Democrats reach cusp of impeachment

Democrats reach cusp of impeachment
© Greg Nash

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Health Care: White House projects grim death toll from coronavirus | Trump warns of 'painful' weeks ahead | US surpasses China in official virus deaths | CDC says 25 percent of cases never show symptoms 14 things to know for today about coronavirus Hillicon Valley: Trump, telecom executives talk coronavirus response | Pelosi pushes funding for mail-in voting | New York AG wants probe into firing of Amazon worker | Marriott hit by another massive breach MORE (D-Calif.) unveiled two articles of impeachment Tuesday focused solely on President TrumpDonald John TrumpIllinois governor says state has gotten 10 percent of medical equipments it's requested Biden leads Trump by 6 points in national poll Tesla offers ventilators free of cost to hospitals, Musk says MORE’s conduct regarding Ukraine, a move that appears to have united Democrats of all ideological stripes ahead of an expected floor vote next week.

The historic step caps months of internal party debate over whether to make Trump only the third president to be impeached, and poses a test for Pelosi and fellow Democrats heading into a divisive election year.

Democratic leaders have faced a daunting task with pitfalls galore: how to keep their large and diverse caucus united amid the inherently divisive exercise of removing a sitting president from office.

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From the left, party leaders faced pressure to batter Trump with a laundry list of impeachment charges. From the center, they confronted moderates wary that even mentioning the word could harm their political prospects in battleground districts next year.

On Tuesday, Pelosi landed somewhere in the middle by introducing articles of impeachment designed to balance those concerns heading into 2020.

It was a delicate dance — and it seems to have worked.

Liberals, who would have thrown the kitchen sink at Trump, have accepted the slimmed-down roster of impeachment charges.

“I think this is the common denominator. And if this is what holds our caucus together and gets us across the finish line, let’s do it,” said Rep. Jared HuffmanJared William HuffmanDemocrats call for stimulus to boost Social Security benefits by 0 a month Schiff: Remote voting would not compromise national security House Democrats eyeing much broader Phase 3 stimulus MORE (D-Calif.).

Centrists, meanwhile, are also at peace with the notion of voting to remove Trump, even as they acknowledge the risk that their decision may affect reelection battles.

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“Virtually every member from a tough district made the tough choice that his conduct was serious enough to merit an impeachment inquiry,” said Rep. Tom MalinowskiThomas (Tom) MalinowskiDemocrats eye remote voting options Hispanic Caucus campaign arm unveils non-Hispanic endorsements Safety in sick leave MORE (D-N.J.), a freshman facing a competitive reelection contest. “We all wanted to give the president a chance to defend himself; he chose not to try. I don’t think anybody is going to have a hard time doing the right thing.”

Some Democrats described the two articles as the most straightforward way to make their case while solving the Goldilocks dilemma facing party leaders seeking to keep their troops together.

“On one hand, I can see the argument for having a lot more counts. On the other hand, I can see the methodology of ‘KISS’ being used — Keep It Simple, Stupid — and in some ways that probably makes sense,” freshman Rep. Harley RoudaHarley Edwin RoudaDemocrat Harley Rouda advances in California House primary Let engineers make engineering decisions on local infrastructure projects EPA pushes back on Oversight review of ethics program MORE (D-Calif.) told The Hill. “It is just easier to explain … what occurred for the American people.”

Unveiled in a somber press briefing Tuesday morning in the Capitol, both impeachment articles are related to the unfolding controversy surrounding Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine’s government to conduct a pair of investigations that might have helped him politically: one into Trump’s rivals — including former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenBiden leads Trump by 6 points in national poll The Memo: Political world grapples with long coronavirus shutdown The Hill's Campaign Report: North Carolina emerges as key battleground for Senate control MORE — and another into the debunked theory that Ukraine, and not Russia, meddled in the 2016 U.S. elections.

Pelosi and other party leaders, who had resisted impeachment for much of the year, framed the charges as an obligatory response to a lawless president.

“We stand here today because the president’s continuing abuse of his power has left us no choice,” said Rep. Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffCoronavirus pushes GOP's Biden-Burisma probe to back burner Texas man arrested for allegedly threatening Democrats over coronavirus bill Schiff: Remote voting would not compromise national security MORE (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, which led the weeks-long investigation into the Ukraine affair. “To do nothing would make ourselves complicit in the president’s abuse of his high office, the public trust and our national security.”

Still, in the lead-up to the articles’ unveiling, Democrats were at odds over whether to cast a wider net in targeting allegations of Trump’s misconduct.

A number of liberal lawmakers had advocated for the inclusion of some reference to former special counsel Robert MuellerRobert (Bob) MuellerCNN's Toobin warns McCabe is in 'perilous condition' with emboldened Trump CNN anchor rips Trump over Stone while evoking Clinton-Lynch tarmac meeting The Hill's 12:30 Report: New Hampshire fallout MORE’s investigation into Trump’s role in Moscow’s 2016 election interference, which uncovered 10 episodes of potential obstruction of justice.

That mention was excluded, but progressive members nonetheless hailed the decision of leaders to move forward at all.

“Of course, I am in the camp where I feel there should have been more articles. I think obstruction of justice absolutely should’ve been an article. I am also supportive of emoluments being part of the articles,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezOvernight Energy: Court upholds Trump repeal of Obama fracking rule | Oil price drop threatens fracking boom | EPA eases rules on gasoline sales amid coronavirus Ocasio-Cortez blasts coronavirus stimulus package as 'shameful' on House floor Oil price drop threatens US fracking boom MORE (D-N.Y.) told reporters Tuesday, while noting she needs to further review the articles that were introduced. “But I understand the caucus is where it is at and it took a long time for us to get to this point that I’m glad that we have two.”

Still, other early impeachment supporters suggested this won’t necessarily be their last push to remove the 45th U.S. president, should he be acquitted in the GOP-controlled Senate.

“This does not mean others cannot be considered if the Senate does not convict,” said Rep. Al GreenAlexander (Al) N. GreenOvernight Energy: Iconic national parks close over coronavirus concerns | New EPA order limits telework post-pandemic | Lawmakers urge help for oil and gas workers Bipartisan lawmakers urge assistance for oil and gas workers Lawmakers shame ex-Wells Fargo directors for failing to reboot bank MORE (D-Texas), who has previously introduced resolutions to impeach Trump.

“A president can be impeached more than once,” he added.

A number of conservative-leaning Blue Dog Democrats are also endorsing the articles, arguing that Trump’s conduct gave them no alternative.

“The issue isn’t the Blue Dogs, it’s upholding our Constitution,” said Rep. Lou CorreaJose (Lou) Luis CorreaActivists, analysts demand Congress consider immigrants in coronavirus package Hillicon Valley: HHS hit by cyberattack amid coronavirus outbreak | Senators urge FCC to shore up internet access for students | Sanders ramps up Facebook ad spending | Dems ask DHS to delay Real ID deadline House Dems ask DHS to delay Real ID deadline MORE (D-Calif.). “If I was to go home and ask the Mexican president, [Andrés Manuel López] Obrador, for help in my campaign ... I’d probably go to jail. So, we either uphold the laws or we don’t.”

Democrats allege that Trump withheld nearly $400 million in U.S. security aid to Ukraine and dangled a White House meeting with Ukraine’s president to pressure the country’s president to publicly announce an investigation into Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who worked on the board of the Ukrainian energy firm Burisma Holdings.

This, they warned, makes clear that Trump believes he is above the law, and will continue this pattern of misconduct if he is allowed to remain in office.

But Republicans, who have been near-unanimous in their defense of Trump’s conduct, maintain Democrats have failed to provide the evidence to support their allegations of wrongdoing, let alone their case for impeachment. Republicans have hammered the process as a political “sham” designed to remove a president Democrats couldn’t defeat at the ballot box.

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Trump mounted his own defense on Tuesday, taking to Twitter to deny all claims that he pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for political favors. He also blasted the inquiry as a “WITCH HUNT” and attacked Schiff as “a totally corrupt politician” who he said will “eventually have to answer for this!”

“Both the President & Foreign Minister of Ukraine said, many times, that there ‘WAS NO PRESSURE.’ Nadler and the Dems know this, but refuse to acknowledge!’” the president tweeted.

The House Judiciary Committee late Tuesday announced a two-day markup of the articles, to start Wednesday night and resume Thursday, when it could last all day. The panel is expected to pass the articles along party lines Thursday, sending the measures to the full House, which could vote as early as next week.

This would set up a trial in the GOP-controlled Senate, where Trump would almost certainly be acquitted.

With that in mind, Democrats are also eyeing other strategies — both legislative and investigative — to rein in a president they feel has no legal boundaries.

“Those of us that care about the other areas of misconduct are going to have to push for accountability on other fronts, whether it’s ongoing investigations or even the criminal justice system after this president leaves office,” said Huffman. “But he doesn’t get a free pass from all of his misconduct and crimes, and that’s the main point.”

“I hope this narrow set of articles will not be read as that.”