Progressives seize on impeachment in 2020 primaries

Progressives seize on impeachment in 2020 primaries
© Greg Nash

Democratic primary challengers in House races in 2020 are starting to press incumbents on impeachment as a host of progressives look to take out more moderate and establishment members of Congress.

The push toward impeaching President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says his advice to impeachment defense team is 'just be honest' Trump expands tariffs on steel and aluminum imports CNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group MORE is particularly strong from candidates looking to take out House leaders such as Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clash over rules House revives agenda after impeachment storm House poised to hand impeachment articles to Senate MORE (D-Md.) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerNadler calls Trump a 'dictator' on Senate floor Poll: Majority think Senate should call witnesses in Trump impeachment trial Susan Collins asked Justice Roberts to intervene after Nadler late-night 'cover-up' accusation MORE (D-N.Y.) as they attack the lack of action from the chamber so far on impeachment proceedings.

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The new attack lines come as progressives are feeling increasingly emboldened to challenge centrist Democrats after the surprise primary victories of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezImpeachment throws curveball in Iowa to sidelined senators Sanders says it's 'disappointing' he's not on campaign trail in Iowa The Hill's Campaign Report: Ten days to Iowa MORE (D-N.Y.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyThe Hill's Morning Report — Dems detail case to remove Trump for abuse of power Pressley says she 'would welcome the opportunity' to educate DeVos after abortion, slavery comparison Massachusetts governor apologizes after calling Pressley speech a 'rant' MORE (D-Mass.) in the 2018 midterm elections.

Yet whether such attacks can catch on as a key campaign issue in 2020 remains to be seen. Challengers in more centrist districts have shown reluctance to pursue an issue that is seen as divisive, and Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Social Security emerges as flash point in Biden-Sanders fight | Dems urge Supreme Court to save consumer agency | Trump to sign USMCA next week Veronica Escobar to give Spanish-language response to Trump State of the Union address MORE (D-Calif.) has been wary on impeachment even as more than 60 Democrats have voiced their support for initiating proceedings.

“I find it unacceptable that my leader in Congress is unwilling to be courageous enough to undertake impeachment hearings immediately,” said Lindsey Boylan, one of three Democrats challenging Nadler.

“He’s been on record saying that impeachable offenses have been committed in terms of obstruction of justice,” she continued, referring to the 15-term Democrat, whose committee would handle any impeachment proceedings.

“He’s just too concerned about the politics of the moment to do something about this and in my view, there’s something much bigger at stake, and it’s the heart of our democracy to have public trust in our system of governance.”

Nadler has reportedly pushed behind closed doors for a formal impeachment inquiry into Trump, but he has not come out publicly in support of the move. His office did not comment on the issue to The Hill.

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The push toward impeachment by some challengers comes after 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 cleared Trump’s campaign of collusion with Moscow but could not determine whether obstruction had taken place.

Since the release of the report, enthusiasm for impeachment by progressives has grown at a time when the Democratic Party is moving to the left on key issues such as “Medicare for All” and climate change.

But impeachment has proven a particularly divisive issue. Pelosi has long expressed caution about starting proceedings, saying she believes the country is not ready for it.

Instead, she and fellow Democratic leaders like Hoyer have backed continuing multiple avenues of House investigations while using strong language against Trump to mollify progressives.

Pelosi has also argued the House gains in 2018, when Democrats retook control of the chamber, were built on key victories in more moderate suburban districts like in Virginia and New Jersey and a focus on bread-and-butter issues such as health care.

The caution, however, is frustrating to some progressive Democrats.

The majority of the more than 20 Democrats running for president also back impeachment proceedings, including Sens. Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders to Clinton: 'This is not the kind of rhetoric that we need' Conservative reporter on Sanders: He's not a 'yes man' Human Rights Campaign president rips Sanders's embrace of Rogan endorsement MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenKlobuchar plans campaign rallies across Iowa despite impeachment trial Hillicon Valley — Presented by Philip Morris International — Wyden asks NSA to investigate White House cybersecurity | Commerce withdraws Huawei rule after Pentagon objects | Warren calls on Brazil to drop Greenwald charges Warren pledges to release Trump records if elected MORE (D-Mass.), with the notable exception of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenSchiff closes Democrats' impeachment arguments with emotional appeal to remove Trump Conservative reporter on Sanders: He's not a 'yes man' Democrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment MORE, the current front-runner in the race who has taken a more nuanced stance.

“My stance is that impeachment proceedings should begin immediately,” Mckayla Wilkes, one of two candidates challenging Hoyer in the primary, told The Hill.

“I continue to believe that he and the Democratic leadership as a whole are wrong in their decision not to move more quickly on this issue,” she said.

Briana Urbina, who is set to formally launch another primary challenge against Hoyer this month, also told The Hill she backs impeachment proceedings.

But Hoyer’s office told The Hill the House leader was committed to unearthing more facts before moving on impeachment.

“Congressman Hoyer has repeatedly stated that the American people deserve all the facts, and that we will follow the facts wherever they lead,” Hoyer’s press secretary, Annaliese Davis, told The Hill in a statement.

Though national polls have generally been split on impeachment, others show support starting to grow among Democrats

A new poll released by Politico–Morning Consult on Wednesday showed 67 percent of self-identified Democrats believe lawmakers should begin the process to oust Trump — an 8 point increase since April.

And the number of House Democrats supporting impeachment is growing. 

Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) became the second freshman Democrat from a swing district to back the opening of an inquiry into impeachment.

She follows Rep. Tom MalinowskiThomas (Tom) MalinowskiSanders, Warren battle for progressive endorsements NJ lawmaker flips endorsement to Biden after Booker drops out House votes to temporarily repeal Trump SALT deduction cap MORE (N.J.), who has also endorsed moving toward impeachment.

“Members of Congress swear an oath to defend the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. The greatest threat to our country is a domestic one, it’s in the White House,” Shahid Buttar, who’s challenging Pelosi, told The Hill.

“Every member of Congress swore an oath essentially to pursue impeachment at this point in time,” he continued. “Saying it’s off the table is basically like not showing up for work.”

Pelosi’s campaign did not return a request for comment from The Hill.

But not all challengers are backing impeachment proceedings. And even those who back impeachment and attack House Democrats for inaction acknowledge impeachment alone is unlikely to deliver them victories in their long-shot campaigns against incumbents.

Wilkes, who’s challenging Hoyer, attacked the 20-term congressman for not doing more on impeachment. But at the same time, she acknowledged her campaign would also need to focus on issues impacting Americans.

“Democrats should focus on the massive issues facing everyday Americans, like housing, health care and climate change,” she said.

“But there’s no reason our representatives can’t do multiple things at once. And there’s no reason for them to be so cowardly on this issue,” she added.