional elections". There are Congressional elections (all of The House and 1/3rd of the Senate) every 2 years. The President can serve at most 2 terms, which is 8 years. At his 0th and 4th year the President himself is up for election, and the winner's party tends to do well. On the "off-year" elections (2 and 6), his party tends to do badly. The one on their 6th year is particularly ill-starred. Actually gaining seats on that year is quite an accomplishment.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 24, 2019 at 19:30
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    I think this answer really gets to the heart of the issue. Pelosi, with good reason, believes that impeachment would achieve nothing -- Trump wouldn't be convicted by the senate and it wouldn't help her party electorally.
    – Thomas
    Sep 24, 2019 at 20:43
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    @RickSmith - I do find it interesting that there doesn't seem to be much discussion about Censure today, considering it was far and away the most popular option back in 1998. That much at least is very different this time.
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 25, 2019 at 14:25
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    "The last time (of the 2 in history!) that the House of Representatives underwent impeachment proceedings..." it may depend on how you interpret proceedings, but the the investigation of Nixon was completed and the articles of impeachment for Nixon reached the floor, and the committee that investigated the possibility of Buchanan being impeached completed the investigation with a "no."
    – gormadoc
    Sep 25, 2019 at 21:13

There is a line of thought that says impeachment should only occur if there is enough public support. Pelosi adheres to this philosophy, and won't publicly push for impeachment until public support is stronger (as of June, a Fox News poll suggests ~50% of registered voters support impeachment).

Below are sources for the first part about public opinion, and following are sources for Pelosi's views.

On public opinion:

Public opinion is a key factor in impeachment proceedings, as politicians including those in the House of Representatives look to opinion polls to assess the tenor of those they represent.[211][212][213] Any action would have to be based on the requisite legal grounds for impeachment, but such action is more likely to be taken in the face of support from public opinion.[211][212][213]


Relevant sources from the wiki quote:

Public opinion matters because for impeachment to happen, Congress must act, and elected officials sometimes hang their principles on opinion polls.


But to actually kickstart start the mechanism for removing him from office there would probably have to be a shift in public opinion.


But ultimately, the probability of a push for impeachment succeeding is dependent on public opinion.


Pelosi's views:

Pelosi told House Democrats on a conference call Friday, “The public isn’t there on impeachment.”

She told them the case needs to be “as strong” as possible.

“If and when we act, people will know he gave us no choice,” Pelosi said, according to an aide granted anonymity to discuss the private call.


"You're wasting your time, unless the evidence is so conclusive that the Republicans will understand," Pelosi, D-Calif., told USA TODAY. "Otherwise, it's a gift to the president. We take our eye off the ball."


On Monday night, 146 Democrats backed impeachment, well over a majority of the caucus. But Pelosi has long said that any impeachment would need public support as well as backing from some Republicans.


In both public and private, Pelosi, a 32-year House veteran who did not make any public remarks on Monday, has argued that Democrats should aggressively investigate Trump but shouldn’t move on impeachment without overwhelming support from the public and buy-in from Republicans


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    Isn't this the same thing she condemns the Republicans for doing -- refusing to push against Trump, even when they thing it's the right thing to do, because it will harm them or their party politically? Sep 24, 2019 at 17:52
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    @DavidSchwartz - Arguably, yes it is. That's the counter-argument: If its the Right Thing (tm) to do for the country, then it should be done and damn the personal/party consequences. Who's going to want to support a party that won't even stand up and fight for its country? Why would anyone want to hand the reins of power to such?
    – T.E.D.
    Sep 24, 2019 at 19:24
  • @DavidSchwartz wrong framing, re-read her words: "otherwise, it's a gift to the president". If they try to impeach prematurely, and fail, then they have lowered chances of getting a subsequent impeachment through, even if there's better evidence. They will probably (and I say probably because it's Donald Trump and anything is possible) only get one shot at this. Nov 1, 2019 at 18:12

Pelosi has two jobs that conflict over this issue.

First, she's the Speaker of the House, and as such, is in charge of half of the legislative and checks-and-balances powers of Congress. Second, she's the de-facto leader of Democrats in the House.

As Speaker of the House, she is mandated to begin impeachment proceedings in order to serve the House's role as a check on the President's power, regardless of the inevitability of Senate partisans blocking the impeachment. Withholding Federal aid to a country unless they help to smear a political opponent is black-and-white impeachment territory.

But as de-facto leader of a political party, Pelosi has a lot of experience with the 'horse show' aspect of Congress, and what the American people will or will not accept, and will or will not do in response to actions she takes. She knows that any attempt at impeaching the President will be spun by Republicans as a partisan attack and used as a rallying cry by Republicans in 2020. Likewise, she is practical enough to know that her doing her congressional mandate but the Republicans not doing theirs will result in absolutely nothing happening. So to have Democrats potentially facing a backlash in 2020 for no political payoff is to neglect one duty to fulfill another.

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    Thank you for touching upon the civic duty vs political calculus issue that is at the core of Pelosi's reluctance on this, that not too many people have touched upon. Many just see the political side, without mentioning the duties of being a public servant. Others see just the "rule of law" angle. Pelosi is trying to navigate both. +1, and I even restrained my self from editing "irregardless" to "regardless." Sep 25, 2019 at 15:21

She didn't say it but her change of stance was about grassroots

There's a crucially missing aspect in existing answers IMHO: what's happening on the ground.

Insofar as I can tell, the generally accepted reason that she ended up moving forward with impeachment is that the latest round of White House scandals is straightforward to explain to voters, and conveniently doesn't need a lengthy criminal investigation to get witnesses before various committees. There's also something to be said about Pelosi not wanting to go down in history as the House Leader who let the President raise the finger at Congress with impunity.

The reason they moved so quickly though can be summarized thus: angry grassroots activism that is leading to primary challenges. Quoting the article I linked to:

But there was a bigger problem, Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., told his colleagues that day. Raskin, the highest-ranking progressive on the periphery of leadership, is a constitutional attorney and had long been calling for impeachment on principle. But politics now mattered too, he argued, and the party’s passivity was causing real political pain for rank-and-file members of Congress, particularly those holding back support of impeachment to honor the party leadership’s opposition to it. In order to placate a small handful of front-liners — perhaps as few as seven or eight — the entire party was being dragged down and routinely humiliated by Trump’s contempt for the rule of law.

That grassroots anger was translating into primary challenges, he noted, and needlessly furious constituents. Rep. Cheri Bustos, the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, and a champion of doing nothing when it came to Trump, had recently counted as many as 111 primaries, far more than a typical cycle. The members without official primary challenges were by no means safe, either, as they might soon draw a challenge unless the trajectory of the politics changed. Freshman representative Lori Trahan, from Massachusetts, for instance, came out for impeachment after Dan Koh, whom she beat in a primary by 147 votes in 2018, called on her to do so, with the clear threat that he may run again. The seats of upward of 200 Democrats were being put at risk to protect a handful of loud front-liners, Raskin argued, and it wasn’t obvious that the strategy was actually protecting them from anything. Grassroots activists were demobilizing, Democrats across the board were facing primary challenges, and somehow, someway, Democrats seemed to be losing, again, to Trump. Something had to give.

Put another way, grassroots Democrats were getting so pissed at Pelosi and top Democrats not taking action that activists were demobilizing or mounting primary challenges against incumbent Democrats across the country.

And then a golden opportunity came with the whistleblower scandal. They went along with it, and here we are today.

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    So you are saying that Pelosi succumbed to the worst instincts of her radical base rather than emerging facts. +1. You are a braver man than me.
    – user9790
    Sep 27, 2019 at 19:17
  • @KDog: Pretty much, yeah. It's not my words, mind you -- although I agree with the analysis. The quoted article is by Ryan Grim from The Intercept. It appears you do agree with leftists sometimes. ;-) Sep 27, 2019 at 19:19
  • Lachlan Markay, who is a guy or your side of the aisle, had this to say: [Democrats' determination to discuss process, executive privilege, DNI's discussions with the WH about the complaint, etc, rather than the substance of the complaint itself, is totally baffling.] Not to the rest of us. The substance of this was never important. It was either as you said, to assuage the base. Or to try to get Trump in a process crime, aka Russia fake conspiracy 2.0, or both.
    – user9790
    Sep 27, 2019 at 19:33
  • @KDog: By leftist I was meaning The Intercept -- which is about as leftist as one can get. My own side of the aisle is across the pond and rather green. I've no skin in the game over in the US. That being said, in the substance I disagree with your analysis. I'd agree there is a (slim) possibility that Trump doesn't end up getting impeached. And if that happens I'd also suggest the odds are strong he'll get re-elected -- MAGA basically sells better than actual plans. But if either or both happen, as an outside observer I'd put forward it would be troubling for the US' position in the world. Sep 27, 2019 at 19:54

I think the question answers itself.

It does not cite a single "high crime or misdemeanor" that Pelosi can use as a basis for impeachment.

Instead, it cites "Trump's perceived level of corruption" and "..apparent lack of respect for the law..".

Maybe she understands that real evidence of a real crime is necessary for impeachment, and nobody has yet produced such evidence against Trump.

As noted in the question, there are only "perceived" and "apparent" crimes.

I'll add that a big chunk of the population finds these perceptions and appearances to be nothing more than defamation.

So, with no corroborating evidence, and a substantial percentage of the electorate not buying into the anti-Trump narratives, and a Republican-controlled Senate, maybe her reluctance to pursue impeachment is the result of a prudent political calculation. This would be consistent with her long-time reputation as a dispassionate and data-driven political operative.

  • Comments are not for extended discussion; this conversation about what the Mueller report says has been moved to chat.
    – Philipp
    Sep 24, 2019 at 20:26
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    Please respect the move of the discussion to chat.
    – Philipp
    Sep 25, 2019 at 8:20

Because, Pelosi knows politics and knows history.

The last time the congress tried to impeach a president on the grounds of partisan politics, it ended up helping bill clinton.

And she has made comments to that effects on numerous occasions.

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    I haven't voted on your question either way... but can you quote such a comment from Pelosi? Sep 23, 2019 at 20:03
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    You are assuming that trump would be impeached (solely) "on the grounds of partisan politics," ?
    – Mawg
    Sep 24, 2019 at 6:57
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    @Mawg it's the only way they can do it, and the only reason they're even trying.
    – jwenting
    Sep 25, 2019 at 3:30
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    @Mawg that depends entirely on who controls the senate, obviously. Were the democrats to control the senate they'd go along with impeachment of Trump no matter what the grounds. It's come to that, sadly. And I'm not so sure what the senate would have done if the Republican led House had launched impeachment on Obama.
    – jwenting
    Sep 25, 2019 at 8:05
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    I think this comparison to the Clinton impeachment is a bit overdone. Not all crimes are the same, and not all accusations are the same. Pretty fundamental to the disapproval of the impeachment of Clinton, and the widespread view that it was primarily a political hit, was the fact that the crime he was impeached for had nothing to do with abuse of the powers of office, or trying to cover up an abuse of powers. It was viewed as airing his private, dirty, sexual laundry for the sake of embarrassing him. Not sure that is how Trumps alleged misdeeds would be categorized. Sep 25, 2019 at 15:24

I can't read Pelosi's mind, and I doubt anyone else here can. However, I might guess that it is simple partisan politics. It takes a 2/3 majority of Senators to actually convict on an impeachment, and almost all Senate Republicans have shown themselves willing to support Trump, whatever he does. This would make conviction impossible, so an impeachment would be nothing more than pointless political theater.

Indeed, an impeachment that failed to convict might actually benefit Trump politically.

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    Thanks for your answer. However, I would like to point out that, regarding 'reading Pelosi's mind', I asked specifically whether she has made any public statements on the matter.
    – Time4Tea
    Sep 23, 2019 at 18:59
  • It's pretty difficult to draw clear conclusions about the political consequences of impeachment sans conviction. There have been two impeachments of US presidents, with no convictions. Jackson and Clinton were both acquitted. Clinton and his party were likely helped, Jackson and his party were likely harmed. Much will depend on the particular case. Clinton was a popular president in his second term. For Jackson, there was no scientific polling, but he was never elected in the first place, and was denied his party's nomination in 1868. Trump, as often is the case, is a bit of a wild card.
    – De Novo
    Sep 24, 2019 at 23:36
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    @DeNovo You mean Andrew Johnson, not Jackson
    – divibisan
    Sep 24, 2019 at 23:57
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    @PoloHoleSet it's difficult to say for certain what would have happened if Nixon hadn't resigned. At the moment the tapes were released, yes, only 15 of the 42 Republican senators still supported him. But we don't know how it would have played out. Regardless, conviction of a President has NEVER actually happened.
    – De Novo
    Sep 25, 2019 at 15:38
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    @DeNovo - I don't think it's difficult to say. He lost the support of the votes he needed, and given all that he was willing to do to stay in power, I'd strongly dispute anyone who would argue that Nixon was going to give up the Presidency over anything less than a very certain negative outcome. I was not claiming he was convicted, we were talking about the consequences of impeachment without conviction, and I thought that made Nixon's case relevant. Sep 25, 2019 at 15:40

Two reasons come to mind:

Impeachment is a very drastic measure, if one considers the effect on the nation. In 1974, Richard Nixon resigned rather than face almost certain impeachment, and the nation was in political chaos for a number of years after, and lost a lot of stature internationally for years after. The nation didn't really recover from the fallout until the early 1980's, and the end result was 12 years of Republican domination of the federal government.

I doubt the Democrats want that to happen again. If they were to succeed and either impeach Trump or force his resignation, and then bungle the government in the aftermath (as Carter did with a recession and the Iran situation), that could very well be the end result this time. The uncertainty following a Trump removal almost guarantees a recession as investors move to safe havens like gold or bonds to ride the storm out... for which the Democrats will be held responsible.

Pelosi's House can pass articles of impeachment on a simple majority vote, which she can get. However, a conviction and removal requires a 2/3 majority of the Senate, which in the absence of something truly damning (and proven factually, not exaggerated or cherry picked), simply isn't possible with the current Senate. That could backfire on the Democrats, by making them appear to be more interested in their party than the nation.

Which, of course, both parties are. But... you can't be obvious about it.

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