Cracks form in Democratic dam against impeachment

More cracks are appearing in Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiHouse unravels with rise of 'Les Enfants Terrible' Will Trump's racist tweets backfire? Al Green: 'We have the opportunity to punish' Trump with impeachment vote MORE’s (D-Calif.) dam against impeachment.

Rep. Katie Porter (Calif.) on Monday became the second Democrat representing a swing district to back the opening of an inquiry.

Porter joined a presidential hopeful and a leading member of the party’s whip team in advocating for impeachment, raising the pressure on Pelosi to contain the tide.

ADVERTISEMENT

The Speaker and her top lieutenants have been largely successful in doing so. They’ve warned that such a divisive step could stir a backlash if Democrats don’t first rally more public support behind impeachment.

Their challenge, time and time again, has been Trump and his penchant for provocation.

The latest Democrats to back impeachment did so after Trump said he would accept dirt on his political foes from hostile foreign countries.

“It's been a slow increase but nonetheless an increase,” Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffJudge finds Stone violated gag order, blocks him from using social media The peculiar priorities of Adam Schiff Trump knocks Mueller after deal struck for him to testify MORE (D-(Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN Tuesday. “Every member has to make an individual determination about what they think is right for the country.”

All told, more than 60 Democrats — roughly a quarter of the caucus — have endorsed the impeachment push, according to a tally kept by The Hill. Most of those are liberals from safely blue districts, but their ranks now also include Porter, a freshman who won a razor-thin race in a district long held by Republicans.

“When faced with a crisis of this magnitude, I cannot with a clean conscience ignore my duty to defend the Constitution,” she said in a video explaining her decision. “I can’t claim to be committed to rooting out corruption and putting people over politics and then not apply those same principles and standards in all of the work I do.”

Porter joined Rep. Tom MalinowskiThomas (Tom) MalinowskiThe four Republicans who voted to condemn Trump's tweets House votes to condemn Trump for 'racist comments' How Trump suddenly brought Democrats together on a resolution condemning him MORE (N.J.), the other freshman Democrat from a swing district to endorse the impeachment effort. Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump thanks 'vicious young Socialist Congresswomen' for his poll numbers Will Trump's racist tweets backfire? Democrats fret over Trump cash machine MORE won Porter’s district by five points and she also won Malinowski’s district by one point.

The pair are outliers among the so-called red-to-blue freshmen, a group of more than 40 Democrats who flipped Republican-held seats in the 2018 midterms, lending Democrats their House majority in the process. It’s that group that Pelosi has in mind to protect as she discourages impeachment talk in favor of methodical investigations.

It’s a task that's become more onerous with each new Trump controversy.

After the president’s remarks about accepting foreign dirt on an election opponent, Rep. Eric SwalwellEric Michael SwalwellMatt Gaetz hints prosecutor won't press charges against threatening caller for political reasons Fundraising numbers highlight growing divide in 2020 race The Hill's 12:30 Report: Pelosi looks to squash fight with progressives MORE (D-Calif.), a Pelosi ally who's running for president, quickly endorsed impeachment.

Rep. Dan KildeeDaniel (Dan) Timothy KildeeTrump threatens veto on defense bill that targets 'forever chemicals' Democrats already jockeying for House leadership posts Cracks form in Democratic dam against impeachment MORE (D-Mich.), a chief deputy whip, piled on a day later, saying the president's comments were “absolutely chilling.”

Rep. Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyHouse passes bill to reauthorize funding for 9/11 victims It's time for the left to advance a shared vision of national security: Start by passing the NDAA Hillicon Valley: Appeals court rules Trump can't block people on Twitter | Tech giants to testify in House antitrust investigation | DHS set for grilling over facial recognition tech | Commerce to allow sales to Huawei MORE (D-N.Y.), a 14-term lawmaker, joined the brigade over the weekend. She cited “numerous violations of public trust and democratic norms” in arriving at the “inescapable conclusion” that Democrats should begin the impeachment process immediately. 

“He continues to put himself above the law and his own interests over the American people and our democracy,” she said.

Pelosi has been remarkably consistent. She and the top members of her leadership team were all on Capitol Hill in 1998 when Republicans suffered the political fallout after impeaching President Clinton without first building bipartisan support, and don’t want to make the same mistake.

Asked last week whether she would launch the process if more than half of her 235-member caucus endorsed it, Pelosi dismissed the idea as unrealistic.

“It's not even close in our caucus,” Pelosi told CNN.

Pelosi instead has pressed forward with vigorous investigations into Trump's policies and conduct while in office, including his actions surrounding Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerTop Republican considered Mueller subpoena to box in Democrats Kamala Harris says her Justice Dept would have 'no choice' but to prosecute Trump for obstruction Dem committees win new powers to investigate Trump MORE's probe into Russia's election interference and whether the president attempted to obstruct the probe. 

Democratic leaders have also issued a series of subpoenas to compel the administration to release disputed documents and witness testimony. And last week, the House adopted a resolution granting Democratic committee heads new legal powers to pursue those subpoenas before the courts. 

Those supporting that more cautious approach say it's not only less divisive, but might prove more effective. 

“There's a perception that if we announce an impeachment inquiry tomorrow, things change dramatically. That suddenly witnesses like [former White House counsel] Don McGahn who have been resisting coming in are going to show up and say 'OK, where do I testify'? The Justice Department's going to open its files,” Schiff said Tuesday. “None of that is going to happen. We are still going to have to go to court.

“If anything, the administration will dig in deeper because now we have gone to sort of DEFCON 5.”

Yet those clamoring for impeachment increasingly see it not only as a way to confront a president facing numerous allegations of criminal wrongdoing, but also as part of their constitutional duty to be a check on the executive branch. 

“Obviously, the ultimate action that Congress can take for a president who doesn't just speak about engaging in misconduct — who actually does commit high crimes and misdemeanors — is an impeachment proceeding,” said Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineHillicon Valley: Senators unload on Facebook cryptocurrency plan | Trump vows to 'take a look' at Google's ties to China | Google denies working with China's military | Tech execs on defensive at antitrust hearing | Bill would bar business with Huawei Tech giants on defensive at antitrust hearing Critics slam billion Facebook fine as weak MORE (D-R.I.).

This story was updated at 7:29 p.m.