Dems see GOP effort to drive them to impeach Trump

House Democratic leaders facing liberal calls for impeaching President TrumpDonald John TrumpUS-Saudi Arabia policy needs a dose of 'realpolitik' Trump talks to Swedish leader about rapper A$AP Rocky, offers to vouch for his bail Matt Gaetz ahead of Mueller hearing: 'We are going to reelect the president' MORE are confronting increasing pressure from an unlikely faction: Republicans who appear eager to goad them into it.  

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump telling aides to look at potential spending cuts if he wins reelection: report Budget talks between White House, Pelosi spill into weekend Trump says he won't watch Mueller testimony MORE (D-Calif.) and her leadership team have repeatedly sought to defuse the appeals for impeachment hearings, deeming them premature, and some Democrats sense the Republicans are setting a political trap to boost their ally in the White House.

But recent stonewalling actions by the administration have only fueled the liberal push to oust the president, complicating leadership efforts to keep a lid on the campaign.

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GOP leaders know impeachment divides Democrats and see a clear political advantage in promoting the debate. The Republicans’ campaign arm is steadily blasting emails linking moderate Democrats in swing districts to the impeachment effort. And a growing number of GOP lawmakers are all but daring Democratic leaders to launch the process while it remains unpopular with voters — a strategy not overlooked by top Democrats vowing to resist the bait.

“They would love to drive this to an impeachment because they think it will be their political salvation,” Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinHouse gears up for Mueller testimony Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment How Trump suddenly brought Democrats together on a resolution condemning him MORE (D-Md.), a Judiciary Committee member, said of Republicans.

“If we get there, we will get there on our own time and our own way. We're not going to be baited into it,” Raskin said.

Those dynamics appeared front and center last week during the partisan fight over Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrDemocratic lawmaker calls asylum, refugee programs 'crown jewel' of immigration system Trump says he won't watch Mueller testimony Cummings asks prosecutors about decision not to charge Trump in hush money probe MORE’s scheduled testimony before the House Judiciary Committee. Behind Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerTrump knocks Mueller after deal struck for him to testify House Democrats request briefing on Epstein, Acosta Nadler apologized after repeatedly calling Hope Hicks 'Ms. Lewandowski' at hearing MORE (D-N.Y.), Democrats had demanded that Barr submit to interviews by staff attorneys from both parties. Barr declined, refusing to appear at all, and Republicans quickly accused Democrats of trying to employ the legal powers provided by impeachment before they’ve formally launched the process.

Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen Collins3,100 to be released from prison under criminal justice reform law House unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Trump praises GOP unity in opposing resolution condemning tweets MORE (Ga.), the top Republican on the Judiciary panel, seemed to challenge Nadler to take that step, saying in a Fox News interview that Democrats “don't have the fortitude to actually bring an impeachment inquiry.”

“The procedural and legal perks of impeachment do not apply, and the chairman can’t have it both ways. He can’t try to pacify his liberal base by pretending to do impeachment without actually taking the plunge,” Collins wrote in prepared remarks for Thursday’s hearing. “The reality of our chamber and this distinguished committee is that when it comes to impeachment, you’re either in, Mr. Chairman, or you’re out, and, right now, you’re out.”

Collins was hardly the only Republican to invoke impeachment while attacking House Democrats’ treatment of Barr.

“Chairman Nadler decided to change the rules to satisfy the very obvious desire to impeach President Trump,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyThe Hill's Morning Report: Trump walks back from 'send her back' chants History in the House: Congress weathers unprecedented week EU official in Canada says he feels 'at home' there because no one was shouting 'send him back' MORE (R-Calif.) told reporters at a press conference on Thursday. “Nadler has been wanting to impeach the day after the election. He can't have the facts to prove why he should, but he will not stop.”

“I view this as nothing more than a trial run for impeachment,” echoed Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz.).

Democrats face a balancing act as they seek to unite their diverse caucus in response to the release of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTop Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE’s report on Russia's interference in the 2016 elections.

Pelosi, joined by an overwhelming majority of Democrats, favors an aggressive investigative approach that seeks to gather more evidence of potential administrative wrongdoing — and swing more voters against the president — before they consider impeaching him.

A recent Quinnipiac University Poll hints at the logic in that design, finding that 66 percent of voters currently oppose impeachment, versus just 29 percent who support it.

“Obviously, impeachment is the ultimate [option],” said House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerThe House Democrats who voted to kill impeachment effort Overnight Defense: House votes to block Trump arms sales to Saudis, setting up likely veto | US officially kicks Turkey out of F-35 program | Pentagon sending 2,100 more troops to border House votes to block Trump's Saudi arms sale MORE (D-Md.). “But we need to pursue this in a very, very vigorous way. Because this goes to the very essence of the relationship between two co-equal branches of government.”

Yet the Democrats' tough talk has done little to prompt new cooperation from the administration. Trump has vowed to fight “all the subpoenas.” And Barr’s refusal to testify last week — combined with the recent airing of Mueller’s evident grievances with Barr's assessment of the investigators' findings — have left Democrats inching ever closer to impeachment proceedings.  

“If the Trump administration wants impeachment, they're doing a good job of pushing the Democrats there,” Rep. Ted LieuTed W. LieuHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment House Democrat says he still gets told to 'go back' to China Ted Lieu: Trump a 'racist ass' MORE (D-Calif.), a Judiciary Committee member, told CNN on Thursday. “We want to first gather facts to decide if we should impeach. If we can't gather facts, then we're going to launch an Article III impeachment.”

Rep. Al GreenAlexander (Al) N. GreenTrump says he won't watch Mueller testimony The Memo: Fears of violence grow amid Trump race storm History in the House: Congress weathers unprecedented week MORE (D-Texas) is threatening again to force another House floor vote on impeachment. And Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibBiden compares Trump to George Wallace Padma Lakshmi on Trump's handling of 'send her back' chant: 'It's Charlottesville 2.0' Trump defends response to rally chant: I did not 'lead people on' MORE (D-Mich.), a progressive freshman who has proposed legislation requiring the Judiciary Committee to begin examining potentially impeachable offenses, said interest in her resolution has spiked in the last week.

“For me, the Mueller letter to Barr, that is confirmation that Attorney General Barr works for Trump, not the country,” she said. “This is more and more looking like a cover-up, right?”

Putting even more pressure on Democratic leaders, some presidential primary contenders are advocating for impeachment, particularly if the administration continues to refuse requests for information from the investigative committees. Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden compares Trump to George Wallace Sanders unveils plan to guarantee the 'right to a secure retirement' CNN Democratic debate drawing finishes third in cable news ratings race MORE, the former vice president and now front-runner in the primary race, joined that chorus last week.

Few Democrats on Capitol Hill are sounding that alarm, however, weighing lesser legal options to gather documents and compel witness testimony, including Nadler’s recent threat to hold Barr in contempt of Congress.

“There's a process that's involved here,” Pelosi said Thursday. “The committee will act upon how we will proceed.”

Even Democrats who already support impeachment say the investigations effectively serve a similar purpose.

“In terms of the immediate next steps, I think functionally all the same things I would want to see in an impeachment inquiry are already under way,” said Rep. Jared HuffmanJared William HuffmanHere are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment Anyone for tennis? Washington Kastles Charity Classic returns this week Dem tensions snag defense bill MORE (D-Calif.). “Speaker Pelosi is making it clear that she's not pulling any punches on President Trump. She's not giving him any passes. We're going to hold him accountable.”

Whatever route the Democrats choose, they’re insistent that the Republicans’ pressure campaign will play no role whatsoever.

“If they want to impeach the president, they should go ahead and introduce the articles,” Raskin said. “As for us, we'll take our actions on our own schedule and on our own volition.”