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 PelosiWhite House appoints GOP House members to advise Trump's impeachment team House revives agenda after impeachment storm Democrats worry a speedy impeachment trial will shut out public MORE’s (D-Calif.) strategy of warning her party against rushing to impeach President TrumpDonald John TrumpSanders apologizes to Biden for supporter's op-ed Jayapal: 'We will end up with another Trump' if the US doesn't elect progressive Democrats: McConnell impeachment trial rules a 'cover up,' 'national disgrace' 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 MuellerSchiff: Trump acquittal in Senate trial would not signal a 'failure' Jeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay 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.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 SwalwellMartha McSally fundraises off 'liberal hack' remark to CNN reporter Enes Kanter sees political stardom — after NBA and WWE Swalwell pens op-ed comparing Trump impeachment to XYZ Affair 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 WarrenJayapal: 'We will end up with another Trump' if the US doesn't elect progressive Former health insurance executive: Current system is bankrupting country The American disease and death bowls 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 HarrisDemocrats: McConnell impeachment trial rules a 'cover up,' 'national disgrace' Parnas pressure grows on Senate GOP Sanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change MORE (D-Calif.), as well as former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro, were also among 2020 contenders calling for Trump’s impeachment.

ADVERTISEMENT

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 BarrParnas attorney asks William Barr to recuse himself from investigation Dems plan marathon prep for Senate trial, wary of Trump trying to 'game' the process Pentagon to place new restrictions, monitoring on foreign military students 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 BidenSanders apologizes to Biden for supporter's op-ed Jayapal: 'We will end up with another Trump' if the US doesn't elect progressive White House appoints GOP House members to advise Trump's impeachment team 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. GreenThe Memo: Will Iran crisis sideline impeachment process? Green says House shouldn't hold impeachment articles indefinitely GOP set to make life difficult for Democrats on impeachment 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 RaskinCongressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Jayapal endorses Sanders Sanders, Warren battle for progressive endorsements The Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial questions; civil Democratic debate 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 TlaibJayapal: 'We will end up with another Trump' if the US doesn't elect progressive Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chair Jayapal endorses Sanders Sanders, Warren battle for progressive endorsements 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 NadlerMcConnell locks in schedule for start of impeachment trial Pelosi: Trump's impeachment 'cannot be erased' House to vote Wednesday on sending articles of impeachment to Senate 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 SandersSanders apologizes to Biden for supporter's op-ed Jayapal: 'We will end up with another Trump' if the US doesn't elect progressive Former health insurance executive: Current system is bankrupting country 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 BennetSanders to headline Iowa event amid impeachment trial On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Sanders defends vote against USMCA | China sees weakest growth in 29 years | Warren praises IRS move on student loans Klobuchar on missing campaigning for impeachment: 'I can do two things at once' 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 GillibrandSanders defends vote against USMCA: 'Not a single damn mention' of climate change The Hill's Morning Report — President Trump on trial Overnight Energy: Schumer votes against USMCA, citing climate impact | Republicans offer details on their environmental proposals | Microsoft aims to be carbon negative by 2030 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 BookerPatrick backs reparations in unveiling 'Equity Agenda for Black Americans' Booker ahead of Trump impeachment trial: 'History has its eyes on us' Sunday shows preview: Lawmakers gear up for Senate impeachment trial MORE (D-N.J.).

And South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPeter (Pete) Paul ButtigiegJayapal: 'We will end up with another Trump' if the US doesn't elect progressive Former health insurance executive: Current system is bankrupting country Biden leads Democratic primary field in Iowa: poll 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."