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 MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE’s mammoth report on Russia’s 2016 election meddling revealed a trove of details related to President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Democrats wary of handing Trump a win on infrastructure 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 Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget GOP presses Trump to make a deal on spending Democrats wary of handing Trump a win on infrastructure 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 CummingsThe Hill's Morning Report - White House, Congress: Urgency of now around budget On The Money: Judge upholds House subpoena for Trump financial records | Trump vows to appeal ruling by 'Obama-appointed judge' | Canada, Mexico lift retaliatory tariffs on US | IRS audit rate falls House Oversight Committee requests information on reported Trump plan to send TSA employees to border 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 Demings5 things to watch as Trump, Dems clash over investigations Dems go after Barr's head House Dems seek to make officials feel the pain 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 NadlerDemocrats are running out of stunts to pull from impeachment playbook Trump asks if Nadler will look into Clinton's 'deleted and acid washed' emails Trump tweets conservative commentator's criticism of FBI director 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 WatersDemocrats are running out of stunts to pull from impeachment playbook Maxine Waters: Trump 'has done everything that one could even think of to be eligible for impeachment' Maxine Waters: Parts of Trump immigration plan are 'very racist' 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 ComeyClash with Trump marks latest break with GOP leaders for Justin Amash Giuliani says Trump is 'doing the right thing' by resisting congressional subpoenas Giuliani strikes back at Comey: 'No one really respects him' 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 ConnollyWe can curb potential pandemics by investing in prevention tactics Mueller mystery: Will he ever testify to Congress? Dem leaders feel squeeze on Trump strategy 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 ClintonThe Memo: Trump faces steep climb to reelection What the Mueller report tells us about Putin, Russia and Trump's election Steve Bullock puts Citizens United decision at center of presidential push 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 HoyerSenators say they've reached deal on Puerto Rico aid 5 things to watch as Trump, Dems clash over investigations GOP lawmaker: Trump has engaged in multiple actions that 'meet the threshold for impeachment' 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 ShermanDems say NYT report on Trump's business losses boosts need to see president's tax returns Some Dem chairmen have changed tune on Trump impeachment Dems seek to rein in calls for impeachment 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 CohenDems probe DOJ's handling of civil rights violations by law enforcement Pelosi defends working with Trump on infrastructure plan John Oliver rips Dem lawmaker's 'pathetic' KFC chicken stunt at Barr hearing MORE (D-Tenn.) and Al GreenAlexander (Al) N. GreenTop House Dem calls to launch impeachment inquiry if McGahn skips testimony Tlaib blasts arrests of pro-impeachment protesters on Capitol Hill The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Deadline approaches for 2020 Dems 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 TlaibDemocrats wary of handing Trump a win on infrastructure Top House Dem calls to launch impeachment inquiry if McGahn skips testimony Tlaib calls on Amash to join impeachment resolution 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 WarrenThe Memo: Trump faces steep climb to reelection Feehery: A whole new season of 'Game of Thrones' Overnight Energy: Warren wants Dems to hold climate-focused debate | Klobuchar joins candidates rejecting fossil fuel money | 2020 contender Bennet offers climate plan MORE (D-Mass.), a 2020 presidential hopeful, joined the push to oust the president last week; freshman Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezSteve Bullock puts Citizens United decision at center of presidential push Fix the climate with smaller families Dem Sen. Markey faces potential primary challenge in Massachusetts MORE (D-N.Y.), Ilhan OmarIlhan OmarJohn Oliver torches Meghan McCain over Seth Meyers dust-up 'SNL' mocks Jeanine Pirro's support of Trump: 'He is the Michael Jordan of presidents' Omar introduces bill sanctioning Brunei over anti-homosexuality law MORE (D-Minn.) and Ayanna PressleyAyanna PressleyDem Sen. Markey faces potential primary challenge in Massachusetts Tlaib blasts arrests of pro-impeachment protesters on Capitol Hill Let's vow that no mom should die giving life 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.