Pelosi Forges a Legacy She Never Sought

Ms. Pelosi reserved the first speaking slot for herself. She took the floor on Wednesday dressed in a black suit, a nod to what she has long said would be a solemn day, and a carefully chosen accessory: a golden brooch fashioned as the speaker’s mace, a ceremonial staff that symbolizes the power of the House of Representatives.

“Our founders’ vision of a republic is under threat from actions from the White House,” she said, adding: “If we do not act now, we would be derelict in our duty. It is tragic that the president’s reckless actions make impeachment necessary. He gave us no choice.” Even as she ascended to the House rostrum to bang the gavel on the close of the impeachment votes, Ms. Pelosi was still engineering the proceedings; when a smattering of Democrats began applauding passage of the first article, on abuse of power, she silenced them with a “zip up the lip” flick of her hand, much like a parent shushing an unruly child.

After Ms. Pelosi opened the impeachment inquiry in September, Republicans demanded that she hold a formal vote authorizing the inquiry — a vote that would have been deeply uncomfortable for nervous moderates in Trump-friendly districts. She held off and put the spotlight on other issues, like gun violence and legislation to reduce the cost of college. When members took a vote, she told them privately, it was going to mean something.

Representative Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican leader, said in an interview this week that Ms. Pelosi’s failure to take that vote was a “fatal flaw” because it allowed Republicans to criticize her on the impeachment process.

In the interview, Ms. Pelosi cut off a question about Mr. McCarthy’s criticism as soon as she heard his name.

“I don’t care what he has to say,” she said.

Over the past week, as Ms. Pelosi has rolled out the final stages of the impeachment process, culminating with Wednesday’s vote, she has sequenced each step alongside broadly popular, bipartisan legislative items like a giant defense policy bill, a $1.4 trillion government spending measure, and the ultimate prize for Mr. Trump: a sweeping North American trade agreement known as the United States-Mexico-Canada Agreement.

The result is that the most politically vulnerable Democrats — moderates who represent districts that Mr. Trump won in 2016 — can point to a list of legislative accomplishments as they leave Washington at year’s end, telling their constituents they did more with their time in Congress than just impeach the president. The strategy is typical of Ms. Pelosi, who excels at determining precisely what will be needed to win over holdouts in her ranks and then delivering it, generating remarkable party unity.

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