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) Swan MuellerFox's Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network Mueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal MORE’s report.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump takes 2020 roadshow to New Mexico This week: House jump-starts effort to prevent shutdown Schumer, Pelosi push Trump to back universal background check bill 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 Ann WarrenThe Hill's 12:30 Report: NY Times story sparks new firestorm over Kavanaugh Working Families Party endorses Warren after backing Sanders in 2016 Warren proposes new restrictions, taxes on lobbying 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-CortezOcasio-Cortez calls for Kavanaugh to be impeached Why are we turning a blind eye to right-wing incitement of violence? Bill Maher, Michael Moore spar over Democrats' strategy for 2020 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 BarrWilliam Pelham BarrSupreme Court comes to Trump's aid on immigration Words matter, except to Democrats, when it involves impeaching Trump Justice OIG completes probe on FBI surveillance of ex-Trump campaign aide 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 NadlerWords matter, except to Democrats, when it involves impeaching Trump Nadler: Impeachment inquiry a 'made-up term' but it's essentially 'what we are doing' DOJ files brief arguing against House impeachment probe MORE (D-N.Y.) and Intelligence Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffSunday shows - Guns dominate after Democratic debate Schiff: Diplomacy with Iran 'only way out of this situation' Sunday shows preview: Democratic candidates make the rounds after debate 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 Democrats blur lines on support for impeachment Two Democrats vow to press forward on Trump impeachment Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment 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.”