WASHINGTON (AP) — The House’s center of power took a seat toward the back of the chamber Wednesday. Her golden mace brooch, symbol of the House and the speaker’s authority, glinted.
And when it was time to vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi ascended the speaker’s chair and presided over President Donald Trump’s impeachment, shooting jubilant Democrats a forbidding look to stop them from clapping.
Pelosi, second in line to the presidency, ended the day with uncharacteristic uncertainty, repeatedly refusing to say when — or whether — the House will send the articles to the Senate for trial. “We’ll see“ whether the Senate announces terms she considers fair, she told reporters.
Like it or not, Pelosi’s role leading Trump’s impeachment will dramatically shape her legacy after more than 30 years in Congress. The House voted mostly along party lines Wednesday night, making Trump only the third president formally charged in American history.
That is Pelosi’s to keep.
“Today, as speaker of the House, I solemnly and sadly open the debate on the impeachment of the president of the United States,” Pelosi said.
She spent much of the day within a few steps of the cloakroom door, away from better-lit seats where the managers and members were debating impeachment.
It was a show of confidence in a town where body language and proximity often convey power. She sat for long stretches flipping through other work, checking her phone and keeping an eye on the debate.
Being remembered for impeachment is not something she relishes after a career spanning six presidents, several wars, passage of the Affordable Care Act and her own debut as speaker. But she said Trump had left the Democrats with “no choice“ other than to act.
Pelosi arrived in the chamber with Democrats largely unified, thanks to a careful balancing act that played out over several months. The House was impeaching Trump, as liberals had long demanded. The impeachment articles centered on Trump’s pressure on Ukraine, as moderates wanted. And a slate of other legislation was wrapped, giving all the Democrats achievements to show off at home.
Pelosi’s hold on the caucus made it possible for her to lead just by being there, rather than openly twisting arms as she had during passage of the health care law. Democrats lost the House the next year, and with it, Pelosi lost the speaker’s post.
Back in possession of the gavel this year, Pelosi resisted impeachment until a whistleblower’s report revealed Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate his political rivals. That, she said, the House could not ignore. But neither would they celebrate it.
“He gave us no choice,” Pelosi, clad in black, said from the well of the House.
Trump, a lifelong businessman now face-to-face with an equivalent branch of government, insists he is the victim of Democrats who have wanted to impeach him from the start.
He weighed in on Pelosi’s legacy, too, predicting on Twitter she’ll go down as history’s “worst speaker.” In a letter released on the eve of voting, he said Pelosi “is after the entire Republican Party.”