Pelosi says leadership won't pressure moderates to back impeachment

Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiSunday shows preview: Lawmakers, state governors talk coronavirus, stimulus package and resources as pandemic rages on Attacking the Affordable Care Act in the time of COVID-19 DC argues it is shortchanged by coronavirus relief bill MORE (D-Calif.) said Thursday that party leaders will apply no pressure on rank-and-file members to support the articles of impeachment against President TrumpDonald John TrumpWith VP pick, Biden can't play small ball in a long ball world Coronavirus hits defense contractor jobs Wake up America, your country doesn't value your life MORE that are expected to hit the House floor next week.

While the House Democratic Caucus is overwhelmingly supportive of the impeachment effort, several moderate members are holding out ahead of the votes amid concerns that backing the effort might alienate voters in their battleground districts heading into the 2020 election.

Pelosi maintained on Thursday that the choice is entirely theirs to make.

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"I have no message to them. We are not whipping this legislation, nor would we ever with something like this," Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol. "They'll make their own decisions. I don't say anything to them."

The Democratic leader's remarks came as lawmakers on the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday held a hearing to debate two articles of impeachment against Trump over his dealings with Ukraine: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Democrats had said after unveiling the articles earlier this week that they don't expect more than a couple defections, but the spotlight has shifted to centrist Democrats who are hearing from constituents on both sides of the issue.

The 233-member Democratic caucus has been largely united on impeachment since the inquiry was launched in September. 

Even as Pelosi spoke, the House Judiciary Committee was working across the Capitol to mark up two articles of impeachment related to Trump's dealings with Ukraine: one accuses the president of abusing his power in asking Ukrainian leaders to open investigations that might have helped him politically. The other claims he obstructed Congress as Democrats examined his foreign policy in Kyiv.

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The Judiciary panel is expected to pass both articles later Thursday along strict party lines, sending the measures to the full House, which is likely to vote on them next week.

It remains unclear how many centrist Democrats will join Republicans to oppose the effort. Only two in Pelosi's caucus — Reps. Collin PetersonCollin Clark PetersonSNAP, airlines among final hurdles to coronavirus stimulus deal Pelosi: House 'not prepared' to vote remotely on coronavirus relief bill Lone Democrat to oppose impeachment will seek reelection MORE (Minn.) and Jeff Van DrewJeff Van DrewHispanic Caucus campaign arm unveils non-Hispanic endorsements Lone Democrat to oppose impeachment will seek reelection DCCC targets House GOP members over Trump administration response to coronavirus MORE (N.J.) — voted against the rules package governing the impeachment debate, which passed through the House at the end of October.

Van Drew, who's facing a competitive race in 2020, has already said he'll oppose the articles when they hit the floor next week. Not only does Trump's conduct not rise to the level of impeachment, he said Wednesday, but he's also concerned that Trump would use his near-certain acquittal in the Senate as ammunition on the campaign trail next year.

Still, Van Drew acknowledged that the number of Democratic defectors will be far shy of enough to sink resolutions in the House.

"It's going to be a low number, I would imagine," he said. "Maybe three or four — if that."

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Rep. Lucy McBathLucia (Lucy) Kay McBathBrady PAC endorses Biden, plans to spend million in 2020 Biden rolls out over a dozen congressional endorsements after latest primary wins Warren endorsed by Black Lives Matter co-founder's Black to the Future Action Fund MORE (D-Ga.), another freshman facing a tough reelection contest, announced Wednesday night that she'll support the articles, despite the political risks.

"I am greatly saddened by what we have learned, and I am forced to face a solemn conclusion," she said during the first round of the Judiciary Committee's two-day markup of the articles.

Pelosi, who had resisted impeachment for most of the year, shifted gears in late September after allegations from a government whistleblower that Trump had abused his power in asking Ukrainian leaders for a political favor. With that act, she said, Trump gave Congress no choice but to impeach him.

"The fact's are clear — irrefutable, in fact," she said.

Still, she emphasized that the gravity of next weeks votes — which would make Trump just the third president in U.S. history to be impeached — means lawmakers will have to decide for themselves where they'll land.

"I'd rather not ask anybody what their vote is," she said. "People will vote the way they vote."