Cracks form in Democratic dam against impeachment

More cracks are appearing in Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi calls Trump's decision to withdraw US from WHO 'an act of extraordinary senselessness' House Democrats unveil measure to condemn police brutality The Hill's Coronavirus Report: Rep. Khanna says President Trump threatening violence against US citizens; Trump terminating relationship with WHO 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.

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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 SchiffFlynn urged Russian diplomat to have 'reciprocal' response to Obama sanctions, new transcripts show The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - George Floyd's death sparks protests, National Guard activation Hillicon Valley: Trump signs order targeting social media legal protections | House requests conference with Senate after FISA vote canceled | Minneapolis systems temporarily brought down by hackers 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) MalinowskiGun control group rolls out House endorsements Human Rights Campaign rolls out congressional endorsements on Equality Act anniversary House passes massive T coronavirus relief package MORE (N.J.), the other freshman Democrat from a swing district to endorse the impeachment effort. Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonTrump campaign launches Asian Pacific Americans coalition Van Jones: A 'white, liberal Hillary Clinton supporter' can pose a greater threat to black Americans than the KKK Taylor Swift slams Trump tweet: 'You have the nerve to feign moral superiority before threatening violence?' 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 SwalwellGloves come off as Democrats fight for House seat in California Grenell says intelligence community working to declassify Flynn-Kislyak transcripts The Hill's 12:30 Report: Trump visits a ventilator plant in a battleground state MORE (D-Calif.), a Pelosi ally who's running for president, quickly endorsed impeachment.

Rep. Dan KildeeDaniel (Dan) Timothy KildeePelosi makes fans as Democrat who gets under Trump's skin House to consider amendment blocking warrantless web browsing surveillance Bipartisan bill aims to help smallest businesses weather the coronavirus crisis MORE (D-Mich.), a chief deputy whip, piled on a day later, saying the president's comments were “absolutely chilling.”

Rep. Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyGun control group rolls out House endorsements Overnight Defense: Pentagon watchdog sidelined by Trump resigns | Plan would reportedly bring troops in Afghanistan back by Election Day | Third service member dies from COVID-19 Business groups throw support behind House Democrat's bill to provide pandemic risk insurance 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) 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 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 CicillineTrump, GOP go all-in on anti-China strategy Hillicon Valley: Lawmakers demand answers on Chinese COVID hacks | Biden re-ups criticism of Amazon | House Dem bill seeks to limit microtargeting House Democrat to introduce bill cracking down on ad targeting MORE (D-R.I.).

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