House Democratic leaders face a delicate balancing act now that the Mueller report is public.
Thursday's much-anticipated release of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE's findings from his 22-month investigation into Russian election interference sparked a new round of Democratic promises to charge ahead with their various investigations into President TrumpDonald TrumpKinzinger says Trump 'winning' because so many Republicans 'have remained silent' Our remote warfare counterterrorism strategy is more risk than reward Far-right rally draws small crowd, large police presence at Capitol MORE.
Yet Democrats won the House in 2018 on issues like health care and middle-class economic prosperity — purposefully de-emphasizing the divisive probe into the mercurial president — and are hoping to ride that same message to victory in the high-stakes 2020 presidential cycle.
Mueller’s report, by raising new questions about Trump’s behavior and launching the next stage of Democratic investigations in the Capitol, could prove challenging for Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiRepublicans caught in California's recall trap Raise the debt limit while starting to fix the budget 'Justice for J6' organizer calls on demonstrators to respect law enforcement MORE (D-Calif.) and other Democratic leaders who for months have been trying to keep a laser-focus on their kitchen-table agenda.
The special counsel’s findings create plenty of opportunities for Democrats to scrutinize the president, with some quickly using it to beat the drum for impeachment. That, in turn, led to immediate efforts from party leaders to throw cold water on talk of ousting Trump, for fear of distracting from their economic message and undermining their 2020 chances.
“Based on what we have seen to date, going forward on impeachment is not worthwhile at this point,” House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerOn The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Pelosi plows full speed ahead on jam-packed agenda Hoyer affirms House will vote Sept. 27 on bipartisan infrastructure bill House to act on debt ceiling next week MORE (D-Md.) told CNN just hours after a redacted version of the report was made public. “Very frankly, there is an election in 18 months and the American people will make a judgement.”
Hoyer’s comments underscore the considerable task facing Democratic leaders in the months ahead, when they’ll need to walk a fine line between conducting their promised oversight of the White House to satisfy liberals clamoring for presidential accountability, while prioritizing an economic message that resonates with more moderate voters fatigued from the investigative saga and ready to move on.
"Democratic leadership has to find a way to acknowledge the potentially explosive wrongdoing by the president in the Mueller report and at the same time be able to focus on a larger Democratic agenda," one Democratic lawmaker said Thursday. “And that's difficult.”
Democratic committee leaders roared ahead Thursday with new subpoena threats related to Mueller’s report, while Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerBiden discusses agenda with Schumer, Pelosi ahead of pivotal week CEOs urge Congress to raise debt limit or risk 'avoidable crisis' If .5 trillion 'infrastructure' bill fails, it's bye-bye for an increasingly unpopular Biden MORE (D-N.Y.) issued a pair of statements that focused almost exclusively on Attorney General William BarrBill BarrClinton lawyer's indictment reveals 'bag of tricks' Attorney indicted on charge of lying to FBI as part of Durham investigation Milley moved to limit Trump military strike abilities after Jan. 6, Woodward book claims: report MORE, though they also called for Mueller to testify.
“What we’ve learned today is that Attorney General Barr deliberately distorted significant portions of Special Counsel Mueller’s report,” the two Democratic leaders said in their second statement before laying out their reasons. “Special Counsel Mueller’s report paints a disturbing picture of a president who has been weaving a web of deceit, lies and improper behavior and acting as if the law doesn’t apply to him. But if you hadn’t read the report and listened only to Mr. Barr, you wouldn’t have known any of that because Mr. Barr has been so misleading.”
“It is imperative that the rest of the report and the underlying documents be made available to Congress and that Special Counsel Mueller testify before both chambers as soon as possible,” they added.
Barr said he has no objections to Mueller testifying, but it’s uncertain whether the special counsel will agree to answer questions in a public setting.
Pelosi later sent a letter to House Democrats saying there will be a conference call on Monday to discuss next steps.
Rep. Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerOcasio-Cortez, Bush push to add expanded unemployment in .5T spending plan Angelina Jolie spotted in Capitol meeting with senators House panel advances immigration language for reconciliation bill MORE (D-N.Y.) on Friday made clear what one of those next steps is: The House Judiciary Committee chairman issued a subpoena to compel the Department of Justice to turn over an unredacted version of the Mueller report and the underlying evidence.
Complicating the path forward for Democrats, Mueller’s report cleared Trump and his team of any criminal conspiracy to sway the election and landed indecisively on the question of whether Trump tried to obstruct the special counsel’s probe.
The response cut across predictable partisan lines.
Trump's Republican allies cheered, asserting in no uncertain terms that the president has been exonerated by an investigation they've long considered a "witch hunt" — a message they intend to pound deep into the 2020 cycle.
On the other side of the aisle, liberal Democrats were energized and vowed to ramp up their investigations based on the trove of newly public details.
Rep. Al GreenAlexander (Al) N. GreenThousands march on Washington in voting rights push Rental aid emerges as new housing fight after eviction ban Rep. Al Green, Texas state lawmaker arrested outside Capitol during voting rights protest MORE (D-Texas), a longtime advocate for impeaching Trump, argued that the report provides more evidence that Trump is unfit for office.
"We can't blame Republicans for the lack of an impeachment effort. We control the House,” Green said. “It is up to us to act.”
Nadler, whose panel has jurisdiction over impeachment, said Thursday it is “too early to talk” about ousting Trump.
He and other Democrats have seized on Mueller’s ambiguous decision on obstruction to charge ahead with subpoenas and investigations.
In a press conference with reporters Thursday, Nadler suggested Mueller gave Congress a clear opening. The special counsel wrote in his report that Congress has the “authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority.”
Nadler said Mueller conducted the probe in a way that preserved “evidence for future investigators” and that the special counsel in no way exonerated the president.
“Even in its incomplete form … the Mueller report outlines disturbing evidence that President Trump engaged in obstruction of justice and other misconduct,” Nadler said.
Democrats also allege Barr misled the public about the core conclusions of the Mueller report when he provided Congress with a four-page summary late last month.
"The attorney general did a grave disservice to the country by misrepresenting significant parts of the Mueller report,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffOvernight Hillicon Valley — Hacking goes global Schiff calls on Amazon, Facebook to address spread of vaccine misinformation Spotlight turns to GOP's McCarthy in Jan. 6 probe MORE (D-Calif.) said during a press conference Thursday. “He's not the president’s personal lawyer, although he may feel he is. He's supposed to be the highest law enforcement officer in the land and represent the interests of the people."
Barr is expected to testify before the House and Senate Judiciary committees early next month, providing an opportunity for Democrats to press the attorney general on his process for releasing the report, which they say he fumbled.
Republicans said the onus is on Democrats to make a convincing case for why further information is needed.
Republican Judiciary aides praised how few redactions there were in the report and stated that they would need to first hear a strong argument from Nadler on why Congress should go to court for grand jury material — so far, they remain unconvinced.
The GOP aides also said Mueller’s position on Congress continuing investigations into obstruction of justice is being taken out of context.
“Mueller’s report isn’t saying Congress should investigate obstruction now. It’s saying that Congress can make laws about obstruction under its Article I powers,” one GOP aide said.
Republicans said the report should halt the investigations and end the debates, though they are not making any wagers that their Democratic colleagues will do so.
“It would be naïve to suggest that the collusion delusion will end today. Washington Democrats and their allies invested far too much in this conspiracy to give up so easily,” House Freedom Caucus Chairman Mark MeadowsMark MeadowsAllies see rising prospect of Trump 2024 White House bid The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - US prepares vaccine booster plan House panel probing Jan. 6 attack seeks Trump records MORE (R-N.C.) said in a statement. “But make no mistake: it is over. The collusion conspiracy theory is dead.”
But some Democrats have other ideas.
Shortly after the report was released, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOn The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Pelosi plows full speed ahead on jam-packed agenda Photos of the Week: Renewable energy, gymnast testimonies and a Met Gala dress Ocasio-Cortez, Bush push to add expanded unemployment in .5T spending plan MORE (D-N.Y.) signed a resolution, sponsored by another liberal freshman, Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibDemocratic bill would force Fed to defund fossil fuels Democrats brace for battle on Biden's .5 trillion spending plan 'Squad' members call on Biden to shut down Line 3 pipeline in Minnesota MORE (D-Mich.), calling on the Judiciary Committee to examine whether Trump committed impeachable offenses.
“Mueller’s report is clear in pointing to Congress’ responsibility in investigating obstruction of justice by the President,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted.
Updated at 9:22 a.m.