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Pelosi gets squeezed on impeachment

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WASHINGTON — The impeachment vise is closing — on Speaker Nancy Pelosi.

As it gets tighter, Pelosi’s fortitude — and the strength of her strategy — will be tested.

After a string of House Democrats endorsed beginning a formal impeachment inquiry over Congress’ August recess, the Judiciary Committee moved last week to bless its own investigation without the imprimatur of a vote on the House floor. As a result of that, and of individual political messaging needs, Democrats have been wildly inconsistent in describing whether they are pursuing impeachment or not.

Nonetheless, the probe will ramp up with a hearing featuring 2016 Trump campaign manager Cory Lewandowski on Tuesday.

At the same time, Trump’s Justice Department is using mixed messages coming from House Democrats about their impeachment intentions as part of the case against giving lawmakers access to secret grand jury testimony from special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia probe.

All of that amounts to a squeeze on the strategy devised by Pelosi, the California Democrat charged with the constitutional role of leading the House and the political role of keeping her party’s majority.

All year, Pelosi has been trying to balance between her political base’s demand to move against a president it sees as criminally corrupt and her priority of avoiding a series of impeachment-related floor votes that expose her party’s most vulnerable incumbents to anger back home from either liberal constituents or swing voters.

She appears to have landed on a one-vote strategy: let Judiciary draft articles of impeachment and then conduct just one House floor vote — or series of votes — so that lawmakers in tough districts don’t have to walk the plank over and over again.

“There are some of our members who are ready to vote to impeach and remove the president tomorrow. And there are some who believe that we should not impeach him because it will be a failed exercise in the Senate,” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in an interview on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday. “But the vast majority of our caucus, including our leadership, is of the view that we should do the investigation before we determine whether the president should be impeached. That’s the category that I fit in and that’s the work that we’re doing.”

Pelosi’s approach will give an avenue to pro-impeachment Democrats to air their case while keeping it off the floor — and out of the minds of swing voters — for now. But the issue is sure to get thornier for her soon, in part because the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination contest is heating up.

While the topic was ignored in last Thursday’s candidate debate on ABC News, billionaire activist Tom Steyer, who built his public image and campaign on calling for Trump’s ouster, has qualified for an Oct. 15 debate in the Columbus, Ohio, area.

“Tom Steyer will hit the presidential debate stage two years after he first began running impeachment ads,” said Rebecca Katz, a veteran Democratic strategist and former congressional aide. “House Democrats have already twisted themselves into quite the incoherent pickle on impeachment and Steyer’s prominence only puts them more on the defensive.”

But Pelosi has been unmoved by political pressure on her left flank, acting as a bulwark against the passions of partisans and the various political and legal arguments advanced by colleagues who favor impeachment.

Former Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., wrote in The Washington Post a week ago that Trump’s actions not only merit impeachment by the House but demand it. If lawmakers don’t ask, she argued, his successors will be unfettered in their use and abuse of power.

“Should House Democrats choose not to act on this laundry list of obstruction, abuse of power and emoluments violations, they alone bear the responsibility of forever changing the lines of demarcation for future presidents,” Edwards wrote. “It really is that simple.”

It could be that frustration with Pelosi among Democrats inside and outside Congress boils over and she is forced to change her course.

But if Pelosi’s calculations are right, she is suffering short-term pain in service of a plan that will have Trump replacing her between the jaws of the impeachment vise in due time.

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Furious Remainers accuse Boris of dragging the Queen into politics with Commons speech

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BORIS JOHNSON has been attacked by Remainers for dragging the Queen into politics once again with her Commons speech which will allegedly include some points from the Tory manifesto.

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Lawrence O'Donnell answers your impeachment questions

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Lawrence O’Donnell answered questions about the impeachment process from MSNBC viewers and readers.

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O’Rourke says churches against gay marriage should lose tax benefits, draws backlash

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Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke said Thursday that churches and other religious institutions that oppose same-sex marriage should lose their tax-exempt status, taking the Democratic presidential debate into uncharted — and controversial — territory.

The Texas Democrat was asked about the concept by CNN anchor Don Lemon at a 2020 candidates’ forum on LGBTQ issues co-hosted by the network and Human Rights Campaign Foundation.

“Do you think religious institutions like colleges, churches, charities should they lose their tax-exempt status if they oppose same-sex marriage?” Lemon asked.

“Yes,” O’Rourke replied. “There can be no reward, no benefit, no tax break for anyone, or any institution, any organization in America, that denies the full human rights and the full civil rights of every single one of us. And so as president, we are going to make that a priority, and we are going to stop those who are infringing upon the human rights of our fellow Americans.”

O’Rourke appeared to go dramatically further than the existing political and legal conversation over LGBTQ rights and religious discrimination, which has largely centered on questions of whether private businesses can decline services to customers or refuse to hire or maintain employees on the basis of sexual orientation or transgender status. Other recent cases have been concerned with the basis on which religious schools can hire or fire staff.

The comments drew applause at the event, but quickly circulated among conservative commentators and drew condemnation from activists that have defended religious institutions in related legal fights.

“Beto O’Rourke’s threat is a direct affront to the constitutional guarantee of religious liberty,” Kelly Shackelford, president of First Liberty Institute, said in a statement.

In another statement, Republican Sen. Ben Sasse of Nebraska called O’Rourke’s remarks “bigoted nonsense” that “would target a lot of sincere Christians, Jews, and Muslims.”

“This extreme intolerance is un-American,” Sasse added.

In an e-mail, O’Rourke spokeswoman Aleigha Cavalier suggested the candidate had been misinterpreted, but did not elaborate on his position in detail.

“Of course, Beto was referring to religious institutions who take discriminatory action,” she said. “The extreme right is distorting this for their own agenda.”

Cavalier added that O’Rourke defined discriminatory action as “denying public accommodation” on the basis of gender, sexuality, or marriage.

A Human Rights Campaign Foundation spokesman said the group does not have a formal position on the issue O’Rourke raised.

It’s unlikely that efforts to end tax-exempt status for many religious organizations on the basis of opposition to same-sex marriage would pass legal muster given recent precedent upholding a variety of constitutional protections for churches, clergy and religious rituals.

Writing the Supreme Court majority opinion legalizing gay marriage, Justice Anthony Kennedy emphasized that “religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.”

Marcia McCormick, a professor at St. Louis University School of Law, said there are some legal distinctions between belief and actions and between religiously affiliated institutions like colleges, which courts have ruled cannot discriminate on the basis of race, and churches, which have broader rights.

“There is kind of a continuum,” she said. “Religious beliefs alone about religion are the most protected, secular kinds of actions are least protected.”

Michael Wear, who led faith outreach efforts for President Barack Obama’s re-election campaign, warned that O’Rourke was risking alienating religious voters across the ideological and denominational spectrum.

“If that isn’t a religious freedom violation, I don’t know what is,” he said. “It’s so facially unconstitutional that it’s hard for people to believe there isn’t ill will involved in even suggesting it.”

While O’Rourke stood out in last night’s forum, Wear said he was concerned that Democrats at the event more broadly failed to acknowledge and address concerns religious voters might have about how new anti-discrimination measures might affect their communities.

“So many of these candidates are running saying they’ll be president of all Americans,” he said. “They’re going to have to reconcile that with how they approached some of these issues last night.”



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