You might have to go back to 1811 to find a freshman Member of Congress who has attracted as much national attention as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). That was when Kentucky’s Henry Clay became Speaker of the House his first day on the job. Since her shocking primary upset of Democratic Caucus Chair Joe Crowley nearly a year ago, the ex-Bronx bartender has attracted a Twitter following nearly rivaling that of her arch-nemesis from Queens. AOC made her first appearance on a Sunday show since her election, This Week with George Stephanopoulos, and hinted at real “animus” between her fellow progressive backbenchers in Congress and the Democratic leadership, particularly on the issue of impeachment.
To hear it from Ocasio-Cortez, “every day that passes, the pressure to impeach grows.” An increasing number of her colleagues in the Democratic caucus are coming over to support impeachment proceedings, if not a vote itself. A new poll released Sunday shows support for impeachment at 27%, up ten points over the last month. Only one in three supported impeaching President Clinton in 1998, and Speaker Newt Gingrich rammed it through a lame duck session of Congress anyway. Ocasio-Cortez showed a similar dismissal of the polling, when asked about it by guest host, ABC News Chief White House Correspondent Jon Karl. “I think for me this question has— should not be about polls,” she said, “it should not be about elections.”
The question of whether or not Democrats would suffer electorally if they moved to impeach the president seems to be of little concern to AOC and her progressive followers. Nor does Senate math, requiring every Democrat and at least 20 Republicans for removal, seem to enter in to the equation either. “I believe that our decision on impeachment should be based in our constitutional responsibilities and duties, and not in elections or polling,” she said. Yet, this fear seems to mean everything to the Democratic members holding gavels, especially Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA). Remembering the lessons of 1998, and the electoral backlash against Republicans that year, Pelosi seems intent to only pull the trigger on impeachment once she and her committee chairs have built a case against Trump so strong that even Republicans would have to come along.
“I think it’s quite real,” Ocasio-Cortez said of progressive frustration with Pelosi, not just on impeachment, but on other issues and policy priorities as well. “I believe that there is a very real animus and desire to make sure that we are, that— that we are holding this president to account.” She might be on to something, if Pelosi’s reception by fellow California Democrats was any indication. As for other Members of Congress, their frustrations have mostly been kept behind closed doors, for now. “I think we come together as a caucus and we have these conversations,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “As the Speaker likes to say, they are family conversations, they are ones that are held in confidence.”
If Trump’s latest bombshell— that he would want to hear information from a foreign country on an opponent and wouldn’t go to the FBI (just like Hillary Clinton) was another red line for progressives, it wasn’t for Pelosi. “What we want to do is have a methodical approach to the path that we are on,” Pelosi told reporters on Thursday. “Not any one issue is going to trigger, ‘Oh, now we’ll go do [impeachment].’” Those on the left, waiting for either Godot or world revolution, may end up disappointed. Faced with the strong possibility of a Biden candidacy next year, progressives may be afraid they’re holding a losing hand, and that impeachment— however unlikely— may be the only way to get rid of Trump.
Pelosi has proven herself a very resilient Democratic leader, surviving eight years in the desert, and multiple attempts at her job. How long she can keep the wolves at bay on impeachment may be her toughest test yet.