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Pelosi: Impeachment is 'divisive,' but colleague's coarse language is no worse than Trump's

In an MSNBC town hall, the newly elected House speaker said she has a "generational reaction" to the profane language a fellow Democrat used to describe the president.
Nancy Pelosi speaks with Joy Reid on \"The Speaker: An MSNBC Town Hall.\"
Nancy Pelosi speaks with Joy Reid on "The Speaker: An MSNBC Town Hall."Paul Morigi / Getty Images for NBC

WASHINGTON — Newly elected Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi on Friday shied away from moving forward with impeachment at this time, calling it a "divisive" option. But she said that a colleague's use of an expletive to describe President Donald Trump was no "worse" than some of the language the president himself has used.

"I do think that we want to be unified and bring people together. Impeachment is a very divisive approach to take and we shouldn’t take it ... without the facts," Pelosi said during an MSNBC town hall at Trinity University in Washington, her alma mater.

Her comments came the morning after a newly elected member of Congress, Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., told a progressive audience that Democrats are going to "impeach the motherf---er."

Pelosi said, "Generationally, that would not be language I would use, but nonetheless, I don’t think we should make a big deal of it."

Pelosi also said that what Tlaib said was "nothing worse than the president has said," and that the episode "consolidates his base, but I don’t think they need much consolidation."

She added that while she was "not in the censorship business ... I don't like that language, I wouldn't use that language, but I wouldn't establish language standards for my colleagues."

In her first days as speaker, Pelosi is facing pressure from some of her members to begin impeachment proceedings immediately. But she has resisted that approach, saying that the appropriate committees should conduct investigations to see what additional facts turn up.

She said Friday that people's desire to impeach Trump is "legitimate" but indicated that the 2020 election could be a better way to boot the president.

"President Nixon was not impeached. Republicans came to a conclusion that he was hurting them and he had to go," Pelosi said, adding that she's not sure if Republicans in Congress will come to a similar assessment about Trump, but "the people will in the election in 2020."

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., criticized Pelosi for not distancing herself from Tlaib’s comments.

"I think this is a role as a leader and the speaker to have a conversation with this member on whether she approves of this or not," McCarthy told reporters Friday morning. “They’re using foul language, they introduce that they just want to impeach the president. Over what basis? We have government shut down right now. Where are their priorities?”

Pelosi's conversation with MSNBC's Joy Reid, which is set to air Friday at 10 p.m. ET, is her first since she was elected speaker of the House on Thursday for the second time.

Pelosi's ascent to the most powerful position in Congress comes at a tumultuous time. The government is currently in its 14th day of a partial government shutdown over an impasse between the president and Democrats on money for a wall on the southern border.

She put additional pressure on Trump and Republicans to support House-passed legislation to reopen much of the government, saying that the president was holding hostage government workers' paychecks over his border wall.

"The wall and the government shutdown really have nothing to do with each other," Pelosi said, adding that it is "totally irresponsible" to connect the two.

"There is no reason to have workers pay a price with their paycheck," she said.

Pelosi's first major act was getting two bills passed Thursday to re-open the government. The Democratic-led House passed six appropriations bills that have been held up in the government shutdown and a short-term funding bill for the Department of Homeland Security that does not include funding for a border wall. Trump has indicated that he will veto the bills, and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has given no indication that he'll bring it before the Senate for a vote.

Pelosi offered Trump a way out of the government shutdown on Friday, reminding him that he doesn't have to sign a bill that is passed by Congress. "It becomes the law (after 10 days). The president doesn’t even have to sign," she said.

Pelosi also ushered through, as is customary, a new rules package to govern the House. Included is a provision that the House legal counsel will defend the government against a federal lawsuit over the Affordable Care Act, a suit that could end coverage for pre-existing medical conditions. It's a mostly symbolic measure to put members on record on the issue, especially since health care and pre-existing conditions were the defining issues of the 2018 midterms when Democrats won back the majority.

She said that she has become speaker during "interesting" times, perhaps the most challenging in recent memory given the difference of opinion and values between Democrats and the president.