Dem candidates complicate Pelosi's handling of impeachment

Dem candidates complicate Pelosi's handling of impeachment
© Getty Images, Greg Nash

The 2020 Democratic contenders are complicating Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSenate passes .5 billion border bill, setting up fight with House Pelosi: Congress will receive election security briefing in July Trump says he spoke to Pelosi, McConnell on border package MORE’s (D-Calif.) strategy of warning her party against rushing to impeach President TrumpDonald John Trump2020 Democrats spar over socialism ahead of first debate Senate passes .5 billion border bill, setting up fight with House 'Teflon Don' avoids the scorn of the 'family values' GOP — again MORE.

A growing number of Democratic presidential candidates are embracing calls for impeachment as they try to stand out in the crowded — and still growing — 22-member primary field.

The calls for impeachment follow the release of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTop Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, which did not establish that the Trump campaign had conspired with Russia, but did not make a conclusion on whether the president had obstructed justice — an impeachable offense.

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Mueller, instead, laid out 10 examples where Trump may have obstructed justice.

Over the weekend, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke (D-Texas) told reporters in Iowa that the findings in the report confirmed for himthat Trump should be impeached, despite Pelosi’s caution.

When asked about Pelosi’s position, O’Rourke, said, "I mean, we're two different people. And I really respect the Speaker and what she's been able to do, but when asked my opinion, I've got to give my opinion and not anybody else's."

Meanwhile, Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael Swalwell2020 Dems say they will visit Homestead facility holding migrant children Warren visits migrant care shelter, says children being marched 'like little prisoners' Where 2020 Democrats stand in betting markets ahead of first debate MORE (D-Calif.), a House Judiciary Committee member, inched closer toward saying impeachment is a necessary step.

"This president is taking us down that road" of impeachment, Swalwell said in an appearance on CBS's "Face the Nation." "It's maybe the only road to save the country."

Politics is driving both sides of the debate, but in different directions.

The 2020 contenders are hoping that campaigning for an aggressive check on Trump will help attract the party’s liberal base.

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenDon't expect Trump-sized ratings for Democratic debates Poll: Biden leads Democratic field by 6 points, Warren in second place Senate Health Committee advances bipartisan package to lower health costs MORE (D-Mass.) was among the first 2020 candidates to call for impeachment in the days after the release of the redacted Mueller report in late April, saying at the time that she hadnot discussedwith Pelosi her call for Trump’s removal.

Sen. Kamala HarrisKamala Devi HarrisPoll: Biden leads Democratic field by 6 points, Warren in second place 2020 Dems say they will visit Homestead facility holding migrant children Warren visits migrant care shelter, says children being marched 'like little prisoners' MORE (D-Calif.), as well as former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, were also among 2020 contenders calling for Trump’s impeachment.

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That number is growing amid accusations that the White House is stonewalling the Democrats' investigations and in the face of Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Anticipation high ahead of first debate Attorney General Barr plays bagpipes at conference The Hill's Morning Report - Democratic debates: Miami nice or spice? MORE’s refusal to testify before a House committee.

And last week's news revealing Mueller had privately raised concerns about Barr’s initial four-page summary of the Russia report has only added fuel to the calls for impeachment.

Former Vice President Joe BidenJoe Biden'Teflon Don' avoids the scorn of the 'family values' GOP — again Don't expect Trump-sized ratings for Democratic debates Hickenlooper laughs off lack of recognition by security guard at Democratic debate MORE said last week that Congress would have “no alternative” but to impeach Trump if the White House blocks Democratic investigations.

The calls by the 2020 contenders align them with a handful of House liberals, who are pressing Democratic leaders to take up impeachment.

Rep. Al GreenAlexander (Al) N. GreenPavlich: Nadler's intimidation tactics backfire Himes becomes latest Democrat to back impeachment inquiry against Trump Harris picks up endorsement of Texas Congressman Al Green MORE (D-Texas), who’s threatened to force another floor vote on impeachment, countered that not impeaching Trump could help the president win a second term.

"I’m concerned that if we don’t impeach this president, he will get reelected. If we don’t impeach him, he will say he has been vindicated. He will say that Democrats had an overwhelming majority in the House and they didn’t take up impeachment. He will say that we had a constitutional duty to do it if it was there and we didn’t. He will say that he has been vindicated,” Green said in an MSNBC interview.

But party leaders on Capitol Hill fear that pursuing impeachment without bipartisan support could alienate voters in the purple swing districts they'll need to win in order to retain the House next year.

Indeed, Republicans increasingly see impeachment as a wedge issue dividing Democrats — one they hope to use to their political advantage at the polls.

"Republicans are begging us to impeach the president," said Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinStacey Abrams urges lawmakers to restore Voting Rights Act Democrats seek to ban federal spending at Trump businesses Warren introduces universal child care legislation MORE (D-Md.), another member of the Judiciary Committee and a former constitutional law professor.

Polling suggests the broader public isn’t clamoring for impeachment. A new NBC News-Wall Street Journal pollfound that 48 percent of respondents opposed impeachment, while only 17 percent want impeachment hearings now. Another 32 percent support continuing investigations to see if there’s enough evidence to begin impeachment proceedings at a later date.

And among independents, 45 percent said Congress shouldn't move to impeach Trump while just 19 percent believe there's enough evidence to begin the process.

Democratic congressional leaders have opted for a tamer response: pursuing a handful of investigations into the administration, while also going after Barr. The Judiciary Committee will vote Wednesdayto hold the attorney general in contempt of Congress, a symbolic move since the GOP-controlled Senate is certain to ignore it.

Meanwhile, Pelosi’s office is highlighting comments she made to The New York Times, in which she argued that the best way to remove Trump is by soundly defeating him at the ballot box next year, a strategy best served by avoiding veering too far to the left.

“Own the center-left, own the mainstream,” Pelosi said in The New York Times interview. “Our passions were for health care, bigger paychecks, cleaner government — a simple message.”

Even Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibProgressive group endorses three House freshmen Lawmakers urge young women to run for office at DC conference Sanders proposes canceling .6 trillion in US student debt MORE (D-Mich.), a fierce Trump critic, has endorsed a more incremental approach by urging the Judiciary Committee to investigate potentially impeachable offenses — a strategy effectively already being pursued by Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerNadler apologized after repeatedly calling Hope Hicks 'Ms. Lewandowski' at hearing Hope Hicks: Trump campaign felt 'relief' after WikiLeaks released damaging info about Hillary Clinton House hearing marks historic moment for slavery reparations debate MORE (D-N.Y.).

"I think people want to understand the process," Tlaib said. "It isn't anger, it's more of a sense of duty."

Other 2020 contenders have also adopted Pelosi’s cautious approach of charging forward with vigorous investigations to see what turns up — and how the public responds.

That includes the likes of Sen. Bernie SandersBernie Sanders2020 Democrats spar over socialism ahead of first debate 'Teflon Don' avoids the scorn of the 'family values' GOP — again Don't expect Trump-sized ratings for Democratic debates MORE (I-Vt.), who warnedat a recent CNN town hall that “I worry that works to Trump's advantage” if Democrats focus on impeachment instead of issues like health care and climate change.

It also includes Sen. Michael BennetMichael Farrand Bennet2020 Democrats spar over socialism ahead of first debate The Hill's 12:30 Report: Anticipation high ahead of first debate Where 2020 Democrats stand in betting markets ahead of first debate MORE (D-Colo.), the latest candidate to join the Democratic presidential primary.

"The majority of people say the House should continue to investigate and then we should make a decision down the road about whether to impeach or not and then, obviously, to convict or not in the Senate. I think that's exactly right, and that's what we should do," Bennet said on NBC's "Meet the Press.”

Meanwhile, Sen. Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandWarren visits migrant care shelter, says children being marched 'like little prisoners' Where 2020 Democrats stand in betting markets ahead of first debate GOP lays debate trap for 2020 Democrats MORE (D-N.Y.) called for Mueller to testify before Congress before the body makes a decision on impeachment, as has Sen. Cory BookerCory Anthony BookerBooker calls for hearings on reports of ICE using solitary confinement Poll: Biden leads Democratic field by 6 points, Warren in second place The Hill's 12:30 Report: Anticipation high ahead of first debate MORE (D-N.J.).

And South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegPoll: Biden leads Democratic field by 6 points, Warren in second place 2020 Dems say they will visit Homestead facility holding migrant children Warren visits migrant care shelter, says children being marched 'like little prisoners' MORE said that while Trump “deserves impeachment” at a recent CNN town hall, he addedthat the best way to "relegate Trumpism to the dustbin of history" is to deliver “an absolute thumping at the ballot box."

Democrats allied with Pelosi’s strategy are hopeful that even if the party does not pursue impeachment, they can present a sharp contrast to President Trump, letting voters decide who they would rather have in the White House.

“I, for one, believe that even if we don't do impeachment ... 18 months from now when we're going through the election process, the public would then have a very clear picture between a kleptocrat and a Democrat,” said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo). “And I think they'll choose the Democrat."