Dem leaders feel squeeze on Trump strategy

House Democratic leaders scrambling to manage their oversight of the Trump administration are increasingly being squeezed by both wings of their diverse caucus.

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi uses Trump to her advantage Fake Pelosi video sparks fears for campaigns Trump goes scorched earth against impeachment talk MORE (D-Calif.) is a biting critic of President TrumpDonald John TrumpPapadopoulos on AG's new powers: 'Trump is now on the offense' Pelosi uses Trump to her advantage Mike Pence delivers West Point commencement address MORE, but she’s rejected early calls for impeachment hearings, instead favoring aggressive investigations into potential abuses of administrative power.

That methodical approach has plenty of support within the House Democratic Caucus — not least from moderates in battleground districts wary of the political fallout of impeachment proceedings. But cracks are beginning to show at the edges.

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On the left, a number of progressive lawmakers are now sounding the alarm that leadership’s strategy is not aggressive enough to confront a president they deem unfit for office. And from the center, some those vulnerable moderates are voicing fears that even the cautious approach could alienate middle-of-the-road voters — and hurt centrist Democrats at the polls next year.

“There are risks everywhere,” said Rep. Jefferson Van Drew (D), a New Jersey freshman who flipped a Republican seat in November's midterms.

Van Drew said the years-long investigative saga into Trump’s conduct reverberates with die-hard partisans — both those who adore the president and those who detest him. But “the large, amorphous body of people in between,” he cautioned, have reached a phase of “investigative exhaustion” with a cast that includes special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerThe Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump orders more troops to Mideast amid Iran tensions Trump: Democrats just want Mueller to testify for a 'do-over' Graham: Mueller investigation a 'political rectal exam' MORE and Attorney General William BarrWilliam Pelham BarrPapadopoulos on AG's new powers: 'Trump is now on the offense' House Democrats must insist that Robert Mueller testifies publicly Why Mueller may be fighting a public hearing on Capitol Hill MORE.

“What comes up the most with those people is, in all honesty, they want it to come to an end,” he said. “Mueller, Barr, the president, everybody — they sent us to Congress to get things done.”

Still, a vocal liberal faction of the party is applying pressure from the opposite side of the spectrum, arguing that Democratic leaders are going too soft on Trump and his administration — and could deflate the party’s base if they don’t get more aggressive.

“All I hear from my constituents is that we've got to get rid of this president — that's basically all I hear,” said Rep. John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthPelosi, Nadler tangle on impeachment, contempt vote Nancy Pelosi fends off impeachment wave — for now CBO: Medicare for All gives 'many more' coverage but 'potentially disruptive' MORE (D-Ky.), chairman of the House Budget Committee, who warned of the political risk if the Democrats’ investigations don’t produce some public results in the next few months.

“If we get to the fall and nothing's happened and no report has been issued and no referrals have been made, then we risk demoralizing all of our people who are pushing us very hard to take action against the administration,” Yarmuth said.

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Democrats upped the stakes in their face-off with the administration on Wednesday, when the House Judiciary Committee voted to recommend Barr be held in contempt of Congress. Pelosi has not said when she’ll bring the measure to the floor but is characterizing the administration’s stonewalling as a “constitutional crisis” — a framing that’s only inflamed the liberals pressing her toward impeachment.

"We cannot allow the indication that we have a constitutional crisis to be but a mere talking point; it has to be an action item,” said Rep. Al GreenAlexander (Al) N. GreenSteyer plans impeachment push targeting Democrats over recess WHIP LIST: Democrats who support an impeachment inquiry against President Trump Dem clamor for impeachment swells as McGahn refuses testimony MORE (D-Texas), who’s emerged as the leading advocate for impeachment on Capitol Hill. “And the constitutional solution to a constitutional crisis is impeachment.”

Pelosi has long argued against impeachment, warning that it’s impractical until there’s public support for it — a message she amplified on Thursday.

"Impeachment is one of the most divisive things that you can do — dividing a country — unless you really have your case with great clarity for the American people," she said.

Others are framing their opposition in even starker political terms, warning that the Democrats’ House majority is at stake. They’ve recently come to accuse Trump of trying to “goad” them into impeachment for that very reason.

“Impeachment would be a suicide mission for us. It would guarantee [Trump] reelection, possibly cost us the House, definitely, you know, jeopardize any chance in the Senate, and it would embolden [Republicans],” said one Democratic lawmaker who sits on a committee currently investigating the Trump administration.

Yet the release of Mueller’s report on Russian election meddling has been a game-changer in the eyes of even some moderate Democrats, who are now warming to impeachment. Some say they must conduct their congressional oversight duties even if it comes with a political cost.

Losing the House “would be a heavy price to pay, and I hope we don't have to. But I also believe the House has customers and a role to play, and part of that role is to protect the constitutional system,” said Rep. Gerry ConnollyGerald (Gerry) Edward ConnollyPelosi employs committee chairs to tamp down calls for Trump impeachment We can curb potential pandemics by investing in prevention tactics Mueller mystery: Will he ever testify to Congress? MORE (D-Va.), a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

The diversity of opinions and the height of the stakes have exacerbated the challenges facing Pelosi and her leadership team.

Most of her troops, including the vulnerable moderates, say she has struck the right balance in pursuing aggressive oversight — without impeachment — while keeping a continued focus on the economic agenda Democrats promised voters during last year's campaign.

"There are a lot of moderates that think impeachment may not be the answer, but oversight is essential," said one swing-district Democrat. "No one at home — even in the middle that we need to go after — is going to accept the fact that we should just walk away from our responsibilities. It is a dual track. You can't just give up one of the tracks."

Party leaders are warning that the court battles ahead will almost certainly run well into 2020, keeping the Trump investigations in the headlines at a time when moderates are hoping to focus on issues that hit closer to home.

“This is a very fundamental issue,” said House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerPelosi, Nadler tangle on impeachment, contempt vote House Democrats seek bipartisan working group on net neutrality Steyer plans impeachment push targeting Democrats over recess MORE (D-Md.). “So if it takes a year and a half, that's a relatively short period of time in the course of the history of our country.”

And even as Pelosi is attempting to rein in the impeachment drum beats, her committee leaders have started to throw red meat to the base, arguing that the White House is building Democrats’ case for obstruction by stonewalling their investigative efforts, including subpoenas seeking the testimony of current and former administration officials.

More and more, top Democrats are suggesting the "I-word" is the ultimate response.

“If there is going to be this across-the-board stonewalling, we are going to have to consider extraordinary remedies,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffFive takeaways from Barr's new powers in 'spying' probe Trump declassification move unnerves Democrats Trump appeals order siding with House Democrats bank subpoenas MORE (D-Calif.) said Friday.