Nancy Pelosi on Trump Impeachment Inquiry: "This Isn't About Him"

Nancy Pelosi at the 2019 New Yorker Festival - H Getty 2019
Brad Barket/Getty Images for The New Yorker

The Speaker of the House spoke about her phone call with the president, which she said he started by talking about background checks, at the 2019 New Yorker Festival.

Nancy Pelosi received an enthusiastic reception when she joined New Yorker staff writer Jane Mayer at the 2019 New Yorker Festival on Saturday night.

The packed audience at the event on Manhattan's Upper West Side gave the Speaker of the House two standing ovations, when she took the stage and exited, and frequently applauded as she talked about the Democrats' agenda and taking on President Trump.

Mayer kicked things off by talking about the impeachment inquiry into the president, despite Pelosi wanting to talk about the Democrats' legislative goals, and insisted she didn't want to dwell on it but spent roughly 30 minutes on the topic.

Later Pelosi quipped, "I've never spoken this much about [Trump]."

Pelosi frequently made it clear that the impeachment inquiry is about the Constitution and that any specific issues people have with Trump's personality and policy are for the election.

Speaking generally about the inquiry, she said, "This is nothing to be gleeful about for our country. It's a very sad time when the truth and the data and the facts show that the president has violated his oath of office.… We have a president who says, "I can do whatever I want and acts accordingly and tries to undermine the powers of article one [of the Constitution], the legislative branch. This isn't about any disregard for him. This is about love for the Constitution."

She also talked more specifically about the phone call that she had with Trump the morning she announced that the House would launch its impeachment inquiry. Pelosi revealed that the president initially called to talk about how he was happy about all the progress that was being made on background checks, as he put it, something she said she was surprised to hear since she said she didn't know of any progress since the House passed a bill expanding background checks that has been stalled in the Senate.

He later changed the subject to the Ukraine phone call, which he called, as he often has, "perfect," Pelosi recalled.

"Mr. President, it's not perfect it's wrong," she said, adding that Trump claimed there wasn't a quid pro quo in his conversation with the Ukraine president.

"Asking the head of state of a country to dig up dirt on a political opponent, that's not right," Pelosi said. "His insistence it was right made it so imperative [that the House proceed with an impeachment inquiry]. I said, 'You violated your oath of office, undermined the national security and jeopardized the integrity of our elections that are fundamental to our democracy.'… This is so beyond. He's made lawlessness normal. He's almost tried to make lawlessness a virtue. This isn't about him."

Pelosi recalled previously saying that impeachment is so divisive for the country she didn't think Trump was worth it. "The Constitution is worth it. The republic is worth it. Our democracy is worth it," she said.

The House Speaker said she was befuddled by the idea that any president would want to interview a whistle-blower, as Trump has indicated he wants to do.

"It's stunning the disregard for everybody's rights in all of this.… This is about the truth and the Constitution," she said.

As for whether there will be a vote on impeachment soon, Pelosi said, "I don't know. We'll see."

She later added, "The time that it will take is the time that the truth requires."

As for whether she's confident that a Mitch McConnell-led Senate would hold a trial, Pelosi first quipped, "Anyone who names himself, with great pride, 'the grim reaper,' I don't have a lot of faith in."

She then indicated the House is proceeding without worrying about what happens in the Senate.

"The courage of the House to honor its oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States is not affected by the cowardice of the Senate to look the other way and not honor their oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States" Pelosi said, adding that the Senate Republicans are supposedly writing her a letter saying don't go down that path because they won't do anything about it. "Oh really? I'm so glad you wrote to me."

"As we go forward prayerfully — this is sad for the country — that we do so strategically in a way that is ironclad. Should we go down that path…it would be in such an ironclad way, so focused…that if the Senate decides they have better things to do that day that the public will recognize that they have abandoned their oath of office," she said, adding that, as far as she's concerned, if they acquit, "he's impeached forever."

As for the 2020 election, Pelosi said she was "so proud of all" of the "beautiful [Democratic] candidates" and said the party had to "make a decision to win. And when you do that you make every decision in favor of winning."