Pelosi in SC

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi addresses a gathering of the South Carolina Democratic Party on Friday, Oct. 4, 2019, in Greenville, S.C. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)

GREENVILLE — Headlining a fundraiser Friday night for South Carolina Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she is committed to leading Congress through the "difficult" process of launching an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

"Not any of us came to Congress to impeach a president," said Pelosi, D-Calif. "This is a very sad time for our country. This is a very somber time for our country."

Pelosi's visit to the Upstate came at a particularly galvanizing moment in political history, about a week and a half after she opened a formal impeachment inquiry over Trump's efforts to enlist a foreign country to investigate the son of a potential 2020 political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

In a nearly 30-minute speech to the crowd of around 500 Democratic donors in Greenville, Pelosi listed a plethora of legislative priorities, including lowering heath care costs and prescription drug prices, funding infrastructure improvements and strengthening ethics laws.

But she also argued Congress has a duty to defend the Constitution and democratic principles.

"We are legislating," Pelosi said. "Unfortunately, we also have to be investigating."

The visit served as a rare embrace by South Carolina Democrats of a political figure whose national brand as a San Francisco progressive had long been viewed by some as politically toxic in the South.

Republicans have tried to use Pelosi as a club against Democratic candidates in South Carolina for years, regularly associating them with her regardless of whether they had ever met her or even just spoken favorably of her. 

So it came as no surprise that S.C. GOP chairman Drew McKissick reacted with glee when he learned that Pelosi would be visiting the state.

"Democrats are helping us communicate our message by way of contrast," McKissick said. "So I'd like to thank Nancy Pelosi for coming down to South Carolina, reminding people just how radical and liberal the Democrat Party has become on every issue."

Several hundred Trump supporters protested Pelosi's visit outside the Hyatt Regency hotel where she was speaking, holding signs with messages like "Pelosi you lie" and "stop the witch hunt.'

Republicans are particularly eager to tie Pelosi to the state's most vulnerable Democratic incumbent, U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham of Charleston, who did not attend Friday evening's dinner. 

From the outset of his 2018 congressional campaign in a historically Republican district, Cunningham sought to distance himself from Pelosi by vowing to vote for someone else as speaker — a promise he kept after his upset victory when he instead cast his vote for U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill.

But Pelosi did give Cunningham a shoutout, along with several other South Carolina Democrats, for getting his bill to ban offshore drilling passed in the House.

Democrats expressed little concern though. Antjuan Seawright, a S.C. Democratic strategist, noted that Republicans deployed a similar tactic before the 2018 midterm elections only to go on to lose their House majority and longtime GOP seats like the one now held by Cunningham.

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"He's made it clear that he is his own person," Seawright said of Cunningham. "His votes and his record have reflected that, and I think every time they try to jam him with her, they only make themselves look as crazy as they are."

Pelosi has also long been heralded as a prolific national fundraiser for Democrats, a skill that helped her climb the congressional ranks in the first place and will help fill the party's coffers ahead of what is set to be a combative 2020 election cycle.

S.C. Democratic Party chairman Trav Robertson said he is not yet sure how much money the fundraiser will bring in, but he rejected any notion that Pelosi's presence came with political risks.

"We are no longer going to allow the Republicans to control the narrative, and we're not going to allow them to brand us and define who we are and what we stand for," Robertson said.

As she closed out her remarks, Pelosi made some light of the ever-growing tension between the legislative and executive branches over impeachment with a playful nod to Trump's business background.

"Donald, you used to own a casino," she said. "You know the House always wins."

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

Jamie Lovegrove is a political reporter covering the South Carolina Statehouse, congressional delegation and campaigns. He previously covered Texas politics in Washington for The Dallas Morning News and in Austin for the Texas Tribune.