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Democrats see window closing for impeachment

House Democrats of all stripes say the window for launching impeachment proceedings against President TrumpDonald TrumpHouse passes voting rights and elections reform bill DEA places agent seen outside Capitol during riot on leave Georgia Gov. Kemp says he'd 'absolutely' back Trump as 2024 nominee 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) MuellerWhy a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel CNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump 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.

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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 SpeierBill introduced to create RBG monument on Capitol Hill Why labeling domestic extremists 'terrorists' could backfire Hillicon Valley: Google lifting ban on political ads | DHS taking steps on cybersecurity | Controversy over TV 'misinformation rumor mills' 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) KhannaOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Interior reverses Trump policy that it says restricted science | Collins to back Haaland's Interior nomination | Republicans press Biden environment nominee on Obama-era policy House subcommittee probes Texas power grid operator Democrats snipe on policy, GOP brawls over Trump 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 PelosiOn The Money: Democrats deals to bolster support for relief bill | Biden tries to keep Democrats together | Retailers fear a return of the mask wars Here's who Biden is now considering for budget chief Biden urges Democrats to advocate for rescue package 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.

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"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. GreenBiden pledges support for Texas amid recovery from winter storm Biden turns focus to winter storm with Texas trip LIVE COVERAGE: Senate opens Trump's second impeachment trial 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 ClarkPelosi says House will move immediately on COVID-19 relief Biden's inauguration marked by conflict of hope and fear Sanders defends push to impeach Trump: Insurrection won't be tolerated 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 NadlerHouse sets vote for George Floyd police reform bill Jim Jordan calls for House Judiciary hearing on 'cancel culture' House Judiciary split on how to address domestic extremism 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 RaskinDeJoy apologizes for mail delays while defending Postal Service changes Officer on Capitol riot: 'Is this America? They beat police officers with Blue Lives Matter flags' Considering impeachment's future 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 don't trust GOP on 1/6 commission: 'These people are dangerous' OVERNIGHT ENERGY: White House rescinds Trump proposal to restrict greenhouse gas consideration | Texas governor limits shipping natural gas out-of-state amid power shortages | Lawmakers clash over gun prohibition in Natural Resources committee room Lawmakers clash over gun prohibition in Natural Resources Committee room 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.