Democrats debate scope of impeachment charges
Democrats are debating how broadly to make their impeachment case against President Trump, with some lawmakers seeking to expand the list of charges even as House Judiciary Committee members signal a relatively narrow approach.
House Democrats at the first Judiciary Committee impeachment hearing on Wednesday gave the clearest sign yet of the scope of their likely articles by unveiling posters featuring three possible charges: abuse of power and bribery, obstruction of Congress and obstruction of justice.
“I’m for a keep-it-simple scope,” Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), a Judiciary Committee member, told The Hill during a brief break from the Wednesday hearing.
The charts provided a clear signal of intent by the Judiciary Committee, as did counsel Norm Eisen’s pointed questions to a panel of constitutional experts about whether Trump had committed the impeachable offenses. Three witnesses invited by Democrats all answered affirmatively.
Yet some Democrats are pushing for expanding the scope of impeachment articles beyond Trump’s efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate his political opponents.
Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), a progressive member of the Congressional Black Caucus, sent a memo to his colleagues on Wednesday urging that an article of impeachment include an abuse of power charge for Trump’s actions inflaming racial tensions.
“I say if impeachment is the remedy for invidious abuse of power related to Ukraine, it should be the remedy for invidious abuse of power related to racism in the United States,” wrote Green, one of the first members of Congress to endorse impeaching Trump.
Green has forced three House floor votes since 2017 on bringing up articles of impeachment against Trump. All were focused on actions by the president that inflamed racial tensions, including his equivocal response to the white supremacist marches in Charlottesville, Va., in 2017.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), a member of the Oversight and Reform Committee, said he thinks the obstruction of justice allegations in the report by former special counsel Robert Mueller should be part of the articles of impeachment.
“This is a crime,” he said fervently.
Connolly also expressed openness to including the actions cited by Green as part of an article of impeachment broadly alleging Trump has abused his office.
“Do I agree with Mr. Green that deliberate incitement to racial fears, divisions, of prejudices, is beneath the dignity of the office of the president of the United States and could even get to a level of an impeachable offense under the category of abuse of office? Yes, I do,” Connolly said.
The Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, and long-standing arguments that Trump has violated it by using the presidency to earn profits for his businesses, could spark more calls for additional impeachment articles.
Pushing forward with a longer list of articles of impeachment could provide some political benefits for Democrats.
Beyond appeasing members who want to see their concerns about Trump reflected in specific articles, it could also allow members to vote against some articles and in favor of others.
But it could also complicate and lengthen a process that much of the party wants to keep simple and relatively speedy. Many Democrats are seeking to avoid a “kitchen sink” of impeachment articles that could complicate their message.
That’s especially the case for Democrats in swing districts who were reluctant to support an impeachment inquiry until Trump’s actions with Ukraine came to light and don’t want the articles to become a long list of grievances.
“There are some people who think we should just take everything that we’re unhappy about related to the president and put it in one giant basket. And I just think that doesn’t bring people along with us. That doesn’t make it clear to the American public what we’re focused on and why,” said freshman Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), who represents a district that Trump carried in 2016.
Rep. Sean Patrick Maloney (D-N.Y.), a House Intelligence Committee member who also represents a district Trump won, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that “my two cents at this stage: There is clear and convincing evidence of the president’s misconduct on Ukraine, and we should focus first and foremost on that.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler’s (D-N.Y.) team has informed Democrats on his panel that they should stay in D.C. this weekend and not return home to their congressional districts. They were not told why, but lawmakers suspect the Judiciary panel could hold weekend mock hearings in preparation for a possible Monday hearing on the 300-page impeachment report and a possible hearing later in the week to mark up the articles of impeachment.
The weekend work, prompting grumbling from some members eager to fly home to see their children, is yet another indication that Democrats will limit the scope of their impeachment articles and try to move quickly to wrap up the process before Christmas.
Judiciary Committee members said Wednesday that they expect the next hearing to be a presentation from Democrats and Republicans on the Intelligence Committee on their investigation of Trump’s efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and an unproven theory of 2016 election interference while withholding security assistance.
There are only 11 legislative days left in 2019, underscoring why Democrats feel they need to work through the weekend.
Democratic leaders have not committed to a timeline but are leaving the door open to voting on articles of impeachment the week before Christmas. Yet lawmakers have plenty of other things likely to take up precious floor time, including bills to keep the government funded, authorize national defense programs and reduce the price of prescription drugs.
“If the Judiciary Committee comes forward with recommendations, I think there’s time to do it,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said.