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 MuellerFox's Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network Mueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal MORE's report on 2016 election tampering, which has heightened liberal calls for the impeachment of President TrumpDonald John TrumpSupreme Court comes to Trump's aid on immigration Trump is failing on trade policy Trump holds call with Netanyahu to discuss possible US-Israel defense treaty 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 WatersManufacturing group leads coalition to urge Congress to reauthorize Ex-Im Bank Democrats' impeachment message leads to plenty of head-scratching Trump officials vow to reform Fannie, Freddie if Congress doesn't act 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 HuffmanOvernight Energy: Trump administration to repeal waterway protections| House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge| Administration takes key step to open Alaskan refuge to drilling by end of year House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge House approves two bills to block Trump drilling 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 SteyerCNN, NY Times to host next Democratic debate in October The Hill's 12:30 Report: House panel approves impeachment powers Steyer calls for formal impeachment inquiry against Trump in new ad 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 HoyerWords matter, except to Democrats, when it involves impeaching Trump Nadler: Impeachment inquiry a 'made-up term' but it's essentially 'what we are doing' Young insurgents aren't rushing to Kennedy's side in Markey fight MORE (Md.), the majority leader; James Clyburn (S.C.), the majority whip; Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffHouse chairman subpoenas acting Trump intel chief over whistleblower complaint The Hill's Morning Report - Can Trump save GOP in North Carolina special election? Giuliani tears into Democrats after House opens probe into whether he pressured Ukraine to target Biden MORE (Calif.), chairman of the Intelligence Committee; and Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenTrump probes threaten to overshadow Democrats' agenda Ocasio-Cortez renews impeachment call amid probe involving Trump's Scotland property The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump digs in on Hurricane Dorian projection 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 PelosiWords matter, except to Democrats, when it involves impeaching Trump Nadler: Impeachment inquiry a 'made-up term' but it's essentially 'what we are doing' Young insurgents aren't rushing to Kennedy's side in Markey fight 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 PanettaOvernight Energy: Warren edges past Sanders in poll of climate-focused voters | Carbon tax shows new signs of life | Greens fuming at Trump plans for development at Bears Ears monument Carbon tax shows new signs of life in Congress Lawmakers introduce bill to block U.S. companies from doing business with Huawei 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 McConnellSupreme Court comes to Trump's aid on immigration GOP group's ad calls on Graham to push for election security: 'Are you still trying?' Harris keeps up 'little dude' attack on Trump after debate 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."