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 TrumpEsper sidesteps question on whether he aligns more with Mattis or Trump Warren embraces Thiel label: 'Good' As tensions escalate, US must intensify pressure on Iran and the IAEA MORE is particularly strong from candidates looking to take out House leaders such as Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerOcasio-Cortez responds to fresh criticism from Trump House Democrats introduce resolution condemning Trump for 'racist' comments Feehery: Trump inspires temporary House Democratic unity MORE (D-Md.) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerTrump knocks Mueller after deal struck for him to testify House Democrats request briefing on Epstein, Acosta Nadler apologized after repeatedly calling Hope Hicks 'Ms. Lewandowski' at hearing 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-CortezGeorge Conway calls Trump a 'racist president' in new op-ed House Democrats introduce resolution condemning Trump for 'racist' comments Trump's family separation policy has taken US to 'lowest depth possible,' says former immigration lawyer MORE (D-N.Y.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyKellyanne Conway: 'I totally disagree' with husband's op-ed calling Trump racist Scaramucci calls Trump tweets 'racist and unacceptable' House Democrat pushes for censuring Trump in closed-door meeting 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 PelosiHouse Democrat pushes for censuring Trump in closed-door meeting Trump: I don't have a racist bone in my body Ocasio-Cortez responds to fresh criticism from Trump 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 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 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 SandersWarren embraces Thiel label: 'Good' Sanders slams decision not to charge officer who killed Eric Garner Cardi B says voters let Bernie Sanders down MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren embraces Thiel label: 'Good' Trump says administration will 'take a look' after Thiel raises concerns about Google, China Thiel calls Warren the most 'dangerous' Democratic candidate MORE (D-Mass.), with the notable exception of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden jokes he's ready for a push-up competition with Trump Biden says his presidency is not 'a third term of Obama' Biden knocks Trump on tweets about 'smart as hell' Ocasio-Cortez 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) MalinowskiHouse Democrat pushes for censuring Trump in closed-door meeting House Democrats introduce resolution condemning Trump for 'racist' comments Democrats erupt over Trump attacks 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.