One of the things every Catholic child is taught is that the word “hate” should never be used in connection with another human being.
This admonition flows from the expansive Catholic interpretation of the Fifth Commandment. In a General Audience last year in St. Peter’s Square, Pope Francis declared that to hate is to murder in your heart.
All of which explains House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s reaction when James Rosen, a journalist for conservative Sinclair Broadcast Group, asked her: “Do you hate the president, Madam Speaker?”
Pelosi, a California Democrat who had been on her way out of her weekly news conference, wheeled around and returned to the lectern.
In an uncharacteristic burst of fury, Pelosi told Rosen: “As a Catholic, I resent your using the word ‘hate’ in a sentence that addresses me. I don’t hate anyone. I was raised in a way that is full — a heart full of love — and always pray for the president. And I still pray for the president. I pray for the president all the time.
“So, don’t mess with me when it comes to words like that.”
Her critics will question her sincerity, and point out that she has broken with Catholic teaching on big issues of doctrine — chief among them abortion. “The church has their position, and we have ours, which is that a woman has free will given to her by God,” Pelosi told The New York Times in 2015.
But those who know her well insist religious belief is at the core of everything Pelosi does. “There are two pillars in her life, in terms of her beliefs: her Catholicism, a very deep faith, and her family,” her friend and fellow Democratic California congresswoman Anna Eshoo told my colleague Paul Kane on Thursday. “This is the authentic Nancy.” No small part of that was the influence of her mother, Annunciata D’Alesandro, a daily communicant who at her funeral was referred to as being molded by “Regina Caeli,” the Easter prayer to Mary.
Rosen was taken aback by Pelosi’s reaction, and claimed that he was merely paraphrasing Rep. Doug Collins, R-Georgia. The ranking member of the House Judiciary Committee claimed at Wednesday’s opening impeachment hearing that Democrats were pursuing this most serious of constitutional sanctions against Trump because they “just don’t like the guy.”
That Democrats — including Pelosi — find Trump’s actions and his character abhorrent is true. “I think the president is a coward when it comes to helping our kids who are afraid of gun violence,” Pelosi said. “I think he is cruel when he doesn’t deal with helping our ‘Dreamers,’ of which we are very proud. I think he’s in denial about the climate crisis.”
But disgust, to a Catholic, is not the same as hatred. And, as Pelosi noted, political differences should be resolved in the 2020 election.
The speaker’s reluctance to take the path on which she now finds herself is well known. Despite evidence that Trump attempted to obstruct the investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election, she resisted the voices on her party’s left who wanted to impeach him over it.
But as she noted Thursday, Trump’s increasingly outrageous actions as president, culminating in his request that a foreign government provide ammunition against a political opponent, left House Democrats “no choice.”
Is all of this good politics for the Democrats? I’m doubtful.
But is hatred of Trump what is driving Pelosi to take this historic step? I’m certain that it is not.
Conservatives sometimes forget that they do not have an exclusive claim to faith.
Pelosi’s announcement that the House would proceed with impeachment was suffused with religion. “In signing the Declaration of Independence, our founders invoked a firm reliance on divine providence,” Pelosi said. “Democrats, too, are prayerful, and we will proceed in a manner worthy of our oath of office to support and defend the Constitution of the United States from all enemies, foreign and domestic, so help us God.”
The speaker has said she would rather be doing just about anything else right now. There is legislation she wants to pass on lowering prescription drug costs and on combating voter suppression. Instead, she leads her party toward impeaching a president, driven by her sense of moral obligation, the call of her constitutional duty — and, yes, her values as a Catholic.
Karen Tumulty is a Washington Post columnist covering national politics.