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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 PelosiOn The Money: Inflation jumps at fastest pace since 2008 | Biden 'encouraged' on bipartisan infrastructure deal Overnight Health Care: CDC approves Pfizer vaccine for adolescents aged 12-15 | House moderates signal concerns with Pelosi drug pricing bill | Panel blasts COVID-19 response Biden 'encouraged' by meeting with congressional leaders on infrastructure MORE’s (D-Calif.) strategy of warning her party against rushing to impeach President TrumpDonald TrumpWarren says Republican party 'eating itself and it is discovering that the meal is poisonous' More than 75 Asian, LGBTQ groups oppose anti-Asian crime bill McConnell says he's 'great admirer' of Liz Cheney but mum on her removal 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) MuellerWhy a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened 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 SwalwellGOP struggles to rein in nativism Personal security costs for anti-Trump lawmakers spiked post-riot Trump knocks CNN for 'completely false' report Gaetz was denied meeting 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 WarrenWarren says Republican party 'eating itself and it is discovering that the meal is poisonous' Briahna Joy Gray: Warren not endorsing Sanders in 2020 was 'really frustrating' McConnell hits Democratic critics of Israel 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 HarrisMcConnell: 'Good chance' of deal with Biden on infrastructure Democrat Nikki Fried teases possible challenge to DeSantis Pavlich: The border crisis Biden said we could afford 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 BarrBill BarrCNN legal analyst joins DOJ's national security division Barr threatened to resign over Trump attempts to fire Wray: report DOJ faces big decision on home confinement 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 BidenBiden says Beau's assessment of first 100 days would be 'Be who you are' Biden: McCarthy's support of Cheney ouster is 'above my pay grade' Conservative group sues over prioritization of women, minorities for restaurant aid 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. GreenBipartisan lawmakers call for action on anti-hate crime measures House Democrat sits on Capitol steps to protest extremist threat Biden pledges support for Texas amid recovery from winter storm 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 RaskinWatchdog finds Architect of the Capitol was sidelined from security planning ahead of Jan. 6 Six House Democrats ask Garland to review case of lawyer placed under house arrest over Chevron suit Democrats seek to keep spotlight on Capitol siege 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 TlaibOcasio-Cortez hits Yang over scrapped Eid event: 'Utterly shameful' The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Biden, Congress drawn into pipeline cyberattack, violence in Israel The Memo: Outrage rises among liberals over Israel 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 NadlerMcGahn to sit for closed-door interview with House Democrats, ending long legal battle House to consider anti-Asian hate crimes bill, protections for pregnant workers this month A historic moment to truly honor mothers 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 SandersOvernight Health Care: CDC approves Pfizer vaccine for adolescents aged 12-15 | House moderates signal concerns with Pelosi drug pricing bill | Panel blasts COVID-19 response Briahna Joy Gray: Warren not endorsing Sanders in 2020 was 'really frustrating' House moderates signal concerns with Pelosi drug pricing bill 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 Defense: Former Pentagon chief to testify about Capitol riot Wednesday | Senate Intelligence chairman wants Biden to review US Space Command move Senate Intelligence chairman wants Biden to review US Space Command move Manchin on collision course with Warren, Sanders 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 GillibrandAustin tight lipped on whether to take sexual assault cases out of commanders' hands Gillibrand touts legislation to lower drug costs: This idea 'is deeply bipartisan' A bipartisan effort to prevent the scourge of sexual assault in the armed forces MORE (D-N.Y.) called for Mueller to testify before Congress before the body makes a decision on impeachment, as has Sen. Cory BookerCory BookerPolice reform talks hit familiar stumbling block Almost 20 advocacy groups team up to pressure Congress to pass health care bill for immigrants Biden adds pressure to congressional talks with self-imposed deadlines MORE (D-N.J.).

And South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete ButtigiegPete ButtigiegGas shortages spread to more states Biden officials warn against hoarding gasoline amid shortages Republicans welcome the chance to work with Democrats on a bipartisan infrastructure bill 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."