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Pelosi's point of no return

Nancy Pelosi
Photo: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Although they still talk about it on-camera as an inquiry, some top House Democrats see the actual impeachment of President Trump as increasingly inevitable.

  • Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), reflecting the views of several members we talked to, said he thinks impeachment will happen by the end of 2019: "My hope is it is expeditious. I don't want the clock to run out."

Why it matters: With that, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi faces a new conundrum: how to keep Democrats' other priorities from deteriorating amid an investigation of President Trump's dealings with Ukraine that could overshadow everything else.

  • Several lawmakers have privately told Axios they never expected Congress to pass meaningful legislation before the 2020 elections.
  • But Republicans will try to blame Pelosi for gridlock on the Hill, and they tell me they plan to use the same playbook on Pelosi as the one she crafted just a few weeks ago — demonizing Mitch McConnell as Washington's greatest obstructionist.

Behind the scenes: Pelosi's team developed a fall plan to escalate Dems' anti-McConnell messaging, with the goal of painting him as the party's prime antagonist blocking meaningful legislation.

  • But those plans were blown up by the stunning news reports about Trump and Ukraine, and the moderate Democrats Pelosi had tried to protect began jumping aboard the impeachment train.
  • "The votes were there," a senior Dem congressional aide said.

Republicans are eager to accuse Pelosi of failing to make progress on gun reform, the USMCA trade agreement and drug pricing.

  • "This Dem-led House has managed to accomplish nothing of substance," a Trump official said. "And now that they’re going down this path of impeachment, they're going to be even more distracted. ... You bet that we're going to make sure voters are constantly reminded of this."
  • “The NRA are probably the happiest people in Washington,” a former White House official said, who said this will make it harder for Dems to blame Trump for inaction on gun regulation.

The bottom line: Pelosi has relentlessly reminded her House colleagues that Democrats regained the majority in 2018 by focusing on the issues, not by bashing Trump.