Nancy Pelosi declines to rule out impeaching Donald Trump as she becomes House speaker

Nancy Pelosi declined to rule out impeaching Donald Trump as she was sworn in as speaker for the US House of Representatives on Thursday, kicking off the Democratic Party’s control of the body. 

Ms Pelosi, the 78-year-old Democrat congresswoman for California, became the first person in half a century to hold the role twice, having previously won the post during George W Bush’s presidency. 

She took up the role after the Democrats managed to win back control of the House – one half of the US Congress – at the midterm elections last November. 

It is a major headache for Mr Trump, with the US president’s political opponents now able to block his legislation and launch investigations into him through the chamber’s committees. 

The Democrats could also use the position to impeach Mr Trump – the act of removing a sitting president from office.

Impeachment proceedings begin in the House and need a simple majority to pass. But the Senate, held by the Republicans, would also need to back the move for it to become binding. 

Conducting a round of interview before taking up the position, Ms Pelosi, who effectively becomes the most powerful female politician in America, declined to rule out going for impeachment. 

Ms Pelosi said the party would not pursue impeachment for political reasons but hinted a change in stance could come depending on what Robert Mueller, the special counsel leading the Russian election meddling investigation, uncovers. 

“We have to wait and see what happens with the Mueller report,” Ms Pelosi told NBC’s Today show in an interview broadcast on Thursday. 

“We shouldn’t be impeaching for a political reason, and we shouldn’t avoid impeachment for a political reason.”

In a sign of the enthusiasm in some quarters of the Democratic Party for the move, Brad Sherman, a congressman from California, said he would introduce articles of impeachment again in the House. 

He made a similar move in 2017. There is not believed to be enough support to see the move gather real momentum, for now at least. 

Ms Pelosi also queried US Justice Department guidelines that say a sitting US president cannot be indicted for a crime. 

She said in an interview that the guidelines were not “conclusive”, adding: “’I think that is an open discussion in terms of the law.”

The guidelines have become a point of debate after Michael Cohen, Mr Trump’s former personal lawyer, pleaded guilty to breaking campaign finance laws over two hush money payments before the 2016 US election. 

Cohen said in court that Mr Trump directed him to make the payments, given to two women who claimed affairs with Mr Trump. The allegation has raised the question of whether the president could be indicted.

Mr Trump has denied the alleged affairs and directing the payments. He has also questioned whether the money violated laws controlling political donations.

Ms Pelosi on Thursday invited Mr Trump to deliver the State of the Union address to Congress on January 29.

"I invite you to deliver your State of the Union address before a joint session of Congress on Tuesday, January 29, 2019 in the House Chamber," Mr Pelosi wrote in a letter to Trump, a copy of which she posted on Twitter

New congressmen who were elected in November’s elections were sworn in during a day of ceremony on Washington DC’s Capitol Hill on Thursday. 

Ms Pelosi had held the position of House speaker – the most senior politician in the House, usually held by the party with a majority – between 2007 and 2011. 

On Thursday she was elected once again to the role, despite grumblings from some Democratic congressmen about her age and left-wing credentials. 

The accomplishment confirms her status as the highest-ranking elected woman ever in American history. There has never been another female speaker of the House and no woman has ever won the presidency.

Her tenure is likely to be judged on how she handles Mr Trump and the degree to which she stands up to his demands or works with him to pass bipartisan legislation. 

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