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) 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 mammoth report on Russia’s 2016 election meddling revealed a trove of details related to President TrumpDonald John TrumpTeachers union launches 0K ad buy calling for education funding in relief bill FDA head pledges 'we will not cut corners' on coronavirus vaccine Let our values drive COVID-19 liability protection 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.   

ADVERTISEMENT

In a conference call with House Democrats on Monday, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTeachers union launches 0K ad buy calling for education funding in relief bill No signs of breakthrough for stalemated coronavirus talks Governors air frustrations with Trump on unemployment plans 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 CummingsBill Maher delivers mock eulogy for Trump The Hill's Campaign Report: Biden comes to Washington to honor John Lewis Lawmakers set for tearful goodbye to John Lewis 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 DemingsThe Hill's Campaign Report: LIVE: Trump from Gettysburg | The many unknowns of 2020 | Omar among those facing primary challenges Sean 'Diddy' Combs, Charlamagne Tha God, others urge Biden to pick Black female VP Hillary Clinton labels Trump coronavirus executive actions a 'stunt' MORE (D-Fla.), a House Judiciary Committee member who hasn’t previously been vocal about impeachment, said during the call.

ADVERTISEMENT

“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 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.), who issued a subpoena for former White House counsel Don McGahn just as the call began.

House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersMaxine Waters expresses confidence Biden will pick Black woman as VP Bill from Warren, Gillibrand and Waters would make Fed fight economic racial inequalities Waters rips Trump, GOP over mail-in ballots: 'They'll lie, cheat and steal to stay in power' 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 ComeyTrump: Yates either lying or grossly incompetent Yates spars with GOP at testy hearing Trump knocks Sally Yates ahead of congressional testimony 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 ConnollyCongress must enact a plan to keep government workers safe Trump's postmaster general is playing with political fire USAID appointee alleges 'rampant anti-Christian sentiment' at agency 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 ClintonHarris favored as Biden edges closer to VP pick Ron Johnson subpoenas documents from FBI director as part of Russia origins probe Juan Williams: Older voters won't forgive Trump for COVID 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 HoyerHouse will be out of session for additional week in September The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the Air Line Pilots Association - Negotiators 'far apart' as talks yield little ahead of deadline On The Money: Pessimism grows as coronavirus talks go down to the wire | Jobs report poised to light fire under COVID-19 talks | Tax preparers warn unemployment recipients could owe IRS 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 ShermanSherman joins race for House Foreign Affairs gavel Castro launches bid for House Foreign Affairs gavel The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - Trump, GOP senators at odds over next stimulus bill 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 CohenTennessee Rep. Steve Cohen wins Democratic primary Democrats exit briefing saying they fear elections under foreign threat Texas Democrat proposes legislation requiring masks in federal facilities MORE (D-Tenn.) and Al GreenAlexander (Al) N. GreenThe Memo: Trump's race tactics fall flat Trump administration ending support for 7 Texas testing sites as coronavirus cases spike The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Miami mayor worries about suicide and domestic violence rise; Trump-governor debate intensifies 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 TlaibThe Hill's Campaign Report: LIVE: Trump from Gettysburg | The many unknowns of 2020 | Omar among those facing primary challenges Ethics Committee orders Tlaib to refund campaign ,800 for salary payments HuffPost reporter discusses progressives' successful showing on Tuesday 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 WarrenOvernight Health Care: Nearly 100,000 children tested positive for coronavirus over two weeks last month | Democrats deny outreach to Trump since talks collapsed | California public health chief quits suddenly On The Money: Administration defends Trump executive orders | CBO reports skyrocketing deficit | Government pauses Kodak loan pending review Harris favored as Biden edges closer to VP pick MORE (D-Mass.), a 2020 presidential hopeful, joined the push to oust the president last week; freshman Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezThe Hill's Campaign Report: LIVE: Trump from Gettysburg | The many unknowns of 2020 | Omar among those facing primary challenges Michelle Obama, Sanders, Kasich to be featured on first night of Democratic convention: report Democratic convention lineup to include Ocasio-Cortez, Clinton, Warren: reports MORE (D-N.Y.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarMatt Gaetz, Roger Stone back far-right activist Laura Loomer in congressional bid The Hill's Campaign Report: LIVE: Trump from Gettysburg | The many unknowns of 2020 | Omar among those facing primary challenges 'This already exists': Democrats seize on potential Trump executive order on preexisting conditions MORE (D-Minn.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyIt's past time to be rid of the legacy of Jesse Helms Minneapolis Star Tribune endorses Ilhan Omar's primary challenger Tlaib wins Michigan Democratic primary 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.