Dems walk tightrope on impeachment

Dems walk tightrope on impeachment
© Greg Nash

Democratic leaders have a message for those members of their caucus beating the drum to impeach President Trump: not so fast.

“I would suggest … there needs to be a full investigation first,” Rep. Joseph Crowley (N.Y.), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Wednesday. “We need to get to the facts, and let the facts lead where they may.”

In the eyes of several Democrats, however, the facts already lead to impeachment. 

The Justice Department on Wednesday night announced it was naming a special counsel to investigate Russia’s involvement in the 2016 presidential election, a response to longstanding calls from Democrats.

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Former FBI Director Robert Mueller, a former prosecutor who served a 12-year term at the helm of the bureau, was named to the position by deputy attorney general Rod Rosenstein.

Before that news broke, Democrats took steps Wednesday to express their case for impeachment following new reports suggesting Trump tried to block an FBI probe into his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.

Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) spoke out at a closed-door House Democratic Caucus meeting Wednesday morning to highlight the urgency of removing Trump, whom the Democrats increasingly see as a national security liability.

Almost simultaneously, Rep. Al GreenAl GreenCongressional Black Caucus calls on Trump administration to invest in prosecuting hate crimes Scalise ally, a Dem, leads fight to boost lawmaker security Dem leaders: Cool it on impeachment MORE (D-Texas) took to the House floor to trumpet the impeachment call he’d sounded earlier in the week. He characterized his decision as a “position of conscience.”

“There is a belief in this country that no one is above the law, and that includes the president,” Green said. “This is where I stand; I will not be moved.”

The impeachment debate is forcing Democratic leaders to walk a fine line in their approach to the ongoing Russia-Trump saga. On one hand, the Democrats want to keep the pressure on the White House and tap the energy the remarkable story is generating among members of their base, many of whom support the impeachment route. On the other, they don’t want to politicize their calls for an independent investigation.

“We have to be circumspect as we look at this tale of horrors,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.). “Because we should not give the impression that we are obsessed with removing Donald TrumpDonald TrumpKobach fined over Trump meeting memo OPINION: Dear media, Americans don't care about Obama's legacy Make America’s classroom and workplaces safe again MORE from office — it will only harden his supporters. 

“Based on what I’ve read and heard, Mr. Trump is in trouble, and he doesn’t need any help to get into deeper trouble.”

Top Democratic leaders insist they’re not putting any pressure on their troops to shy away from impeachment calls. 

“Members can come to their own conclusions, and we don’t pretend to stand here and speak on behalf of every single individual member of our caucus,” Crowley said.

But leaders are also making clear they don’t support impeachment.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) this week downplayed any impeachment calls as “a reflection” of what a few lawmakers “are hearing in their own constituencies.” 

“They know I don’t subscribe to that,” she said during a CNN town hall event.

Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), the Democratic whip, said Tuesday that any talk of impeachment is premature. 

“We need to get the facts first.”

And during Wednesday’s caucus meeting, Rep. Adam SchiffAdam SchiffWhite House refers House panel to Trump's tweets about Comey 'tapes' Overnight Cybersecurity: Trump tweetstorm on Russia probe | White House reportedly pushing to weaken sanctions bill | Podesta to testify before House Intel House Intel Dem says Trump's tweet about 'tapes' not enough MORE (Calif.), the senior Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, addressed the group in an effort to discourage the impeachment push. 

“We ought to keep our focus on finding out the facts in the first instance. And no one ought to, in my view, rush to embrace the most extraordinary remedy that involves the removal of the president from office,” Schiff told reporters afterward.

“It cannot be perceived as an effort to nullify the election by other means.”

It’s not the first time Democratic leaders have tamped down the efforts of angry caucus members seeking to impeach a Republican president. In 2006, several Democrats, including veteran Rep. John Conyers (D-Mich.), launched a bid to impeach then-President George W. Bush over his handling of the Iraq War and the administration’s warrantless surveillance programs. 

Pelosi, who was then, as now, minority leader, quashed that effort out of concern that Republicans would use it on the campaign trail to energize GOP voters with warnings that Bush would be imperiled if the Democrats won the Speaker’s gavel. She did, and no impeachment process followed.

Still, Green said Wednesday that, while he hasn’t introduced the articles of impeachment that would start the process, “I will do that if it is not done by others.”

He didn’t say when.

Before the Mueller announcement, Democratic leaders were pressing ahead with their investigative strategy. On Wednesday, they unveiled a discharge petition on legislation creating an independent, outside panel — similar to the 9/11 Commission — to take the lead in the Russia investigation.

Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), a lead sponsor of the bill, said such a panel might dig up information that eventually leads to impeachment proceedings, though Democrats need to be patient and take the process one step at a time.

“I just want to get the information,” he said. “Will it lead to impeachment? I don’t know.”

There’s no denying, however, that more and more Democrats are mentioning impeachment since Trump’s decision last week to fire former FBI Director James Comey, who was leading a probe into Russia’s ties to the White House. And Tuesday’s New York Times report saying Trump pressed Comey to drop the Flynn probe seems to have accelerated the trend.

“We are rapidly approaching an impeachment process,” Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said Wednesday.

Rep. John YarmuthJohn YarmuthWhite House budget chief apologizes to CBO analyst Ex-CBO directors offer scathing criticism of Mulvaney Key Dem: Mulvaney should apologize for attack on CBO analyst MORE (D-Ky.) said this week’s revelation of the Comey memo “was a game-changer.” 

And Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) said he is getting closer to supporting impeachment with each new development.

“We’re coming very, very close,” Lewis said. 

“The drip-drip just cannot continue,” he added. “We’ve got to save the country.”