Democrats see window closing for impeachment

House Democrats of all stripes say the window for launching impeachment proceedings against President TrumpDonald John TrumpGraham: America must 'accept the pain that comes in standing up to China' Weld 'thrilled' more Republicans are challenging Trump New data challenges Trump's economic narrative MORE is quickly closing.

Heading into the long August recess, Democratic leaders resisted efforts to initiate a formal impeachment inquiry, frustrating liberals who say Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) Swan MuellerMueller report fades from political conversation Trump calls for probe of Obama book deal Democrats express private disappointment with Mueller testimony MORE's report on presidential obstruction — accentuated by the former special counsel's testimony before Congress on Wednesday — provides ample reason to begin the process.

ADVERTISEMENT

Those progressive lawmakers are hoping Mueller's remarks will sink in with voters over the six-week summer break, nudging more House Democrats to endorse impeachment when Congress returns to Washington in September — and force leadership to take it up.

To wait much longer, they warn, will be too late.

"If we don't take action come Sept. 1, then we should just shut it down because we're not going to be able to do anything at all," Rep. Jackie SpeierKaren (Jackie) Lorraine Jacqueline SpeierScaramucci compares Trump to Jonestown cult leader: 'It's like a hostage crisis inside the White House' Epstein death sparks questions for federal government Overnight Defense: Senate fails to override Trump veto on Saudi arms sales | Two US troops killed in Afghanistan | Senators tee up nominations, budget deal ahead of recess MORE (D-Calif.), a member of the House Intelligence Committee, told CNN. "I feel strongly that we should, but I think we're running out of time."

Other Democrats see a longer timeline for Congress to move forward on impeachment — but not much longer. With the 2020 presidential race ramping up, they say, the utility of impeachment has an expiration date.

"I think it's got to be this year. You can't start it after the Iowa caucuses," said Rep. Ro KhannaRohit (Ro) KhannaKing incites furor with abortion, rape and incest remarks San Jose mayor proposes mandatory liability insurance for gun owners Democrats give cold shoulder to Warren wealth tax MORE (D-Calif.), who has backed leadership's more cautious, investigative approach to executive oversight. "I think we've got to make a decision probably before Thanksgiving."

Behind Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Pelosi11 Essential reads you missed this week Pelosi asks Democrats for 'leverage' on impeachment Is there internet life after thirty? MORE (D-Calif.), Democratic leaders have rejected the move toward impeachment, citing the need to build a stronger case of presidential wrongdoing before taking such a divisive step. They've pushed for a series of aggressive committee investigations, combined with a string of legal actions, designed to yield more evidence of Trump's misconduct — and perhaps shift public sentiment in favor of impeaching him.

Pelosi is also fighting to protect the vulnerable swing-district Democrats facing tough reelection next year — a group concerned that impeachment would harm their chances at another term. With that in mind, some liberals have accused Pelosi of attempting to bury impeachment for political reasons ahead of 2020 — a charge she rejected on Friday.

ADVERTISEMENT

"I'm not trying to run out the clock," she told reporters at the Capitol. "We will proceed when we have what we need to proceed. Not one day sooner."

Many critics of the president were hoping Mueller's back-to-back testimony before the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees on Wednesday would provide the kind of bombshell revelation to accelerate the impeachment effort.

“It didn't happen," acknowledged Rep. Al GreenAlexander (Al) N. GreenMeat is taxing the planet, so we should tax meat Danish prime minister: Trump's idea to buy Greenland 'absurd'  Juan Williams: Democrats finally hit Trump where it hurts MORE (D-Texas), a vocal impeachment supporter.

Still, despite Mueller's halting delivery, the substance of his testimony offered Democrats plenty of fodder for their critiques. Amplifying the most damning findings of his report, Mueller told lawmakers that Moscow meddled in the 2016 elections for the purpose of helping Trump; that members of Trump's inner circle enthusiastically accepted the foreign support; and that Trump lied about that support and tried to shut down the investigation in ways that might constitute criminal obstruction.

Since those hearings, at least seven Democrats have signed on to the impeachment effort, including Rep. Katherine ClarkKatherine Marlea ClarkThe Hill's Morning Report - Trump searches for backstops amid recession worries Fourth-ranking House Democrat backs Trump impeachment Toni Morrison dies at 88 MORE (Mass.), the sixth-ranking Democrat in the House. Those endorsements have pushed the number of Democratic impeachment supporters to 99, according to a tally kept by The Hill.

Several Democrats said that figure will only rise in the coming days, as lawmakers gauge the post-Mueller temperature of voters in their districts.

"There are at least 20 to 30 [lawmakers] that are going to be doing a lot of ... deep contemplation, as am I, in the next few days," Rep. Denny HeckDennis (Denny) Lynn HeckExclusive: Guccifer 2.0 hacked memos expand on Pennsylvania House races Heck enjoys second political wind Incoming lawmaker feeling a bit overwhelmed MORE (D-Wash.) told CNN on Friday. "This was a pretty high impact week."

Heck cautioned that, for Democrats hoping to hold Trump into account, impeachment has a shelf-life.

"There's certainly some point in time that ... it wouldn't probably make much sense to proceed with it," Heck said, without specifying a date.

Rep. Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerPoll: Majority wants Trump out, but not through impeachment Second Democrat representing Trump district backs impeachment GOP memo deflects some gun questions to 'violence from the left' MORE (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Judiciary Committee, has reportedly pressed for impeachment proceedings on his panel only to be rebuffed by Pelosi. On Friday, the pair seemed to reach some compromise, as Nadler laid out a strategy of explicitly citing the possible impeachment of Trump as a basis for a legal request to secure grand jury information related to Mueller's investigation.

That's empowered liberal Democrats to talk tougher about impeachment without forcing any votes that could hurt moderates.

“I would say we are in an impeachment investigation,” Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinHouse panel investigating decision to resume federal executions Pelosi, allies seek to keep gun debate focused on McConnell Pelosi backers feel vindicated after tumultuous stretch MORE (D-Md.), a Judiciary member and former constitutional law professor, said Friday.

Still, that strategy likely won't satisfy the most ardent impeachment supporters, who have grown frustrated with the near-blanket refusal of the administration to cooperate in the House investigations and want party leaders to launch a formal impeachment inquiry.

Pelosi, cognizant of those concerns, has "green-lighted" Democrats to support impeachment in recent days, in the description of Rep. Jared HuffmanJared William HuffmanDemocrats see window closing for impeachment Appetite for Democratic term limits fizzling out The Hill's Morning Report — Mueller testimony gives Trump a boost as Dems ponder next steps MORE (D-Calif.), an impeachment supporter. And she's also vowing that the committee investigations — and the subsequent decision of whether to impeach Trump based on the findings — won't run forever.

"The decision will be made in a timely fashion," she said Friday. "This isn't endless."

Huffman predicted dozens of Democrats are ready to jump on board the impeachment bandwagon in the coming days and weeks. When that happens, he said, leaders will face intense new pressure to act on the appeal. And he's predicting they will.

"I think September is crunch time," Huffman said.