Dems seek to rein in calls for impeachment

Dems seek to rein in calls for impeachment
© Greg Nash

Democratic leaders are racing to keep the impeachment genie in its bottle.

The release of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerFox News legal analyst says Trump call with Ukraine leader could be 'more serious' than what Mueller 'dragged up' Lewandowski says Mueller report was 'very clear' in proving 'there was no obstruction,' despite having 'never' read it Fox's Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network MORE’s mammoth report on Russia’s 2016 election meddling revealed a trove of details related to President TrumpDonald John TrumpDemocratic senator rips Trump's 'let them fight' remarks: 'Enough is enough' Warren warns Facebook may help reelect Trump 'and profit off of it' Trump touts Turkey cease-fire: 'Sometimes you have to let them fight' MORE’s handling of the investigation, lending a new boost to the small but vocal group of Democrats pushing to oust the president — and creating new challenges for party leaders advocating a more deliberative approach.   

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In a conference call with House Democrats on Monday, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocratic senator rips Trump's 'let them fight' remarks: 'Enough is enough' Trump touts Turkey cease-fire: 'Sometimes you have to let them fight' Mattis responds to Trump criticism: 'I guess I'm the Meryl Streep of generals' MORE (D-Calif.) and other party leaders sought to rein in the impeachment camp, warning that a rush toward ousting the president before pinpointing criminal wrongdoing — and securing some Republican support —  could harm the party at the polls next year.

“We need to hear from [Attorney General William] Barr and Mueller. And we need to see the unreacted report and the documents [that] go with it,” said House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsMichael Steele: Celebrating Elijah Cummings, a servant and a leader Republicans seek to delay effort to censure Schiff after Cummings' death House leaders offer tributes from floor to Elijah Cummings MORE (D-Md.), according to a source on the call. “We cannot allow this president to continue going down this course.”

But Democratic lawmakers on the call questioned that approach, arguing there’s plenty of evidence already to launch the impeachment process.

“I think we have great evidence that the president has blatantly violated so many laws. It’s just ridiculous,” Rep. Val DemingsValdez (Val) Venita DemingsSunday shows - Second whistleblower grabs spotlight House Democrat: Trump 'dangerously abused his oath of office' Democrats are 'giddy over' impeachment inquiry, Republican says MORE (D-Fla.), a House Judiciary Committee member who hasn’t previously been vocal about impeachment, said during the call.

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“I think we have enough” to move forward with impeachment, Demings added, according to a source on the call.

Six key committee leaders briefed Democrats on their oversight efforts, including House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerDem committee chairs blast Trump G-7 announcement Top Democrat holds moment of silence for Cummings at hearing Barr to speak at Notre Dame law school on Friday MORE (D-N.Y.), who issued a subpoena for former White House counsel Don McGahn just as the call began.

House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersHillicon Valley: FCC approves T-Mobile-Sprint merger | Dems wrangle over breaking up Big Tech at debate | Critics pounce as Facebook's Libra stumbles | Zuckerberg to be interviewed by Fox News | Twitter details rules for political figures' tweets On The Money: Tax, loan documents for Trump properties reportedly showed inconsistencies | Tensions flare as Dems hammer Trump consumer chief | Critics pounce as Facebook crypto project stumbles Zuckerberg meets with Waters ahead of congressional testimony MORE (D-Calif.) stood out, however, for making clear that she remains in favor of impeachment as her panel continues its investigations.

“Everybody knows I’m for impeachment,” Waters said, according to a source on the call.

The mobilizing call highlights the balancing act Democratic leaders and committee heads are attempting to manage in the wake of the report’s release. On one hand, they’re vowing an aggressive oversight regime that essential takes the investigate baton from Mueller to launch their own probes on Capitol Hill. On the other, they don’t want to be portrayed as conducting a purely partisan attack on the president, which could energize the Republican base heading into the 2020 cycle.

“We’re moving forward with hearings on what’s in the Mueller Report, just not formal ‘impeachment’ hearings. I think it’s a sensible middle option,” said a Democratic lawmaker on the call.

“I also think when Mueller testifies it will be the biggest event to date in all of this, even more so than Comey,” the lawmaker added, referring to former FBI Director James ComeyJames Brien ComeyGOP cautions Graham against hauling Biden before Senate Graham on Syria: Trump appears 'hell-bent' on repeating Obama's mistakes in Iraq Trump hits back at Graham over Syria criticism MORE, whose firing by Trump was one of the central elements of Mueller’s investigation into potential obstruction of justice.  

Pelosi stressed to Democrats that they should focus on their investigations before considering impeachment.

“We don't have to go to articles of impeachment to obtain the facts, the presentation of facts,” Pelosi said, according to a person on the call.

“If it is what we need to do to honor our responsibility to the Constitution - if that's the place the facts take us, that's the place we have to go,” Pelosi said on the call, which lasted about 90 minutes.

Shortly before the call, Pelosi issued a letter to her troops, acknowledging the internal divisions over how to respond to Mueller’s findings while gently suggesting the appropriate avenue is vigilant oversight, not a rush to impeachment.

“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,” Pelosi wrote. “It is also important to know that the facts regarding holding the President accountable can be gained outside of impeachment hearings.”

Pelosi’s message on the call bore echoes of that message, according to several lawmakers who participated.

"The bottom line message is: proceed with caution, but proceed,” Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyTrump confirms Rick Perry to step down as Energy secretary Overnight Energy: Perry to step down as Energy secretary | Future of big-game hunting council up in the air | Dems lose vote against EPA power plant rule Democrats want Mulvaney to testify in Trump impeachment probe MORE (D-Va.) said after the call. “I think her view is: Why do we have to invoke the ‘I’ word when we have all these investigations underway? Why not let the investigations continue, and see where the facts take us?”

Connolly said Pelosi also rejected, in explicit terms, the notion that Democrats should decide a course of action based on the political implications it might have at the polls next year.

“She said that explicitly and said it in response to somebody who had asserted this should be purely and simply driven by election reality for next year,” he said. “It was rather pointed, as a matter of fact."

Yet Connolly was among those lawmakers who said the Mueller report is causing them to consider impeachment in ways they hadn’t previously.

“I'm not there yet. I'm not at the point where I can reach a conclusive judgment: this is the right course and this is what we have to do,” Connolly said. “But I have to admit that the Mueller report has shifted my views, and has forced me to reexamine an issue I thought I had pretty much come to grips with.”

Some progressives avoided the call altogether, calling it a waste of time.

“I don’t care what [Pelosi] says. This is not up to her or anyone else,” said one progressive lawmaker. “If enough of us feel that this is the best for the country, leadership will comply or be obsolete.”

Mueller’s report outlined 10 instances of Trump potentially obstructing justice, including firing James Comey as FBI director; directing McGahn to demand the special counsel’s removal and pressuring McGahn to deny media reports about it; and attempting to conceal information about the Trump Tower meeting in 2016 between campaign officials and a Russian lawyer promising damaging information on Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonFarrow: Clinton staff raised concerns over Weinstein reporting Perry says Trump directed him to discuss Ukraine with Giuliani: report The Memo: Once the front-runner, Biden now vulnerable MORE. Mueller neither concluded that Trump committed obstruction nor exonerated him.

Since they gained control of the House in January, Democratic leaders have largely kept a lid on the impeachment debate. Pelosi and her top lieutenants, Reps. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerHillicon Valley: Zuckerberg defends handling of misinformation in political ads | Biden camp hits Zuckerberg over remarks | Dem bill would jail tech execs for lying about privacy | Consumer safety agency accidentally disclosed personal data House leaders offer tributes from floor to Elijah Cummings Maloney to serve as acting Oversight chairwoman after Cummings's death MORE (D-Md.) and James Clyburn (D-S.C.), were all on Capitol Hill during the impeachment of President Clinton in 1998. That process backfired politically on Republicans, who had secured virtually no support across the aisle, and Democrats don’t want to make the same mistake heading into the 2020 cycle.

While Rep. Brad ShermanBradley (Brad) James ShermanCongress must push for a 'Gold Standard' nuclear agreement with Saudi Arabia Critics pounce as Facebook crypto project stumbles This week: Congress returns to chaotic Washington MORE (D-Calif.) introduced impeachment articles on the first day of the new Congress, others who had sponsored similar legislation in the last Congress — including Reps. Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenTop Democrat holds moment of silence for Cummings at hearing The Hill's Morning Report - Trump eyes narrowly focused response to Iran attacks Lewandowski, Democrats tangle at testy hearing MORE (D-Tenn.) and Al GreenAlexander (Al) N. GreenClimate finance must push net-zero emissions Trump impeachment efforts will haunt the next Democrat in the White House Overnight Energy: Lawmaker, scientists challenge move to eliminate key advisory boards | White House nixes climate language from emissions proposal | Raffle offers deer hunt with Donald Trump Jr. MORE (D-Texas) — have thus far refrained from doing so.

Yet in recent weeks, the idea has gained some new momentum. Progressive freshman Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibOcasio-Cortez mourns Cummings: 'A devastating loss for our country' Elijah Cummings, Democratic chairman and powerful Trump critic, dies at 68 Krystal Ball on Sanders debate performance: 'He absolutely hit it out of the park' MORE (D-Mich.) has unveiled a proposal requiring the Judiciary Committee to investigate whether Trump has committed impeachable offenses. Green is promising to unveil his impeachment articles — and force a floor vote on them as he did twice in the previous session of Congress when Republicans controlled the House.

“It's time for Congress to take a stand. I stand now where I stood on May 17, 2017 when I officially (on the congressional record) called for impeachment on the Floor of the Congress, after having unofficially called for it previously. Impeach Donald Trump,” Green tweeted on Monday.

Since the release of Mueller's report, those calls have only increased. Sen. Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWarren warns Facebook may help reelect Trump 'and profit off of it' Martin Luther King Jr.'s daughter knocks Zuckerberg for invoking her father while defending Facebook Overnight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — House Dems advance drug pricing bill | Cases of vaping-related lung illnesses near 1,500 | Juul suspends sales of most e-cigarette flavors MORE (D-Mass.), a 2020 presidential hopeful, joined the push to oust the president last week; freshman Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOcasio-Cortez mourns Cummings: 'A devastating loss for our country' Booker endorses Lipinski challenger Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle mourn Cummings MORE (D-N.Y.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarKrystal Ball reacts to Ocasio-Cortez endorsing Sanders: 'Class power over girl power' The Hill's Morning Report - Tempers boil over at the White House Krystal Ball on Sanders debate performance: 'He absolutely hit it out of the park' MORE (D-Minn.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyOcasio-Cortez mourns Cummings: 'A devastating loss for our country' Lawmakers from both sides of the aisle mourn Cummings Omar endorses Sanders presidential bid MORE (D-Mass.) quickly endorsed impeachment, citing Mueller's findings; and outside liberal groups like Indivisible are also launching lobbying efforts to win a vote on Tlaib's resolution.

But when asked Monday if he was worried about impeachment, Trump replied: “Not even a little bit.”

—Al Weaver contributed. Updated at 7:37 p.m.