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 TrumpGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial Warren goes local in race to build 2020 movement 2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes MORE is particularly strong from candidates looking to take out House leaders such as Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton Hoyer Hoyer calls GOP efforts to out whistleblower 'despicable' Live coverage: House holds first public impeachment hearing Congress hunts for path out of spending stalemate MORE (D-Md.) and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerHouse to vote on bill to ensure citizenship for children of overseas service members As impeachment goes public, forget 'conventional wisdom' What this 'impeachment' is really about — and it's not the Constitution 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-CortezSanders says Ocasio-Cortez will play a 'very important role' in his administration if he's elected Top Sanders adviser suggests polling underestimates campaign support Omar renews claim Stephen Miller is a 'white nationalist' amid calls for him to step down MORE (D-N.Y.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyJustice Democrats official denies that progressives struggle with electability The Hill's Campaign Report: Bloomberg looks to upend Democratic race Progressive freshmen jump into leadership PAC fundraising 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 PelosiOvernight Health Care: Trump officials making changes to drug pricing proposal | House panel advances flavored e-cig ban | Senators press FDA tobacco chief on vaping ban Speaker Pelosi, it's time to throw American innovators a lifeline Why Americans must tune in to the Trump impeachment hearings 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 MuellerSpeier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump Gowdy: I '100 percent' still believe public congressional hearings are 'a circus' Comey: Mueller 'didn't succeed in his mission because there was inadequate transparency' 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 Sanders2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes 2020 Dems put focus on stemming veteran suicides The Memo: Democrats confront prospect of long primary MORE (I-Vt.) and Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren goes local in race to build 2020 movement 2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes 2020 Dems put focus on stemming veteran suicides MORE (D-Mass.), with the notable exception of former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenGOP senators balk at lengthy impeachment trial 2020 Democrats make play for veterans' votes 2020 Dems put focus on stemming veteran suicides 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) MalinowskiDiplomat ties Trump closer to Ukraine furor Impeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Warren doubles down — to Democrats' chagrin, and Trump's delight 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.