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 MuellerTrump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts House impeachment hearings: The witch hunt continues Speier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump MORE's report on 2016 election tampering, which has heightened liberal calls for the impeachment of President TrumpDonald John TrumpStates slashed 4,400 environmental agency jobs in past decade: study Biden hammers Trump over video of world leaders mocking him Iran building hidden arsenal of short-range ballistic missiles in Iraq: report 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 WatersWhat are not criteria for impeachment? Fed's top regulator takes heat from both parties Appeals court rules Deutsche Bank must turn over Trump financial records to House 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 HuffmanPelosi heading to Madrid for UN climate change convention Harris introduces bill to prevent California wildfires Overnight Energy: Fight between EPA watchdog, agency lawyers heats up | Top EPA official under investigation over document destruction | DOJ issues subpoenas to automakers in California emissions pact 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 SteyerThomas (Tom) Fahr SteyerHarris posts video asking baby if she'll run for president one day Teamsters to host presidential forum with six 2020 Democrats Booker notes 'anger' over more billionaires than black candidates in 2020 race 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 HoyerDemocrats debate scope of impeachment charges Hoyer on impeachment: 'This is not driven by polls' Live coverage: Witnesses say Trump committed impeachable offenses MORE (Md.), the majority leader; James Clyburn (S.C.), the majority whip; Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffTrump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans Three legal scholars say Trump should be impeached; one thinks otherwise Poll: 46 percent of voters say Trump's Ukraine dealings constitute impeachable offense MORE (Calif.), chairman of the Intelligence Committee; and Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenLawmakers to watch during Wednesday's impeachment hearing Impeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Boeing CEO gives up bonus over 737 Max crashes 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 PelosiTrump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans On The Money: Falling impeachment support raises pressure for Dems on trade | Trump escalates fight over tech tax | Biden eyes minimum tax for corporations | Fed's top regulator under pressure over Dodd-Frank rules Overnight Health Care — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Virginia moves to suspend Medicaid work rules | Powerful House panel sets 'Medicare for All' hearing | Hospitals sue over Trump price rule | FDA official grilled on vaping policy 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 PanettaProviding more information on the prescription drug supply chain will help lower costs for all Bipartisan group reveals agricultural worker immigration bill Mexican president urges Pelosi to get USMCA trade deal approved 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 McConnellTrump's legal team huddles with Senate Republicans Schumer briefs Democrats on impeachment trial 'mechanics' Trump legal team gears up for Senate impeachment trial in meeting with GOP 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."