Cracks form in Democratic dam against impeachment

More cracks are appearing in Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiImpeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Klobuchar: 'I have seen no reason why' Hunter Biden would need to testify Johnson dismisses testimony from White House officials contradicting Trump as 'just their impression' 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 SchiffImpeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Sunday shows — New impeachment phase dominates 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) MalinowskiImpeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Warren doubles down — to Democrats' chagrin, and Trump's delight Hillicon Valley: Google buying Fitbit for .1B | US launches national security review of TikTok | Twitter shakes up fight over political ads | Dems push committee on 'revenge porn' law MORE (N.J.), the other freshman Democrat from a swing district to endorse the impeachment effort. Hillary ClintonHillary Diane Rodham Clinton3 ways government can help clean up Twitter Intelligence Democrat: Stop using 'quid pro quo' to describe Trump allegations The Memo: Bloomberg's 2020 moves draw ire from Democrats 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 SwalwellImpeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Republicans, Democrats brace for first public testimony in impeachment inquiry Sunday shows — New impeachment phase dominates MORE (D-Calif.), a Pelosi ally who's running for president, quickly endorsed impeachment.

Rep. Dan KildeeDaniel (Dan) Timothy KildeeOvernight Energy: Senate eyes nixing 'forever chemicals' fix from defense bill | Former Obama EPA chief named CEO of green group | Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics Senate eyes nixing 'forever chemicals' from major defense policy bill EPA touts Great Lakes funding after Trump tried to ax the program 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 Democrats pull subpoena for ex-Trump national security official House Democrats ask Mulvaney to testify in impeachment inquiry Republicans look to expand impeachment strategy amid release of transcripts 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 MuellerSpeier says impeachment inquiry shows 'very strong case of bribery' by Trump Gowdy: I '100 percent' still believe public congressional hearings are 'a circus' Comey: Mueller 'didn't succeed in his mission because there was inadequate transparency' 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: California AG reveals Facebook investigation | McConnell criticizes Twitter's political ad ban | Lawmakers raise concerns over Google takeover of Fitbit | Dem pushes FCC to secure 5G networks Critics fear Google's power in Fitbit deal Google to acquire Fitbit for .1 billion MORE (D-R.I.).

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