Pelosi faces tipping point on Trump impeachment

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiThis week: Congress set for clash on Trump's border request Judd Gregg: An Irish friend and wisdom Juan Williams: Warren on the rise MORE (D-Calif.) is facing the biggest challenge of her new leadership reign, as a growing number of Democratic lawmakers, outraged over White House stonewalling of their investigative efforts, say the House should launch impeachment proceedings against President TrumpDonald John TrumpConway defends herself against Hatch Act allegations amid threat of subpoena How to defuse Gulf tensions and avoid war with Iran Trump says 'stubborn child' Fed 'blew it' by not cutting rates MORE.

Pelosi has long regarded impeachment as a potential political trap, one that could alienate swing voters and threaten the Democrats’ chances of keeping the House — and seizing the White House — at the polls next year. 

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But last month’s release of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerKamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump Schiff says Intel panel will hold 'series' of hearings on Mueller report MORE’s report on Russia’s election interference loosened Pelosi’s grip over her diverse caucus on the divisive issue, as a small pack of rank-and-file members broke away to endorse the start of impeachment proceedings.

That chorus grew louder again this week when an even larger wave of Democrats — protesting the administration’s near-blanket refusal to cooperate with committee investigations — joined the impeachment effort. 

All told, at least 25 Democrats are now on record supporting the start of proceedings to oust Trump. Highlighting the headache for Pelosi, the list includes several committee chairs and members of the Speaker’s own leadership team.

The new calls for impeachment grew noisy enough on Tuesday that Democratic leaders have scheduled a closed-door meeting of the caucus on Wednesday morning — the second of the week. The gathering is designed to give rank-and-file members an update on the party’s oversight and investigative efforts.

Supporters of the impeachment movement sense a tipping point in the debate — one they’re only happy to embrace.

“A lot of dominoes are falling. The momentum is clearly on the side of beginning an [impeachment] inquiry,” said Rep. Jared HuffmanJared William HuffmanDems eye repeal of Justice rule barring presidential indictments The Hill's Morning Report - Democrats wonder: Can Nadler handle the Trump probe? Who are the House Democrats backing Trump impeachment? MORE (D-Calif.), who has endorsed legislation sponsored by Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibGOP hopes dim on reclaiming House Overnight Defense: House passes T spending package with defense funds | Senate set to vote on blocking Saudi arms sales | UN nominee defends climate change record Democrats take aim at Trump policies by passing T spending package MORE (D-Mich.) requiring the Judiciary Committee to investigate Trump for potentially impeachable offenses.

“That’s not rushing right into an impeachment vote,” he emphasized, “but in terms of getting an inquiry started, I think there’s a tremendous amount of movement right now.”

The Democrats shifting toward impeachment are quick to hail Pelosi for managing a tough issue within a diverse caucus that features plenty of conflicting interests. But Tuesday’s decision by former White House counsel Don McGahn to defy a subpoena to testify before the Judiciary Committee proved a breaking point in the eyes of many lawmakers.

“Obviously, all of us respect [Pelosi’s] perspective and her opinion,” said Rep. Joaquin CastroJoaquin CastroThe Hill's Morning Report - Crunch time arrives for 2020 Dems with debates on deck Hispanic Caucus seeks to retain voice in House leadership Joaquin Castro calls out MSNBC contributor for confusing him with twin brother Julián on air MORE (D-Texas), a member of the Intelligence Committee. “But I think, individually, each of us have a perspective of our own. And I think it’s time to start [impeachment].”

Pelosi is already a historic figure, having led the Democrats since 2003, marking the longest streak in more than 50 years. In 2007, she became the first female Speaker in the nation’s history, and was elected to the position again this year. Along the way, she’s helped to enact some of the most significant legislation in generations, including the Affordable Care Act, the Dodd-Frank Wall Street reform bill and a landmark nuclear agreement with Iran.

The push to impeach Trump, however, presents her with a different sort of decision, one that would influence her legacy as much as anything she’s done: whether to topple an elected president with an emergency legal procedure that would surely divide the country even more than it already is.

Pelosi, for her part, has cited those divisions as a central reason to avoid impeachment without first building greater public support for the idea.

“This isn’t about politics, it’s not about passion, it’s not about prejudice,” she said on MSNBC’s “Morning Joe” on Tuesday. “It’s about patriotism and it’s about the presentation of the facts, so that the American people can see why we’re going down a certain path.” 

Despite Pelosi’s insistence that politics is not driving the decision, a central role as Democratic leader is to ensure the party is in the best position to keep the House, and defeat Trump, in next year’s elections. She and her top lieutenants were also on Capitol Hill in 1998, when Republicans impeached former President Clinton without bipartisan support — and suffered a backlash at the polls.

“To say there’s no political calculus would not be honest for any of us in the Congress,” House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerDemocrats give Trump trade chief high marks Hispanic Caucus seeks to retain voice in House leadership GOP lawmakers want Mulvaney sidelined in budget talks MORE (D-Md.) told reporters Tuesday.

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Some Democrats say they’re inclined to support the push to impeach Trump, but fear it would only help him win reelection.

“We have to have the American people behind us,” said Rep. Judy ChuJudy May ChuOvernight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — Senators unveil sweeping bipartisan health care package | House lawmakers float Medicare pricing reforms | Dems offer bill to guarantee abortion access The Go-Go's rock the stage at annual 'We Write the Songs' DC concert Pelosi faces tipping point on Trump impeachment MORE (D-Calif.). “Even if we are successful in the impeachment vote on the House side, my concern is that if that vote is not successful on the Senate side — which in fact would be unlikely — then would that be considered a victory for Trump?”

Supporters of impeachment counter that, in the face of the administration’s stonewalling, impeachment may be the best tool Democrats have to compel the White House to release the information it is withholding.

“It puts to bed any notion that Trump’s legal team can question the legitimate legislative purpose behind some of our investigations and some of our subpoenas,” said Huffman.

Rep. Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenDemocrats seek to ban federal spending at Trump businesses Democrats bristle as Hicks appears for daylong Capitol Hill testimony House hearing marks historic moment for slavery reparations debate MORE (D-Tenn.) is also backing Trump’s impeachment, but he cautioned that no such effort will go anywhere before Pelosi and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerNadler apologized after repeatedly calling Hope Hicks 'Ms. Lewandowski' at hearing Hope Hicks: Trump campaign felt 'relief' after WikiLeaks released damaging info about Hillary Clinton House hearing marks historic moment for slavery reparations debate MORE (D-N.Y.) jump on board.

“I think he’s committed impeachable offenses and he ought to be impeached,” said Cohen, who chairs the Judiciary Committee’s subpanel on the Constitution. “[But] if Speaker Pelosi and Chairman Nadler don’t change their mind it’s not going to happen.”

“There’s more people in favor of an impeachment inquiry; there’s more people in favor of impeachment, yes. So I guess that’s momentum,” Cohen added. “But as far as momentum going to a level of a majority or action, then we’re not anywhere near that.”

Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) gave a similar assessment, noting that nothing can come to the floor without Pelosi’s OK — and nor should it.

“The Speaker needs to be there. You don’t elect a leader and then run off and leave her,” Cleaver said. He added that even as thorny as the impeachment debate has become, she’ll find a way to keep the Democrats united.  

“This is Nancy Pelosi,” he said. “She doesn’t lose her grip.”

--This report was updated at 6:42 a.m.