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Nancy Pelosi ends a momentous day by telling Stephen Colbert, "No one is above the law"

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Stephen Colbert
Screenshot: The Late Show

At the end of a pretty big day all things considered, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), made time to stop by Stephen Colbert’s Late Show to do three full segments on just how screwed Donald Trump is. Of course, the distinguished Speaker didn’t put it that way, although noted not-mincer of words Colbert clearly relished at the opportunity to give his guest all the time she needed to, clearly, patiently, and methodically, explain the day’s vote codifying the procedures of the House’s ongoing, now super-formal impeachment proceedings against the President of the United States.

Repeatedly thanking Colbert for his “patriotism” in holding Trump’s feet to the comedy fires night after night, Pelosi yet stressed the primacy of Trump’s constitutional violations as the basis for impeachment, and her gradually coming around on the idea. Noting that Trump’s infamous phone call extorting the President of Ukraine in order to attempt to undermine the legitimacy of an American election for president is the true main story here, Pelosi told Colbert, “No one is above the law, president of the United States or not.” Also note that nobody is required to add “allegedly” to any of this, since, as Colbert said that Trump keeps on blurting out unconstitutional crap “on the White House lawn” and assuming that his Republican Party will just go along with him. Which, you know, they did, with not a single GOP House member voting in favor of today’s motion to formalize the impeachment inquiry. To that, Pelosi basically shrugged, telling Colbert matter-of-factly, “If they’re not going to honor their oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the Unites States, I cannot be held up by that.”

Punches thrown, albeit with the decorum of one who’s learned the skills over 17 terms of taking and giving legislative body blows. “This is not for the faint of heart,” Pelosi told Colbert. “If you want to go in the arena, you’ve got to be able to take a punch,” said Pelosi, “But you’ve also got to be willing to throw a punch,” adding after a pause, “for the children.” As Colbert summed up the Republicans’ action in not supporting the open impeachment process they’ve been whining and throwing ludicrous flash mobs about, “Every representative has rolled the bones that you don’t have enough to impeach the president,” to which the unruffled Pelosi responded, “Now they’re talking process, process, process because they know they can’t get near the substance.” Which, once more, Trump keeps admitting on national TV, Twitter, and to anyone who’ll sit still to listen about his “perfect phone call” where he threatened to withhold Congress-approved military aid to a foreign power in order to dig up dirt on a political rival.

“I had not been enthusiastic,” said Pelosi of her initial reticence on impeachment, “But this was something you could not ignore.” And while admitting that there’s likely plenty of stuff Trump’s done that could warrant being removed from office (and which is likely to come out in the tumultuous impeachment proceedings to come), the day’s vote was about the Constitution. “In one conversation, he undermined our national security to the benefit of the Russians,” Pelosi said plainly, “He jeopardized our elections, the heart of our democracy.” Colbert, admitting that he, too, had first been against impeachment (for one reason that it would give Trump and his minions another opportunity to play victim), conceded that it was that one phone call that turned him around. “When it became tapering with our elections using a foreign power—which is very on-brand for him,” joked Colbert, “It undermines the idea that you have to wait for the election if he’s willing to undermine the election using a foreign power.”

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Pelosi, appealing to history, noted how Trump’s Ukraine call came on the same day (September 17) when, in 1787, the Constitution was adpoted, quoting Benjamin Franklin’s now portentous words about the new United States being a republic—and not a monarchy where one reality show jackass can claim he can do anything he wants—“if we can keep it.” “This is not about his personality, his policies, his [all-encompassing gesture taking in pretty much everything nakedly corrupt, hateful, and racist],” said Pelosi of impeachment. Colbert, speculating on just why Trump thought releasing the already-damning incomplete memo about his Ukraine extortion call was going to get everyone off his back for all that treason and stuff, said, “I think he lacks the empathy to understand how people can perceive his corruption.” Pelosi, once more throwing hands (in a dignified manner, of course), took a beat before countering, “Well, you’re being very gentle.” Swapping Thomas Paine’s “The times have found us” (Pelosi), with Gandalf’s “All for you to decide is what to do with the time you are given” (guess who), the pair took a deep breath and prepared for the fight ahead.

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Dennis Perkins

Contributor, The A.V. Club. Danny Peary's Cult Movies books are mostly to blame.