Nancy Pelosi fends off impeachment wave — for now

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump trade deal likely to sow division in Democratic presidential field Trump supporters at Pa. rally 'upset' after Democrats introduce impeachment articles California GOP candidate arrested on stalking charges 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 TrumpRepublicans consider skipping witnesses in Trump impeachment trial Bombshell Afghanistan report bolsters calls for end to 'forever wars' Lawmakers dismiss Chinese retaliatory threat to US tech 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 CummingsTrump request for Ukrainian 'favor' tops notable quote list Impeachment can't wait Adam Schiff's star rises with impeachment hearings MORE (D-Md.), chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said afterward.

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Rep. Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersCalifornia GOP candidate arrested on stalking charges Maxine Waters earns viral praise for steadfast calls for impeachment as articles announced Democrats could introduce articles of impeachment next week 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 TonkoDemocrats unveil first bill toward goal of net-zero emissions by 2050 House committee advances sweeping legislation to battle 'forever chemicals' Overnight Energy: Trump officials suspend oil, gas production on Utah plots after lawsuit | California bucks Trump on lightbulb rollback | Scientists join Dems in panning EPA's 'secret science' rule 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 SchumerKrystal Ball: Is this how Bernie Sanders will break the establishment? TikTok chief cancels Capitol Hill meetings, inflaming tensions Overnight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments 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 — Presented by That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments Three legal scholars say Trump should be impeached; one thinks otherwise Overnight Defense: Trump cancels presser, cuts short NATO trip | Viral video catches leaders appearing to gossip about Trump | Dem witnesses say Trump committed impeachable offenses | Trump reportedly mulling more troops in Middle East 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 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 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 HuffmanDemocrats reach cusp of impeachment Democrats gear up for high-stakes Judiciary hearing Pelosi heading to Madrid for UN climate change convention 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 YarmuthOvernight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families Kentucky Democrat: McConnell's agenda driven by 'power without a purpose' 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 likely to gain seats under new North Carolina maps North Carolina poised to pass new congressional maps Black leaders say African American support in presidential primary is fluid 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.