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Did Nancy Pelosi Break the House of Representatives Forever?

Pelosi blew up so many norms in the House of Representatives that Democrats may have to look over their shoulder across many fronts if they lose control of the chamber come November.

Nancy Pelosi
Nancy Pelosi being interviewed by MSNBC.

It’s a little difficult to imagine a potential House Speaker Kevin McCarthy nipping away at the text of President Joe Biden’s State of the Union only to give it a dramatic ripping when the speech concludes.

But there are many other Nancy Pelosi precedents that have violated political norms that could be substantially more bothersome for Democrats should Republicans decide to run the House with retribution. That’s assuming Republicans meet the historical expectation of retaking the House majority.

Pelosi Rides the Democratic Majority High

As it stands now, Pelosi is the speaker of the House and she just came off a giant victory, with the passage of the so-called Inflation Reduction Act that no serious person believes will reduce inflation. Pelosi – Democratic leader in the House since 2003 and speaker from 2007 through 2011 and again since 2019 – placed a self-imposed term limit on herself as party leader as part of a deal to ensure she got another run. After agreeing to two terms, she might well have determined she should go for it all. 

Pelosi also allowed herself to be cowed by the fringe progressive wing of her caucus, but in doing so, threw open the doors to what House Democrats might find problematic when they are eventually a minority – be it in 2023 or later. 

Republicans Could Play With Committee Members

As House minority leader, McCarthy would almost certainly prefer that Rep. Marjorie Taylor Green, R-Ga., would pipe down, or that she not be in the House at all. Still, as happened with Iowa Rep. Steve King, it should have been the choice of the party leadership – or a bipartisan move – to suspend a member from committees. 

So, it was an unusual move for Pelosi’s Democrats to oust Green from committee assignments – regardless of how fringe she is – on a partisan basis. 

Many Republicans have tired of a “two wrongs don’t make a right” approach. So, a new Republican majority could remove Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., from the House Foreign Relations Committee for her anti-Israel rhetoric. The other members of the Squad – who won’t tone down the rhetoric in a minority – could also be removed from some or all committees for conduct the majority party deems unbecoming. 

A more defensible move would be to boot Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., from the House Intelligence Committee, considering his past fling with an alleged Chinese spy. For that matter, it’s also an easy argument to boot current Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., from the committee, considering the misleading public comments he made during the Russia investigation, consistently implying he was sitting on evidence of collusion that no one else knew about. 

The January 6th Committee Was a Power Play

Pelosi appointed the House Select Committee to Investigate the January 6th Attack on the Capitol, which was presumed to be a bipartisan panel with seven democrats and five republicans. However, Pelosi vetoed two of McCarthy’s five appointments to the panel. This broke the longstanding tradition of allowing the minority party to make their own selections for the panel and Pelosi almost certainly knew this meant McCarthy would boycott the panel. Pelosi appointed two anti-Trump Republicans to call it bipartisan. And, well, it wasn’t such a bad idea politically. The capacity to conduct a prosecution with no cross-examination in hearings where the most compelling information comes from cherry-picked video snippets makes for good production value that will be emulated. 

So could McCarthy appoint his own select committee stacked with only Republicans – and perhaps a complicit Democrat willing to be a token? There isn’t an equivalent to the Jan. 6 Capitol riot to date. But perhaps the House GOP could go high stakes and substantive by investigating the botched withdrawal from Afghanistan, the crisis on the southern border – or just go red meat and have a select committee on Hunter Biden’s business deals. Either way, the Jan. 6th committee left strong production lessons on how to run entertaining hearings.  

Pelosi, recall, initially opposed impeaching President Donald Trump and publicly argued Trump, since he would never be removed, would only use impeachment to boast about his Senate acquittal. That turned out to be true by the way. Eventually, however, Pelosi caved on impeachment for the Ukraine phone call matter. It was history’s weakest impeachment, on charges of “abuse of power” and “obstruction of Congress” when Democrats couldn’t figure out a crime. 

Two previous presidential impeachments, Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson, and one near impeachment, Richard Nixon, were based on alleged illegalities. Most impeached federal judges and the lone Cabinet secretary to be impeached (War Secretary William Belknap) were impeached in the House regarding alleged illegal conduct. 

But the Pelosi House set a new standard, forever lowering the bar for a House impeachment. 

A few Republicans have thrown the I-word around about Biden, which seems a bit far-fetched for now. But an impeachment over the Ukraine phone call would have been unthinkable for any president other than Trump. 

More likely is a House Republican impeachment of Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas regarding the border crisis—which could be another subject of a stacked select committee. An impeachment for an unelected Cabinet secretary would have a lower standard and should include an unwillingness to faithfully execute his duties.

The House has always been more raucous and partisan than the Senate, the supposed saucer when the heated tensions boil over in the House. Still, Pelosi blew up so many norms that put her party in an awkward position for the future.  

Fred Lucas is chief national affairs correspondent for The Daily Signal and co-host of “The Right Side of History” podcast. Lucas is also the author of “Abuse of Power: Inside The Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump.”

Written By

Fred Lucas is chief national affairs correspondent for The Daily Signal and co-host of "The Right Side of History" podcast. Lucas is also the author of "Abuse of Power: Inside The Three-Year Campaign to Impeach Donald Trump."