Nancy Pelosi fends off impeachment wave — for now

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden on impeachment: 'I'm the only reason' it's happening Democrats to offer resolution demanding Trump reverse Syria decision Rand Paul calls for probe of Democrats over Ukraine letter MORE (Calif.) seems to be winning the Democrats’ internal impeachment fight — for now.

Facing a small surge in Democrats pushing this week to begin impeachment proceedings against President TrumpDonald John TrumpWHCA calls on Trump to denounce video depicting him shooting media outlets Video of fake Trump shooting members of media shown at his Miami resort: report Trump hits Fox News's Chris Wallace over Ukraine coverage MORE, Pelosi appears to have blunted the momentum, arguing for her favored focus on tough investigations and a string of court battles with the White House.

To make the case, Pelosi on Wednesday convened a special, members-only meeting at which she recruited the leaders of top committees to address the caucus with a simple message: It’s too soon to impeach.

“My message was stay the course we’re on,” Rep. Elijah CummingsElijah Eugene CummingsCracks emerge in White House strategy as witness testifies Overnight Defense: Pentagon insists US hasn't abandoned Kurds | Trump expands sanctions authority against Turkey | Ex-Ukraine ambassador says Trump pushed for her ouster On The Money: Trump announces limited trade deal with China | Appeals court rules against Trump over financial records | Trump expands authority to sanction Turkey MORE (D-Md.), chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said afterward.

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Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersVideo of fake Trump shooting members of media shown at his Miami resort: report Trump impeachment efforts will haunt the next Democrat in the White House Hillicon Valley: Zuckerberg to testify on Libra | Extremists find home on Telegram app | Warren blasts Facebook for not removing anti-Biden ad | California outlaws facial recognition in police body cameras | China rips US tech sanctions MORE (D-Calif.), a fierce impeachment supporter, is also backing Pelosi’s strategy of aggressive investigations. Waters, who heads the House Financial Services Committee and addressed the caucus Wednesday, reiterated her calls for Trump to be removed. But she isn’t pushing that narrative too hard, and she’s hailing Pelosi for guiding a feisty caucus through a difficult debate.

“She’s been handling it very well,” Waters said. “It’s a tough job.”

The message has been adopted by the vast majority of rank-and-file Democrats, who are lining up behind Pelosi’s disciplined approach to Trump oversight.

“We’re doing what we need to do — drilling down on all the information,” said Rep. Paul TonkoPaul David TonkoOvernight Energy: Trump tweets he's revoking California's tailpipe waiver | Move comes as Trump visits state | California prepares for court fight | Climate activist Greta Thunberg urges lawmakers to listen to scientists Democrats hold first hearing in push for clean energy by 2050 Democrats ramp up calls to investigate NOAA MORE (D-N.Y.). “That takes time, but hopefully we’ll get that resolved ASAP.”

In fending off the impeachment wave, Pelosi has struck a delicate balance between public messaging and real-world tactics. 

On one hand, she’s taken sharp jabs at Trump — even dropping hints of impeachment — that resonate with a liberal Democratic base that wants Trump gone yesterday.

On the other, she’s actively opposing the formal launch of the impeachment process, wary of the political perils of taking such a severe step without first securing public support behind it. Pelosi was on Capitol Hill in 1998, when Republicans impeached former President Clinton without popular backing, only to see Clinton’s star soar, and she doesn’t want to make the same mistake of empowering Trump.

That strategic model was on clear display Wednesday, when Pelosi — after leading the closed-door meeting that threw cold water on impeachment — went immediately to the microphones and accused Trump of having “engaged in a cover-up.” She was referring to the administration’s near-blanket refusal to cooperate in a long list of Democratic investigations.

Hours later, interviewed at a Center for American Progress event, she amplified the charge, adding that it “could be an impeachable offense.”

Trump was infuriated by the comments, essentially canceling a long-scheduled White House meeting on infrastructure with Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTrump defends 'crime buster' Giuliani amid reported probe Louisiana voters head to the polls in governor's race as Trump urges GOP support Trump urges Louisiana voters to back GOP in governor's race then 'enjoy the game' MORE (D-N.Y.).

Yet Pelosi has given no signal she’s ready to launch an impeachment inquiry anytime soon. And that’s won cheers from most of her caucus.

“We’re going to fulfill our constitutional responsibilities, but we need to have the facts,” said Rep. Donna ShalalaDonna Edna ShalalaOvernight Health Care: Watchdog finds DEA allowed more opioids even as overdose deaths rose | Judge temporarily blocks Georgia abortion law | Three states report more vaping deaths | Dem proposes new fix for surprise medical bills Centrist Democrats fret over impeachment gamble Pelosi announces launch of formal impeachment inquiry into Trump MORE (D-Fla.). “I’m not suggesting an impeachment — I lived through an impeachment.”

Shalala, who served as head of the Health and Human Services Department under Clinton, said she’s warning her Democratic colleagues — particularly the freshmen who are new to Washington — against jumping on the impeachment bandwagon before there’s much more public support for the concept.  

“Impeachment is a huge step, and it’s a judgment call. And we need all the facts before we even consider it,” she said.

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To be sure, there’s a small but vocal group of Democrats sounding the impeachment bell — one that’s roughly doubled in number over the past three days. The heightened interest in tapping impeachment as an investigative tool is primarily rooted in the White House’s refusal to cooperate with a long list of ongoing probes being conducted by the Democratic-led committees, including those related to special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerFox News legal analyst says Trump call with Ukraine leader could be 'more serious' than what Mueller 'dragged up' Lewandowski says Mueller report was 'very clear' in proving 'there was no obstruction,' despite having 'never' read it Fox's Cavuto roasts Trump over criticism of network MORE’s report on Moscow’s meddling in the 2016 elections.

Launching an impeachment inquiry, supporters say, would eliminate one of the White House’s central arguments for refusing to provide information: namely, that Congress has no legislative purpose in attaining it.

“It strains credulity to think they could question a legitimate legislative purpose if there’s a pending impeachment inquiry,” said Rep. Jared HuffmanJared William HuffmanDemocrat argues GOP had 'no deep love or loyalty' to Trump Democrats take Trump impeachment case to voters Overnight Energy: Lawmakers show irritation over withheld Interior documents | Republican offers bipartisan carbon tax bill | Scientists booted from EPA panel form new group MORE (D-Calif.).

Some Democrats say that, to a certain extent, the debate is one over semantics, since the ongoing investigations are essentially seeking to uncover the same potential wrongdoing that an impeachment inquiry might.

“It looks to me like what the relevant committees are doing is actually what they would do if they were having an impeachment inquiry anyway,” said Rep. John YarmuthJohn Allen YarmuthOn The Money: Trump signs stopgap spending bill | Shutdown fight delayed to November | Deutsche Bank reveals it has two individual tax returns tied to House subpoena | House Dems demand documents on Ukraine aid It's time to axe the unjust 'widow's tax' House Democrats demand White House turn over docs on Ukraine aid MORE (D-Ky.), the chairman of the House Budget Committee and a de facto member of Pelosi’s leadership team.

Still, Yarmuth is supporting an immediate move to impeachment proceedings, predicting such a move is ultimately “inevitable.”

Others who support Pelosi’s cautious strategy are also running out of patience — a dynamic that might lead to the breaking of the impeachment dam that Pelosi has so far managed to prevent.

“We have got to reassure our constituents that we are engaged, that we are holding this president accountable. But the clock is running out on us,” said Rep. G.K. ButterfieldGeorge (G.K.) Kenneth ButterfieldDemocrats see whistleblower report as smoking gun Democrats dread Kennedy-Markey showdown in 2020 The Hill's Morning Report — Trump's new controversy MORE (D-N.C.).

“If we’re going to act through the courts, if we’re going to begin an impeachment inquiry, we must do it pretty soon,” he added.