Trump probes threaten to overshadow Democrats' agenda

House Democrats returning to the Capitol this week face a growing dilemma over how to keep focus on their legislative agenda amid an escalating series of investigations of President TrumpDonald John TrumpFive landmark moments of testimony to Congress Lindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Democrats sharpen their message on impeachment MORE.

Caucus support for impeachment has only grown since lawmakers were last in Washington in late July, but many, particularly "majority makers" in competitive districts, want to spend more energy on policy matters such as gun reform and health care.


Democrats opened a series of new investigative fronts over the six-week summer recess going beyond the scope of former special counsel 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 report on Russian election interference and Trump’s attempts to undermine the probe — all under the specter of impeachment.

Democrats on the House Judiciary and Oversight committees announced Friday that they had sent letters requesting documents about efforts to promote spending taxpayer funds at Trump’s properties. That came in response to the president’s proposal to host the next Group of Seven summit at his Doral resort in Florida and Vice President Pence's stay at Trump’s golf resort in Doonbeg, Ireland, which was nearly 200 miles away from official meetings in Dublin.

“Potential violations of the Foreign and Domestic Emoluments Clauses of the Constitution are of grave concern to the committee as it considers whether to recommend articles of impeachment,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerHouse to vote on bill to ensure citizenship for children of overseas service members As impeachment goes public, forget 'conventional wisdom' What this 'impeachment' is really about — and it's not the Constitution MORE (D-N.Y.) and panel member Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenImpeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Boeing CEO gives up bonus over 737 Max crashes Democrat says he voted to recognize Armenian genocide because 'Turkey doesn't seem to respect' US MORE (D-Tenn.) wrote in a letter to the White House counsel and Secret Service, referring to the clauses in the Constitution meant to bar the president from receiving compensation outside a government salary.

The Judiciary panel also subpoenaed the Department of Homeland Security for documents related to allegations that Trump promised pardons for officials who follow possibly illegal orders related to constructing a southern border wall.

And after they return to Washington on Monday, Democrats on the Judiciary Committee are also eyeing hearings on Trump’s alleged involvement in a 2016 scheme with his former attorney Michael CohenMichael Dean CohenBroadcast, cable news networks to preempt regular programming for Trump impeachment coverage DOJ releases hundreds of pages of memos from Mueller probe Scaramucci visits Cohen in prison MORE to funnel money to two women who claimed they had affairs with him.


It’s all part of an effort to depict Trump as abusing the power of his office as Judiciary Democrats weigh whether to recommend articles of impeachment before the 2020 election cycle gets underway.

“What we're confronted with now is that the president is basically converted the presidency into a money-making operation and instrument of self-enrichment,” Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinOvernight Defense: Protests at Trump's NYC Veterans Day speech | House Dems release Pentagon official's deposition transcript | Lawmakers ask Trump to rescind Erdogan invite Bipartisan House members call on Trump to rescind Erdoğan invitation Republicans have spent millions at Trump resorts since his election: report MORE (D-Md.), a member of the Judiciary and Oversight committees, said on MSNBC’s “MTP Daily.”

While a majority of the Democratic caucus now supports the impeachment process in some form — whether by backing an impeachment investigation or expressing readiness to vote to impeach now — there are still some key holdouts.

Most Democrats in swing districts remain reluctant to weigh in on impeachment, despite facing pressure from liberal activists at town halls over the recess. Only 13 of the 55 Democrats on the House GOP’s target list have publicly backed beginning the impeachment process.

Amid a flurry of Democratic statements supporting impeachment, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiDemocrats sharpen their message on impeachment Congress hunts for path out of spending stalemate Siren song of impeachment lures Democrats toward election doom MORE (D-Calif.) warned on a caucuswide conference call over the recess that “the public isn’t there.”

That’s why Democrats who haven’t jumped on the impeachment wagon would rather talk about the party’s legislative agenda on issues such as trade and climate change.

In a Thursday memo outlining the legislative agenda for the fall work period, House Majority Leader Steny HoyerSteny Hamilton HoyerCongress hunts for path out of spending stalemate The Hill's 12:30 Report: Washington braces for public impeachment hearings This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry MORE (D-Md.) announced floor votes on bills to block offshore drilling in almost all waters around the U.S., eliminate forced arbitration and address end-of-month deadlines to fund the government, and reauthorize the Export-Import Bank as well as the National Flood Insurance Program.

Democrats are also trying to keep up the pressure on Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnellAddison (Mitch) Mitchell McConnellLindsey Graham basks in the impeachment spotlight Biden not ruling out Senate voting to impeach Trump: 'It will depend on what their constituency says' Congress hunts for path out of spending stalemate MORE (R-Ky.) to consider legislation to expand background checks for gun sales, including a bill the House passed in February.

The House is also expected to vote on a measure to authorize research on domestic terrorism as part of a response to the mass shootings in Texas and Ohio last month. That’s on top of the Judiciary Committee advancing bills on Tuesday to ban high-capacity magazines and prevent people who are considered high-risk or convicted of misdemeanor hate crimes from having guns.

“As we return to session next week, I hope that the Senate will act swiftly to fund the government and stop blocking legislation that will make real progress for all Americans,” Hoyer wrote in a letter to colleagues.

In addition, lawmakers are working with the Trump administration on the new U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade agreement that’s stalled for months amid House Democrats’ concerns over labor, prescription drug and environmental provisions.

House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard NealRichard Edmund NealJudge sides with NY officials in Trump tax return lawsuit On The Money: US paid record .1B in tariffs in September | Dems ramp up oversight of 'opportunity zones' | Judge hints at letting House lawsuit over Trump tax returns proceed Judge hints at letting House lawsuit over Trump tax returns proceed MORE (D-Mass.) told Democrats on a caucuswide conference call after Labor Day that a working group of Democrats has “built a lot of momentum” on the pact and that he expected the pace of negotiations to increase this month, according to an aide on the call.

Democrats insist that they can aggressively pursue investigations and oversight potentially leading to impeachment while also talking up their legislative agenda.

“We've got to talk about health care. We've got to talk about trade. We've got to talk about the environment. And we — that's going to win this election,” Rep. Debbie DingellDeborah (Debbie) Ann DingellDemocrats demand FCC act over leak of phone location data Democratic lawmakers, 2020 candidates pay tribute to Conyers Hillicon Valley: Facebook launches 'News Tab' | Senate passes bill to take on 'deepfakes' | Schumer outlines vision for electric cars MORE (D-Mich.), a member of House Democratic leadership, said on Fox Business.

“So, the Judiciary Committee needs to do their job, follow the facts. No one is above the law. People like me and other committees need to be worried about health care, prescription drug prices and what we're going to do about things like PFAS that's poisoning our water,” Dingell said.

Still, the clashes with the Trump administration in oversight battles are sure to draw attention away from Democrats’ legislative efforts, which will mostly be stalled in the Senate.

That will be especially the case if Democrats do proceed with hearings about sensational issues such as the hush money payments. Adult film actress Stormy Daniels, one of the women who received the payments, has already said she’d be prepared to testify before Congress under oath.

A media circus would undoubtedly ensue if Democrats take Daniels up on her offer.

Raskin acknowledged that Democrats already know many details of the case given Cohen’s testimony before the Oversight Committee earlier this year stating that Trump directed him to make the payments. Cohen is now serving a three-year prison sentence for tax evasion and campaign finance violations.

Due to a Justice Department policy that says a sitting president can't be indicted, it's unclear whether federal prosecutors would have tried to charge Trump in the case as well. Prosecutors told a New York judge in July that they had concluded their investigation into Cohen's campaign finance crimes.

“There's not much more that we need to know, but obviously we want to hear all sides of it. We want to see whether there's any good explanation for it,” Raskin said.

But he defended further investigating the issue, arguing that it may prove the president broke campaign finance laws.

“The Republicans impeached [former President] Clinton for far less. They impeached him for telling one lie in order to cover up an affair. This president spent hundreds of thousands of dollars illegally in order to cover up these affairs,” Raskin said. “That’s very serious business.”