Democratic leaders hoping to mollify restive liberals through aggressive oversight of the Trump administration are facing early warning signs from the pro-impeachment crowd that it’s simply not enough.
Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiNorth Dakota Republican latest House breakthrough COVID-19 case Pelosi sets Thursday vote on bipartisan infrastructure bill Cheney says a lot of GOP lawmakers have privately encouraged her fight against Trump MORE (D-Calif.) has signed off on a strategy for the House to hold Attorney General William BarrBill BarrTrump pushes back on book claims, says he spent 'virtually no time' discussing election with Lee, Graham Woodward: Milley was 'setting in motion sensible precautions' with calls to China Barr-Durham investigation again fails to produce a main event MORE and others in contempt of Congress. And House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerBiden to raise refugee cap to 125,000 in October Ocasio-Cortez, Bush push to add expanded unemployment in .5T spending plan Angelina Jolie spotted in Capitol meeting with senators MORE (D-N.Y.) will hold a series of hearings this month to examine the Mueller report.
But while impeachment supporters are cheering those steps, they are also wary of taking their eyes off of what they see as the ultimate goal: ousting a president whom they deem unfit to be in office.
Contempt “doesn’t move me one way or the other — it’s impeachment that I’m worried about because it’s the president who’s causing harm to the entire country,” said Rep. Al GreenAlexander (Al) N. GreenDemocratic anger grows over treatment of Haitian migrants Thousands march on Washington in voting rights push Rental aid emerges as new housing fight after eviction ban MORE (D-Texas), the most vocal impeachment advocate in the House.
“I don’t think that history will be kind to us if this is an alternative,” he added. “We’re at a crossroads — the crossroads of accountability. Either we will hold the president accountable, or we’re going to be held accountable. And other measures are fine, as long as they’re not being done in lieu of holding the president accountable.”
Fellow impeachment supporters are sounding a similar alarm. Asked if contempt goes far enough to hold the president to account, House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine WatersMaxine Moore WatersThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Facebook - Arizona recount to show Trump's loss by even wider margin Biden criticizes treatment of Haitians as 'embarrassment' The Memo: Biden's immigration problems reach crescendo in Del Rio MORE (D-Calif.) rattled off a string of at least a half-dozen “noes” on Monday.
Others piled on the following day.
“Contempt to me is an important step, but it’s not the last step. It’s the first one. I’ve been ready for an impeachment inquiry since the beginning of last month right after I read the Mueller report,” Rep. Veronica EscobarVeronica EscobarThree Democrats call for investigation into Sidney Powell to move 'swiftly' Court rulings put Biden in tough spot with Trump's 'Remain in Mexico' policy Supreme Court ruling on Texas abortion law rattles lawmakers MORE (D-Texas), a former county judge, told The Hill. “As a member of House Judiciary, I feel this administration is obstructing my ability to do my job by preventing witnesses from coming before us.”
The debate is intensifying as Pelosi and other top party leaders are fighting to keep the steady drip of impeachment advocates from becoming an uncontrollable wave.
Just a few months ago, the number of lawmakers on record supporting President TrumpDonald TrumpCheney says a lot of GOP lawmakers have privately encouraged her fight against Trump Republicans criticizing Afghan refugees face risks DeVos says 'principles have been overtaken by personalities' in GOP MORE’s ouster was in the single digits. That number jumped in March following the release of special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE’s report on Russia’s election interference. And it spiked again last week after Mueller made rare public remarks in which he explicitly declined to exonerate Trump of obstructing justice during the course of his 22-month investigation.
As of Tuesday, no fewer than 55 Democratic lawmakers were on record supporting impeachment.
“I did not come to Congress to impeach a president,” Rep. Val DemingsValdez (Val) Venita DemingsDemocrats face bleak outlook in Florida Democratic donors hesitant on wading into Florida midterm fights Democrats fret over Trump-district retirements ahead of midterms MORE (D-Fla.), who wants to launch an impeachment inquiry, said Tuesday. “But I did come to Congress to do my job, and we have an obligation to … protect the Constitution and uphold our democracy. And we are determined to do that.”
But few in the pro-impeachment camp are blasting leadership directly.
At a closed-door meeting of the House Democratic Caucus on Tuesday morning in the Capitol, the issue was not broached even once, according to attendees. And while Green has threatened for months to force a floor vote on impeachment, like he did on two occasions in the previous Congress, he has not yet followed through.
“I don’t have any form of criticism in terms of what’s being promoted and projected, because ultimately we get to where we’re going,” said Rep. Danny K. Davis (D-Ill.), an impeachment supporter who, like Green and Demings, is a member of the Congressional Black Caucus.
“Much of what we do is process, and we’re on our way” to impeachment, he said. “Sometimes decisions are more evolutionary than revolutionary.”
Other influential progressives, like Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinHillicon Valley — Presented by Xerox — EU calls out Russian hacking efforts aimed at member states House lawmakers ask Cyber Ninjas CEO to testify on Arizona audit GOP seeks to keep spotlight on Afghanistan as Dems advance Biden's .5T spending plan MORE (D-Md.), have been pressing Pelosi privately and publicly to launch an impeachment inquiry. But Raskin, a Pelosi ally, is also giving the Speaker plenty of space to manage the debate as she sees fit.
“Pelosi is a political genius. She will figure out the right pathway for us,” Raskin, a former constitutional law professor, told The Hill on Tuesday.
He said there are other ways that Congress can hold Trump accountable through the checks and balances system: Raskin will soon introduce a resolution disapproving of the president personally profiting from his office, including from foreign dignitaries spending money at his hotel just blocks from the White House.
The founders “knew that foreign governments would have saboteurs and spies and investors crawling all over the president and the national government,” Raskin said during an earlier interview with The Hill. “They knew that and so they didn’t just say you can’t be bribed; they said you can’t collect any money, any payments, any emoluments from foreign princes, kings or governments.”
Raskin told The Hill he is drafting a resolution disapproving of Trump receiving emoluments from foreign governments.
Pelosi and her top lieutenants — Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerDemocrats press Schumer on removing Confederate statues from Capitol House Democrats set 'goal' to vote on infrastructure, social spending package next week Holding back on defensive systems for Israel could have dangerous consequences MORE (D-Md.) and Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-S.C.) — have long sought to keep a lid on impeachment, citing the lack of public support as a primary concern. But they’re also quick to emphasize that their strategy of investigations, subpoenas, contempt citations and court battles in no way precludes the possibility that impeachment proceedings will follow — if the evidence emerges to take them there.
“Nobody’s afraid of this president,” Hoyer said Tuesday. “What you’re seeing the Speaker and I try to do — and other leaders as well — is try to do this in a very orderly, considered, thoughtful fashion. To ascertain the facts, and take whatever action those facts dictate.”
Complicating their search for the facts, however, has been a near-blanket administration policy — directed by Trump himself — discouraging agencies and officials from cooperating with Democrats’ investigations.
Judiciary Committee Democrats haven’t been able to secure Don McGahn’s testimony, but they will hear from another former White House counsel: John Dean, the star witness of the 1973 Watergate hearings.
“I guess we went to the next best thing, which is Richard Nixon’s White House counsel,” Raskin said Tuesday.
Rep. Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenOmar leads lawmakers in calling for US envoy to combat Islamophobia Trump says being impeached twice didn't change him: 'I became worse' Five big questions about the Jan. 6 select committee MORE (D-Tenn.), a Judiciary Committee member who backs impeachment, suggested the Monday hearing with Dean will help the public draw comparisons to Nixon’s impeachment.
“I think it brings home the whole idea of the Watergate hearings and the Nixon presidency. And this Trump presidency is worse than the Nixon presidency,” Cohen said.
The number of House Democrats on the record in support of launching an impeachment inquiry remains at just under a quarter of the 235-member caucus. But advocates are convinced that more will get on board, noting that some swing-district Democrats began facing constituents clamoring for impeachment during last week’s congressional recess.
“There are other members who seem to be getting there,” Cohen said. “It’s hard not to get there.”