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 PelosiDemocratic senator to party: 'A little message discipline wouldn't kill us' Overnight Health Care: New wave of COVID-19 cases builds in US | Florida to lift all coronavirus restrictions on restaurants, bars | Trump stirs questions with 0 drug coupon plan Overnight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds MORE’s (D-Calif.) strategy of warning her party against rushing to impeach President TrumpDonald John TrumpFederal prosecutor speaks out, says Barr 'has brought shame' on Justice Dept. Former Pence aide: White House staffers discussed Trump refusing to leave office Progressive group buys domain name of Trump's No. 1 Supreme Court pick 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) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout 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 SwalwellHouse to vote on resolution affirming peaceful transition of power Swalwell calls for creation of presidential crimes commission to investigate Trump when he leaves office 'This already exists': Democrats seize on potential Trump executive order on preexisting conditions 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 WarrenOvernight Defense: Appeals court revives House lawsuit against military funding for border wall | Dems push for limits on transferring military gear to police | Lawmakers ask for IG probe into Pentagon's use of COVID-19 funds On The Money: Half of states deplete funds for Trump's 0 unemployment expansion | EU appealing ruling in Apple tax case | House Democrats include more aid for airlines in coronavirus package Warren, Khanna request IG investigation into Pentagon's use of coronavirus funds 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 HarrisTexas Democratic official urges Biden to visit state: 'I thought he had his own plane' The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden on Trump: 'He'll leave' l GOP laywers brush off Trump's election remarks l Obama's endorsements A game theorist's advice to President Trump on filling the Supreme Court seat 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 BarrBill BarrFederal prosecutor speaks out, says Barr 'has brought shame' on Justice Dept. Why a backdoor to encrypted data is detrimental to cybersecurity and data integrity FBI official who worked with Mueller raised doubts about Russia investigation 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 BidenFormer Pence aide: White House staffers discussed Trump refusing to leave office Progressive group buys domain name of Trump's No. 1 Supreme Court pick Bloomberg rolls out M ad buy to boost Biden in Florida 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: Trump's race tactics fall flat Trump administration ending support for 7 Texas testing sites as coronavirus cases spike The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Miami mayor worries about suicide and domestic violence rise; Trump-governor debate intensifies 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 RaskinOVERNIGHT ENERGY:  House passes sweeping clean energy bill | Pebble Mine CEO resigns over secretly recorded comments about government officials  | Corporations roll out climate goals amid growing pressure to deliver On The Money: House panel pulls Powell into partisan battles | New York considers hiking taxes on the rich | Treasury: Trump's payroll tax deferral won't hurt Social Security House panel pulls Powell into partisan battles over pandemic 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 TlaibTrump attacks Omar for criticizing US: 'How did you do where you came from?' George Conway: 'Trump is like a practical joke that got out of hand' Pelosi endorses Kennedy in Massachusetts Senate primary challenge 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 NadlerDemocrats shoot down talk of expanding Supreme Court Schumer: 'Nothing is off the table' if GOP moves forward with Ginsburg replacement Top Democrats call for DOJ watchdog to probe Barr over possible 2020 election influence 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 SandersSirota reacts to report of harassment, doxing by Harris supporters Republicans not immune to the malady that hobbled Democrats The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - Republicans lawmakers rebuke Trump on election 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 BennetOVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats tee up vote on climate-focused energy bill next week | EPA reappoints controversial leader to air quality advisory committee | Coronavirus creates delay in Pentagon research for alternative to 'forever chemicals' Senate Democrats demand White House fire controversial head of public lands agency Next crisis, keep people working and give them raises 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 GillibrandSunday shows preview: Justice Ginsburg dies, sparking partisan battle over vacancy before election Suburban moms are going to decide the 2020 election Jon Stewart urges Congress to help veterans exposed to burn pits 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 BookerThe movement to reform animal agriculture has reached a tipping point Watchdog confirms State Dept. canceled award for journalist who criticized Trump 3 reasons why Biden is misreading the politics of court packing MORE (D-N.J.).

And South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegBillionaire who donated to Trump in 2016 donates to Biden The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Facebook - GOP closes ranks to fill SCOTUS vacancy by November Buttigieg stands in as Pence for Harris's debate practice 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."