Pelosi faces tipping point on Trump impeachment

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump praises 'domination' of DC protesters Pelosi, Schumer say treatment of protesters outside White House 'dishonors every value that faith teaches us' Democrats call for Congress to take action following death of George Floyd 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 TrumpSessions accepts 'Fox News Sunday' invitation to debate, Tuberville declines Priest among those police cleared from St. John's Church patio for Trump visit Trump criticizes CNN on split-screen audio of Rose Garden address, protesters clashing with police 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) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout 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 HuffmanHouse members race to prepare for first-ever remote votes Overnight Energy: Biden campaign says he would revoke Keystone XL permit | EPA emails reveal talks between Trump officials, chemical group before 2017 settlement | Tensions emerge on Natural Resources panel over virtual meetings Tensions emerge on Natural Resources panel over virtual meetings MORE (D-Calif.), who has endorsed legislation sponsored by Rep. Rashida TlaibRashida Harbi TlaibPelosi: George Floyd death is 'a crime' Overnight Defense: Pentagon memo warns pandemic could go until summer 2021 | Watchdog finds Taliban violence is high despite US deal | Progressive Dems demand defense cuts Progressives demand defense budget cuts amid coronavirus pandemic 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 CastroCHC says George Floyd death shows 'tiny fraction' of what people of color confront in their daily lives Julián Castro launches PAC to support progressive candidates Minority lawmakers gain unprecedented clout amid pandemic 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 HoyerKey races to watch in Tuesday's primaries Overnight Defense: Democrats expand probe into State IG's firing | House schedules late June votes with defense bill on deck | New Navy secretary sworn in House scheduled to return for votes in late June 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 ChuHouse Democrats press Treasury on debit cards used for coronavirus relief payments Democrats blast CDC report on minorities and COVID-19 Minority lawmakers gain unprecedented clout amid pandemic 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 CohenHouse members race to prepare for first-ever remote votes Frontier drops planned fees for social distancing on flights after criticism More resources for the Legal Services Corporation are needed as the pandemic continues 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 NadlerHouse Democrats unveil measure to condemn police brutality House Democrats call on DOJ to investigate recent killings of unarmed black people  Gun control group rolls out House endorsements 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.