Pelosi faces tipping point on Trump impeachment

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Pelosi 'Don't mess with Mama': Pelosi's daughter tweets support following press conference comments Bloomberg: Trump should be impeached On The Money: Congress races to beat deadline on shutdown | Trump asks Supreme Court to shield financial records from House Democrats | House passes bill to explicitly ban insider trading 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 TrumpTrumps light 97th annual National Christmas Tree Trump to hold campaign rally in Michigan 'Don't mess with Mama': Pelosi's daughter tweets support following press conference comments 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 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 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 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.), who has endorsed legislation sponsored by Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibHouse moves ahead on long-stalled resolution supporting two states for Israelis and Palestinians GOP leader says he had 'a hard time' believing Pelosi Al Green calls for including Trump's 'racism' in impeachment articles 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 CastroPelosi faces tough choices on impeachment managers Hillicon Valley: Google to limit political ad targeting | Senators scrutinize self-driving car safety | Trump to 'look at' Apple tariff exemption | Progressive lawmakers call for surveillance reforms | House panel advances telecom bills Minority lawmakers call out Google for hiring former Trump DHS official 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 HoyerOvernight Health Care: House to vote next week on drug prices bill | Conway says Trump trying to find 'balance' on youth vaping | US spent trillion on hospitals in 2018 House to vote next week on sweeping bill to lower drug prices Congress races to beat deadline on shutdown 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 ChuHillicon Valley: FCC moves against Huawei, ZTE | Dem groups ask Google to reconsider ads policy | Bill introduced to increase data access during probes Dems call out Oracle for lack of diversity on its board Bicameral group of Democrats introduces bill to protect immigrant laborers 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 CohenThe Hill's Morning Report - Dem dilemma on articles of impeachment Lawmakers to watch during Wednesday's impeachment hearing Impeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point 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 NadlerTurley: Democrats offering passion over proof in Trump impeachment GOP lawmaker: 'Amazing' Democrats would ask if Founding Fathers would back Trump impeachment Trump asks if Democrats 'love our country' amid ongoing impeachment hearing 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.