Dems feel growing pressure on impeachment

House Democratic leaders are facing new pressures over a radioactive debate they've fought to keep under wraps: the impeachment of President TrumpDonald John TrumpThis week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Impeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Judd Gregg: The big, big and bigger problem MORE.
 
Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiImpeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Klobuchar: 'I have seen no reason why' Hunter Biden would need to testify Johnson dismisses testimony from White House officials contradicting Trump as 'just their impression' MORE (D-Calif.) has confronted the question since the earliest days of Trump's White House tenure, hoping to discourage any talk of ousting the president so long as the effort remains strictly partisan.
 
But a group of liberals in her ranks have pressed on, introducing articles of impeachment while threatening additional floor votes on the legislation. And this week's explosive testimony by Trump's former personal attorney, who lodged a string of allegations that the president broke numerous laws before and since he took office, has only fueled the impeachment push — and complicated efforts by Democratic leaders to prevent debate over the volatile "I" word from cascading into an intraparty free-for-all.
 
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Appearing before the House Oversight and Reform Committee, Michael Cohen told lawmakers that Trump had a direct hand in distributing hush money payments to a porn star during the 2016 campaign — payments that would violate campaign finance laws — and also steered an unsuccessful effort to expand his business empire in Russia even as he was seeking the White House. 
 
Rep. Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenImpeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Boeing CEO gives up bonus over 737 Max crashes Democrat says he voted to recognize Armenian genocide because 'Turkey doesn't seem to respect' US MORE (D-Tenn.), who introduced articles of impeachment in the last Congress,  told The New York Times after the hearing that impeachment "is almost going to be impossible not to deal with."
 
Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibBloomberg run should push Warren to the center — but won't Justice Democrats official denies that progressives struggle with electability The Hill's Campaign Report: Bloomberg looks to upend Democratic race MORE (D-Mich.), another impeachment supporter, told MSNBC that Congress has a constitutional responsibility to check Trump's  business dealings because "this is not going to be our last CEO" in the White House. And impeachment advocates off of Capitol Hill are pointing to Michael Cohen's testimony as just the latest — and perhaps most damning — evidence that Trump is unfit for office.
 
"Do I think the hearing made a difference? One-hundred percent," said Tom Steyer, the billionaire environmentalist who is spending millions of dollars on a grass-roots impeachment campaign. "Because we now have public evidence confirming what we've been saying about the president's crimes, corruption and cover-ups. And now we've got it on the record in front of the American people. 
 
"The question now is, what do you want to do about it?"
 
Pelosi, joined by other top Democrats, sought to put the brakes on the impeachment talk following the hearing, noting the "divisive" nature of the issue and arguing the need to see more evidence of presidential wrongdoing before taking a step as momentous as ousting the president. 
 
"Let us see what the facts are, what the law is, and what the behavior is of the president," she told reporters Thursday.
 
Pelosi is drawing on history in her cautious approach. She was on Capitol Hill in 1998 when GOP leaders impeached former President Clinton — a move that backfired on the Republicans, who had almost no bipartisan support — and she doesn't want to give Trump a boost and energize Republican voters heading into the 2020 cycle.
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Andrew Herman, an expert in congressional investigations and ethics at the Miller & Chevalier law firm, said Pelosi's discretion makes good political sense, since Trump still enjoys overwhelming support from Republican voters and there's no bipartisan appetite for impeachment in the Capitol. He noted that former President Nixon resigned only after public sentiment turned against him, even among Republican voters, causing GOP lawmakers to do the same.
 
"The Democrats have to make a judgment at some point about whether his conduct justifies it from a constitutional perspective," Herman said, "but also whether it makes sense for them to proceed from a political perspective."
 
Democratic leaders have the backing of most of the caucus in their argument for proceeding slowly to await the results of several ongoing investigations, including those being conducted by 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 into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the 2016 elections.
 
But even a number of those rank-and-file members suggested Cohen's testimony lent undeniable momentum to the case for impeachment.
 
Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyHouse to hold public impeachment hearings next week House Democrats launch process to replace Cummings on Oversight panel The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Better Medicare Alliance - Dems unveil impeachment measure; Vindman splits GOP MORE (D-Va.), a member of the Oversight panel, said Democrats still "have to build the case" to bring the public on board. But, he told MSNBC, "we are moving into territory that is very perilous for the president and cannot be ignored for the Congress."
 
 
"If you are asking me if it seems likely the president could be removed from office based on what we know, is it more likely today than it was on Tuesday, I think the answer to that is yes," he told CNN.
 
And Rep. Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyHouse Democrats pull subpoena for ex-Trump national security official House Democrats ask Mulvaney to testify in impeachment inquiry Republicans look to expand impeachment strategy amid release of transcripts MORE (D-N.Y.), another member of the Oversight Committee, told CNN Thursday that Cohen's testimony provided lawmakers with "a lot of information" that was previously unknown, suggesting some of the allegations could merit an eventual effort to oust the president.  
 
"I think it possibly could lead to impeachment," she told the network. 
 
On Friday, Maloney emphasized that she's in no rush to join the impeachment push, saying that while “there certainly were troubling issues raised in the hearing," lawmakers "still have more facts to collect." 
 
Advocates, meanwhile, are growing impatient amid the wait for the outside investigations to end. Steyer characterized the Mueller report as "a catchphrase for delay," lamenting that "it's March 1 and we've had one public hearing."
 
Citing Nixon, Steyer was quick to acknowledge the need to build public support for impeachment. But that, he added, is only more reason for Democrats to get moving on more public hearings like the Cohen testimony, which drew almost 16 million viewers on Wednesday, according to Nielsen.
 
"They will be must-see TV," he said. "It will be the soap opera to end all soap operas."
 
Steyer said his group, Need to Impeach, added 30,000 new supporters the day after Cohen's hearing alone. "And normally we add about 10 [thousand]," he said. 
 
Democrats are promising a host of such hearings. Following Cohen's testimony, Oversight Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsFormer NAACP president to run for Cummings's House seat Elijah Cummings's widow 'thinking carefully' about running for his old seat Trump's criminal justice reform record fraught with contradiction MORE (D-Md.) said the committee will “probably” invite Allen Weisselberg, the Trump Organization's chief financial officer, to address the panel. And Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffImpeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Sunday shows — New impeachment phase dominates MORE (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, has already scheduled a hearing with Felix Sater, a Trump business associate, to discuss the details of Trump's failed business venture in Moscow. 
 
The hearings, however, could prove to be a Catch-22 for Democratic leaders: the more they air allegations against the president in the public square, the greater the clamor may be among the Democratic base for impeachment — a dynamic that could put even greater pressure on leadership to address the issue even before the Mueller report is released.
 
"It is inarguable that it makes for great viewing and that it gins up a tremendous amount of trouble for Trump," said Herman. 
 
"How that plays out in the long run I don't know."