Pelosi, Dems struggle to find unity in Mueller response

House Democrats are struggling to find a unified front on impeachment as they seek to respond to special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE’s report.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiNegotiators hit gas on coronavirus talks as frustration mounts Hillicon Valley: NSA warns of new security threats | Teen accused of Twitter hack pleads not guilty | Experts warn of mail-in voting misinformation Schiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package MORE (D-Calif.), who has repeatedly set a high bar for impeachment amid growing pressure from her left flank, will lead a conference call on Monday evening with her caucus to discuss Mueller’s findings.

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Hours before the call, Pelosi sent a letter to the members of her caucus acknowledging the different opinions about an appropriate response to Mueller's findings — and urging unity. 
 
"While our views range from proceeding to investigate the findings of the Mueller report or proceeding directly to impeachment, we all firmly agree that we should proceed down a path of finding the truth," she wrote.
 
"It is also important to know that the facts regarding holding the President accountable can be gained outside of impeachment hearings."
 
Pelosi and other party leaders are expected to stress the importance of seeing the entire report — unredacted — and hearing testimony from Mueller himself.

“The report doesn’t exonerate Trump and raises more questions that the American people deserve answers to,” a Democratic aide said in an email, laying out the contours of Pelosi’s expected message.

Pelosi’s task in selling a cautious approach to Mueller’s findings appears to be growing more daunting.

Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenTrump says government to review 5M Kodak loan deal Michelle Obama supporters urge Biden to pick former first lady as running mate On The Money: Unemployment debate sparks GOP divisions | Pandemic reveals flaws of unemployment insurance programs | Survey finds nearly one-third of rehired workers laid off again MORE (D-Mass.), who is running for president, joined the impeachment push following the release of Mueller’s report, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezLongtime Rep. Lacy Clay defeated in Missouri Democratic primary Trump campaign rolls out TV spots in early voting states after advertising pause Trump adviser Jason Miller: Biden running mate pick 'his political living will' MORE (D-N.Y.), the social media superstar who has largely deferred to party leaders on that divisive question, followed suit.

Pelosi has cited the need to build bipartisan support before taking such a monumental step. She and other leaders have sought to keep a focus on the more elemental policy issues — health care, jobs, infrastructure — heading into the 2020 cycle. But a conversation about impeachment may be unavoidable.

Rank-and-file lawmakers will have a chance to ask questions and make comments on Monday’s call, which comes in the middle of the long Easter recess and marks the first full-caucus discussion since Democrats huddled for their annual retreat in northern Virginia almost two weeks ago.

The rallying teleconference also comes four days after Attorney General William BarrBill BarrTrump administration awarding M in housing grants to human trafficking survivors Trump stokes conspiracy about Epstein death, stands by wishes for Ghislaine Maxwell Democrats' silence on our summer of violence is a tactical blunder MORE released a redacted version of Mueller's report, running more than 400 pages, which cleared Trump and his campaign team of criminal conspiracy in relation to Russia's efforts to swing the 2016 election in Trump's favor.

The investigators were more ambiguous, however, on the question of whether the president tried to obstruct the probe, listing 10 episodes of potential obstruction they examined. And the report explicitly cited Congress’s authority to investigate potential wrongdoing of the president where the special counsel and his team left off.

Responding to the report last week, key Democratic committee heads — including Judiciary Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerBy questioning Barr, Democrats unmasked their policy of betrayal Chris Wallace: Barr hearing 'an embarrassment' for Democrats: 'Just wanted to excoriate him' Apple posts blowout third quarter MORE (D-N.Y.) and Intelligence Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffSchiff, Khanna call for free masks for all Americans in coronavirus aid package House Intelligence panel opens probe into DHS's involvement in response to protests Democrats exit briefing saying they fear elections under foreign threat MORE (D-Calif.) — amplified previous promises to conduct their own investigations into Trump’s conduct, with Nadler quickly issuing a subpoena for the entire report and its underlying documents.

Those same committee heads blanketed the cable news shows on Sunday. And while they joined Pelosi in saying efforts to oust the president are premature, they also left the door wide open to possible impeachment proceedings in the future, if their probes uncover criminal wrongdoing.

“Obstruction of justice, if proven, would be impeachable,” Nadler told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

Asked Monday if he's concerned about impeachment, Trump told reporters, “Not even a little bit.”

Republicans, meanwhile, have largely joined Trump in arguing that Mueller’s report has fully exonerated the president. They’re welcoming the continued investigations on Capitol Hill, in hopes of portraying the Democrats as attacking the president for purely political ends.

Still, some Republicans have expressed concerns with Mueller’s findings. And Democrats are also hoping to heighten the pressure on Republicans to join them in probing the episodes of possible of obstruction.   

Republicans will “have to choose between defending a corrupt president or defending our democracy and the rule of law,” the Democratic aide said.

Many Democratic lawmakers spent the Easter weekend trying to get through the massive 448-page Mueller report and personally wrestling with the I-word.

Rep. Rick LarsenRichard (Rick) Ray LarsenHouse Dems introduce bill to require masks on planes and in airports Trump raises idea of delaying election Democrats fear US already lost COVID-19 battle MORE (D-Wash.) isn’t closing the door on impeachment, but he’s not rushing into the issue either. Taking a cue from Pelosi and Nadler, Larsen said Congress needs to conduct proper oversight and investigate Trump before tackling the impeachment question.

“It would depend upon a legitimate congressional investigation that determines the president took action that rises to the level of impeachment,” Larsen told The Hill.  “And then we have to determine if impeachment is the right path to hold him accountable.”

During the Easter recess, Larsen said he spoke to five Democratic Party groups that are urging House lawmakers to run in 2020 on legislation they’ve passed while also conducting oversight probes. Democratic activists from Larsen’s coastal district just north of Seattle are also giving him space to read and absorb the Mueller report, and reach his own conclusions, he said.   

“No one spoke up about impeachment to me,” Larsen said.

“We can walk, chew gum, rub our belly and pat our head all at the same time: Work on legislation and conduct oversight,” he added. “And so far my constituents seem to be telling me to focus on the former while also doing the latter.”