Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (Trinity ’62) was right to respond forcefully to a reporter’s insinuation that she is motivated by hate in her management of the impeachment process in the House of Representatives. She was at the conclusion of a press conference before which she had solemnly announced that she was instructing the House to proceed with drafting articles of impeachment in the case of President Trump. As she was leaving the press conference stage after answering numerous substantive questions, Reporter James Rosen of the Sinclair Broadcast group shouted after her, “Do you hate the president, Madam Speaker?” He kept talking over her as she turned to answer; he claimed he was simply reciting a statement made by another member of Congress, Representative Douglas Collins (R-GA). Her response was sharp and clear: “I don’t hate anybody.” She returned to the podium to deliver a short but impassioned statement rejecting the idea of hate as the motivation for her leadership, lifting up the fundamental Catholic idea of rejecting hate and praying for others, underscoring the difference between political motivations and Constitutional duties, and concluding with an affirming statement for women everywhere who are too often dismissed despite their substance: “Don’t mess with me!”
Collins, Rosen and others who seek to diminish the seriousness of the impeachment issues by attributing them to personal fits of pique do a grave disservice to our nation and the rule of law that is the necessary framework for governance in a free society. In less than 20 seconds, during her response to Rosen, Speaker Pelosi deftly and correctly separated political issues — disagreements on gun control, Dreamers, economy — from the Constitutional issues at stake in impeachment. Political issues, she said, are for the election to decide. The Constitutional issue that Congress must decide is whether President Trump violated his oath of office and committed the kinds of offenses that the Constitution says warrant impeachment.
Whatever opinion any one of us may hold about the issues at stake, we surely all must agree on one thing: the future of our nation requires every single citizen to approach this moment with seriousness, a willingness to learn, to listen and to consider all of the evidence, and to insist that Congress make decisions based on the facts, not emotions. Writing in Monday’s Washington Post, Columnist E.J. Dionne correctly points out that mindless partisanship prevents the thoughtful exercise of informed judgment which is the basis of an effective democracy. We must consider the arguments all the way around, and we must insist on facts, not partisan labels or emotional insinuations.
I’m old enough to remember the last two impeachment moments — Richard Nixon’s in 1974, Bill Clinton’s in 1998. Nixon resigned before the formal House action on impeachment because the evidence was overwhelming against him for covering-up the Watergate burglary and obstructing justice in the investigation. Clinton was impeached by the House but acquitted by the Senate in the matter of his affair with Monica Lewinsky and his subsequent lies about the affair. In Nixon’s case, the issues were profoundly serious for the nation — a president directing criminal activities to manipulate an election, and then covering up his crimes. In Clinton’s case, the issues were tawdry, disgraceful and shameful — but not a threat to the integrity of our government. In the current case involving President Trump, the evidence available on the public record makes both the Nixon case and Clinton case look like child’s play. Perhaps we may never know all of the arabesque dealings behind-the-scenes, but what’s in the public eye is reveals a shocking disregard for truth, appropriate presidential conduct, respect for the American system of elections, respect for the rule of law.
We all need to pay attention in these next few weeks, read everything we can, hear all the facts and make reasonable judgments about them. And, like Speaker Pelosi, we might also take the time to pray for our nation and our leaders, since the consequences of this moment hold great peril for our domestic peace and standing in the world.
There’s one other dimension of the injudicious question about whether Speaker Pelosi hates President Trump: women leaders continue to bear the brunt of a misogyny that assumes that women are too emotional to make factual judgments. Writing in the New York Times on December 7, 2019, Columnist Maureen Dowd reflected on this in the context of the times that she’s been accused of hate when she was simply criticizing political figures in her columns:
“The reason it upset me was that it seemed like a way to undercut legitimate concerns I had about the behavior of a president or would-be president by suggesting that strong emotions were clouding my judgment. It’s not that they are doing something wrong; it’s that you are an overwrought female. It evoked the old trope that women are vengeful and hysterical — a word derived from the Greek word for womb. (This is the same sexist trope Donald Trump played into when he rebutted my criticisms of him during the 2016 campaign by tweeting that I was “wacky” and “neurotic.”). So I understood why reporter James Rosen got under the speaker’s skin when he asked if her declaration that the House would draw up impeachment articles was inspired by the irrational rather than the rational.”
Women are playing critically important roles in this historic moment — from Speaker Pelosi to former Ukraine Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch to Law Professor Pamela Karlen, among others. Each has had to endure personal attacks that attempted to diminish the strength and courage of her statements; each persisted and prevailed. Despite the general disgust and sense of misery many of us may feel at this moment, as each day’s news seems to get worse and more convoluted, perhaps one of the better legacies will be these remarkable exemplars of strong, courageous women doing their jobs well, rising above accusations about emotions to show all of us what it means to make clear, rational decisions based on facts and evidence. They are paving the way for the next generation of women leaders.
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