'I really don't trust the attorney general': Pelosi on Trump, Barr, and more

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi came to the Monitor Breakfast Wednesday with a prop and a policy agenda to promote. The prop was a sheet titled “McConnell’s Graveyard,” and depicted nine tombstones, each representing Democratic House bills that the Senate Majority Leader, Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., says will not be voted on in his chamber.

Why is Speaker Pelosi helping promote Senator McConnell’s message, that he’s the “Grim Reaper” for Democratic legislation? Because, she says, these bills are popular with voters and, in her view, the senator is bucking public sentiment at his peril.

“[These bills] have overwhelming support among the American people,” Ms. Pelosi said. “Mitch has to be held accountable.”

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Among the bills are measures aimed at protecting people with pre-existing conditions, preventing gun violence, helping Dreamers, addressing climate change, and ending discrimination against the LGBTQ community. Ms. Pelosi then went to one of her favorite mantras, quoting President Abraham Lincoln: “Public sentiment is everything.”

Ms. Pelosi’s focus on legislation, despite Washington gridlock, may reflect the triumph of hope over experience, but she is following her longstanding view that leaders must shape public opinion, and not just follow it.

Still, in this charged political environment, congressional investigations into President Donald Trump and the growing list of House Democrats who want to launch a formal impeachment inquiry are eclipsing efforts to publicize policymaking. And as President Trump rails against Democrats as the “Do Nothing Party,” some party members worry their House majority could be imperiled in 2020.

Indeed, some of the more memorable moments at the Pelosi breakfast centered on impeachment and the report by special counsel Robert Mueller on Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

Ms. Pelosi announced that she would soon have access to a “less-redacted” version of the Mueller report. The speaker had previously rejected such access if it wasn’t available to the whole country.

But now this less-redacted report will be available to “many more people than just the leadership” in Congress. Furthermore, she said, “I accepted that because I’m afraid I really don’t trust the attorney general of the United States and I’m afraid that he may – depending on what is in there – try to, shall we say, deal with ongoing matters in a way that is not constructive for our Constitution. I can’t say anything more than that.”

You can watch the whole breakfast video on C-SPAN. Following are more excerpts from the breakfast, lightly edited for clarity:

Are you considering a censure of President Trump as an alternative to impeachment?  

No. I think censure is just a way out. If the goods are there, you must impeach. And censure is nice, but it is not commensurate with the violations of the Constitution, should we decide that’s the way to go. That’s my view.

There are a few people in our caucus who say, “Well, we could just do that.” That’s a day at the beach for the president – or at his golf club, or wherever he goes to get that complexion.

Another Democratic member of Congress, Rep. Brian Higgins of New York, called for an impeachment inquiry Wednesday, saying the president has “stonewalled” House investigations. What do you think of his argument?

Well, I respect everybody’s timing on when they think there should be an inquiry. I don’t think you should have an inquiry unless you’re ready to impeach.

What I believe is that when we go forward, if we go forward, it has to go deep. It can’t be the Democrats impeach in the House; the Senate, in his view, exonerates. This president must be held accountable.

What’s your take on the replacement for the North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA?

This is NAFTA with sugar on top. So it isn’t that much of a change. But the president could go out there and say, “See, I got a better NAFTA,” when it really isn’t going to make a difference in the lives of the American people.

Should Congress take action to protect the independence of the Federal Reserve?

The last thing we need is politics involved in setting interest rates and our monetary policy. And the last thing we need is a president threatening a chairman of the Fed about whether he is raising or lowering rates in tune with the president’s politics. This is so very, very wrong.

I’ve fought Democrats who wanted to have more say about funding for the Fed if they did this or that – that’s completely wrong. You have to have an independent Federal Reserve Board. You would think that some Republicans would say, “Mr. President, you shouldn’t be doing that.” But we don’t.

Let me just close by saying, I keep quoting our founders and what they had in mind for us. Thomas Paine, in addition to saying, “These are the times that try men’s souls” [also] said, “The times have found us.” The times have found us. They found our founders to do what they had to do – to declare independence, fight a war, win it, establish a new country built on equality, something that had never happened before.

The times have found us, and all of you as well.

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