Cracks form in Democratic dam against impeachment

More cracks are appearing in Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: Lewandowski should have been held in contempt 'right then and there' Democrats bicker over strategy on impeachment Overnight Health Care — Presented by Partnership for America's Health Care Future — Pelosi set to unveil drug price plan | Abortion rate in US hits lowest level since Roe v. Wade | Dems threaten to subpoena Juul 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 SchiffTrump conversation with foreign leader part of complaint that led to standoff between intel chief, Congress: report Schiff says Trump intel chief won't comply with subpoena over whistleblower Sunday shows - Guns dominate after Democratic debate 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) MalinowskiSwing-seat Democrats oppose impeachment, handing Pelosi leverage Democrats press FBI, DHS on response to white supremacist violence Second Democrat representing Trump district backs impeachment MORE (N.J.), the other freshman Democrat from a swing district to endorse the impeachment effort. Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham ClintonQueer Marine veteran launches House bid after incumbent California Rep. Susan Davis announces retirement Poll: Trump neck and neck with top 2020 Democrats in Florida Former immigration judge fined, temporarily banned from federal service for promoting Clinton policies 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 SwalwellYoung insurgents aren't rushing to Kennedy's side in Markey fight The Hill's Campaign Report: Democrats clash over future of party in heated debate 5 takeaways from fiery Democratic debate MORE (D-Calif.), a Pelosi ally who's running for president, quickly endorsed impeachment.

Rep. Dan KildeeDaniel (Dan) Timothy KildeeGM under fire from all sides It's time for Congress to address the 'forever chemical' crisis Lawmakers grill manufacturers over 'forever chemicals' contamination MORE (D-Mich.), a chief deputy whip, piled on a day later, saying the president's comments were “absolutely chilling.”

Rep. Carolyn MaloneyCarolyn Bosher MaloneyReport: Americans unprepared for retirement Senate approves fund to provide compensation for Sept. 11 victims Here are the 95 Democrats who voted to support impeachment 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 MuellerLewandowski 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 Mueller report fades from political conversation 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 CicillinePelosi: Lewandowski should have been held in contempt 'right then and there' Nadler considering holding Lewandowski in contempt Lewandowski, Democrats tangle at testy hearing MORE (D-R.I.).

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