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Pelosi’s Agenda Is Popular — Much More So Than Impeaching Trump

One of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s arguments against a Democratic push for the impeachment of President Trump is essentially … “What’s the point?” With Republicans in control of the U.S. Senate, Pelosi has suggested that the upper chamber would ignore a House impeachment and allow Trump to remain in office. That’s almost certainly true. But the argument raises one obvious inconsistency: Under Pelosi’s direction, House Democrats have spent the past few months passing numerous bills on issues other than impeachment that Senate Republicans have ignored.

So what’s the difference between an immigration bill that’s going nowhere and an impeachment that’s going nowhere? The politics. (Duh!)

Pelosi has outlined an agenda of nine signature bills. Democrats have approved six of them. And Pelosi’s agenda, unlike impeachment, is popular with the public; it unites congressional Democrats and to some extent divides congressional Republicans. And these bills, as opposed to impeaching Trump, align well with what appears to be Pelosi’s broader strategy: to force GOP incumbents to vote against popular legislation in advance of the 2020 elections, protect Democrats in closely divided districts from tough votes, and keep the Democrats talking about and doing things that the public likes.

Five of the bills passed without a single ‘no’ vote from a Democrat. A bill to expand background checks to nearly all gun sales drew two “no” votes among Democrats — both from members who represent districts won by Trump in 2016. That’s more than 1,200 total “yes” votes for the Pelosi agenda among Democratic House members, compared with two “no” votes. Pelosi hasn’t quite split Republicans — the most “aye” votes that any of the six bills received from Republicans was eight (out of their 198-person caucus) — but voting against these bills probably isn’t ideal for the Republicans.

The key planks in the bills all have the support of the majority of the public — and some of them (like expanding background checks for gun sales) are extremely popular, according to polls. Here are nine proposals from the six bills that have passed the House and how impeaching Trump compares in terms of public support:1

The Pelosi agenda vs. impeachment

Americans’ views on provisions in the six bills from Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s agenda that have passed the House vs. Americans’ views on starting impeachment proceedings against President Trump

Pelosi agenda item Pollster Poll Dates Support Oppose
Background checks for nearly all gun sales Quinnipiac May 16-20, 2019 94% 4%
Path to citizenship for some undocumented young people Quinnipiac Jan. 5-9, 2018 79 18
Banning discrimination based on sexual orientation/gender identity PRRI June 27-July 8, 2018 71 22
Allowing felons to vote post-incarceration Pew Research Sept. 24-Oct. 7, 2018 69 30
Automatic voting registration Pew Research Sept. 24-Oct. 7, 2018 65 34
Making Election Day a federal holiday Pew Research Sept. 24-Oct. 7, 2018 65 34
Allowing same-day voter registration nationally Pew Research Sept. 24-Oct. 7, 2018 64 35
Keeping U.S. in Paris climate agreement Quinnipiac Sept. 21-26, 2017 60 30
Barring companies from asking about your previous pay SurveyMonkey March 23-27, 2019 52 43
Vs. impeachment
Starting impeachment proceeding against President Trump CNN May 28-31, 2019 41% 54%

Source: Polls

What’s left on Pelosi’s agenda? A provision to strengthen the Voting Rights Act, a bill to lower prescription drug prices and another to increase federal spending on infrastructure. Polls suggest the latter two ideas are also popular. (There hasn’t been much recent polling on the Voting Rights Act, but I suspect this idea will also generate strong public support.)

It’s not clear that the public is paying much attention to the passage of these bills. When voters go to the polls in November 2020, they won’t necessarily help Democratic incumbents who voted for them or hurt the Republicans who opposed them. And we don’t know whether impeachment would get more popular with the public if party leaders like Pelosi stop pooh-poohing it — or even if impeachment remained unpopular, that it would necessarily hurt the Democrats in the upcoming elections.

But as Pelosi faces an increasingly vocal faction of her party pushing for impeachment, the speaker has a pretty strong anti-impeachment argument: Why should Democrats push a fairly unpopular position with no chance of success when they can instead push forward equally fruitless but at least popular positions?

Her view might carry the day. Lots of House Democrats might ultimately support impeaching Trump if it were to come up for a vote. But only about a quarter of them are pushing for it now. The rest are tacitly approving of Pelosi’s strategy — and it’s not surprising that a bunch of politicians approve of a strategy that looks so good politically.

From ABC News:

Pelosi on impeachment: ‘We know exactly what path we’re on’


  1. Most of these bills haven’t been polled specifically. Instead, I looked for the most recent survey that tested the most closely matching issue.

Perry Bacon Jr. was a senior writer for FiveThirtyEight.