Dems set to debate Trump impeachment in post-Mueller era

House Democrats will huddle Tuesday morning in the Capitol for the first time since the release of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerSchiff: Trump acquittal in Senate trial would not signal a 'failure' Jeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay MORE's report on 2016 election tampering, which has heightened liberal calls for the impeachment of President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump says his advice to impeachment defense team is 'just be honest' Trump expands tariffs on steel and aluminum imports CNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group MORE — and complicated the efforts of Democratic leaders seeking a more restrained response.

Heading into the gathering, most Democrats appear to be on board with leadership's cautious strategy, which rejects impeachment — at least for now — while various House committees continue to investigate the president's conduct. 

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At the same time, lawmakers are acknowledging that there are more voices talking about moving forward with impeachment in the post-Mueller world.

"To be sure, there are more people now talking about it and are more favorable toward that movement. But I also think more people are willing to do what the Speaker said," said Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.), former chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. "We need to allow these committees of jurisdiction to proceed with their work."

A handful of liberal Democrats have been beating the impeachment drum, saying they've seen ample evidence already that Trump has acted in ways that should disqualify him from the office.

"Mueller kicked the impeachment ball to the Congress," Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersGearing up for a chaotic year on K Street Maxine Waters: Republicans 'shielding' Trump 'going to be responsible for dragging us to war' Green says House shouldn't hold impeachment articles indefinitely MORE (D-Calif.) tweeted last week. "The Constitution gives the responsibility to Congress to impeach an unfit president — 'high crimes and misdemeanors.' What more do we need?"

Rep. Jared HuffmanJared William HuffmanDemocrats reach cusp of impeachment Democrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing Pelosi heading to Madrid for UN climate change convention MORE (D-Calif.) carved a distinction between those lawmakers calling for impeachment articles to be brought to the floor immediately and others, including himself, who are pushing to launch an impeachment inquiry. But he called it "reckless" to rule out the process altogether.

"We have to stop tiptoeing around this issue," Huffman said. "We have to stop walking on eggshells as if impeachment is not something that's a part of our job description."

Outside activists have also joined the fray. Need to Impeach, a group founded by the billionaire environmentalist Tom SteyerTom Fahr SteyerPoll: 68 percent of Democrats say it 'makes no difference' if a candidate is a billionaire CNN to host two straight nights of Democratic town halls before NH primary Steyer's advice from son after overhearing Warren-Sanders hot mic dust-up: 'Don't be a snitch' MORE, used the long spring recess to deliver more than 700,000 postcards to the offices of more than 30 House lawmakers. While the group targeted both parties, it leaned heavily toward Democrats, including Reps. Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump trial begins with clash over rules House revives agenda after impeachment storm House poised to hand impeachment articles to Senate MORE (Md.), the majority leader; James Clyburn (S.C.), the majority whip; Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTrump says his advice to impeachment defense team is 'just be honest' Schiff says Justice Roberts should rule on witnesses Schiff sparks blowback with head on a 'pike' line MORE (Calif.), chairman of the Intelligence Committee; and Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira Cohen2019 in Photos: 35 pictures in politics Gabbard under fire for 'present' vote on impeachment Gabbard votes 'present' on impeaching Trump MORE (Tenn.), who heads the Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution. 

There seem to be three camps emerging as Democrats wrestle with an appropriate response to the Mueller report: those clamoring for impeachment; those who oppose it altogether, for fear of the potential political blowback at the polls next year; and those in the middle, who want to investigate the president vigorously and see where the process leads.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiCNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group On The Money — Presented by Wells Fargo — Social Security emerges as flash point in Biden-Sanders fight | Dems urge Supreme Court to save consumer agency | Trump to sign USMCA next week Veronica Escobar to give Spanish-language response to Trump State of the Union address MORE (D-Calif.) and her leadership team, joined by the heads of the top committees, fit firmly in the latter group. They want to see the full, unredacted Mueller report with underlying documents, hear testimony from Mueller himself and use that information to guide their own probes. Only if that process finds evidence of severe wrongdoing on Trump's part — enough that public sentiment shifts, forcing Republican lawmakers to back impeachment — would it be appropriate to launch proceedings, they argue.

"That may not happen until their constituents start saying, 'Hey, I'm a big Trump guy, I have my red cap here, but you know I just heard testimony that really troubled me,'" said Cleaver.

"That's exactly the way it ought to go, if it's going to go," Cleaver added.

Rep. Jimmy PanettaJames Varni PanettaLawmakers warn Pentagon against reduction of US forces in Africa Hillicon Valley: Election security funding gets mixed response | Facebook tests community fact checking | Lawmakers look to block Chinese pick for IP organization | Secret court judge rebukes FBI over surveillance warrants Bipartisan lawmakers urge Trump to oppose Chinese nominee to lead intellectual property body MORE (D-Calif.), a former prosecutor, said Mueller's report uncovered presidential wrongdoing that "could easily" constitute obstruction of justice. But the impeachment process, he noted, is both essentially political — since it hinges on the votes of sitting lawmakers — and practically futile without the support of Senate Republicans. 

"As a prosecutor, you don't just look at the law and the facts. You look at the big picture, and you take into account your discretion, and that means taking into account your courtroom, taking into account the jury," Panetta said. "You have to look at that in coming up with your analysis of whether or not you go forward in regards to impeachment. And knowing the ultimate outcome, based on the makeup of that jury in the Senate, it seems to me that it wouldn't be a winner."

Indeed, Republicans in both chambers — some of whom supported the impeachment of former President Clinton and then hammered former President Obama with charges that he abused power — have been notably silent in the wake of the Mueller report. While a handful of GOP lawmakers expressed some concern with the findings, most joined Trump in characterizing the report, falsely, as a full exoneration of the president on both the "collusion" and obstruction questions. 

"I think it's time to move on," said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellCNN's Axelrod says impeachment didn't come up until 80 minutes into focus group Democrats feel political momentum swinging to them on impeachment Impeachment throws curveball in Iowa to sidelined senators MORE (R-Ky.). "This investigation was about collusion, there's no collusion, no charges brought against the president on anything else, and I think the American people have had quite enough of it."

The GOP's change in tone has not been overlooked by Democrats, who are accusing Republican leaders of being hypocrites in their defense of the president.  

"Ask them how they're going to stand by while this President tramples over our constitution, democracy and the rule of law," said a senior Democratic aide. "Why aren’t they equally as outraged by this president’s behavior?"

In the same breath, however, many Democrats are also stressing the need to win GOP support if any impeachment movement is to have legs. 

"That's also where we need to apply pressure," the aide said. "It's not viable unless these guys start to feel some heat."