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Schumer backs Pelosi as impeachment roils caucus

Schumer backs Pelosi as impeachment roils caucus
© Aaron Schwartz

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerRon Johnson forces reading of 628-page Senate coronavirus relief bill on floor Senate panel splits along party lines on Becerra House Democrats' ambitious agenda set to run into Senate blockade MORE (N.Y.) on Tuesday said he supports Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Defense: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay | Biden's Pentagon policy nominee faces criticism | Naval Academy midshipmen moved to hotels Top Republican: 'Outrageous' to extend National Guard deployment at Capitol Progressives won't oppose bill over limits on stimulus checks MORE’s (D-Calif.) decision to hold back on a formal impeachment inquiry against President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump State Department appointee arrested in connection with Capitol riot Intelligence community investigating links between lawmakers, Capitol rioters Michelle Obama slams 'partisan actions' to 'curtail access to ballot box' MORE, despite growing support from members of his leadership team.

“I believe that Speaker Pelosi is handling this appropriately,” Schumer said when asked if he would change his position and support the launch of impeachment proceedings after one of his top deputies, Sen. Patty MurrayPatricia (Patty) Lynn MurrayBiden convenes bipartisan meeting on cancer research Pro-Choice Caucus asks Biden to remove abortion fund restrictions from 2022 budget Senate Democrats offer fresh support for embattled Tanden MORE (D-Wash.), called for an inquiry.

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Schumer has been careful not to undercut Pelosi’s resistance to launching impeachment proceedings, despite pressure from within his own caucus.

After Murray, the third-ranking member of Senate Democratic leadership, said she would back launching an inquiry, Sen. Debbie StabenowDeborah (Debbie) Ann StabenowDemocrats cut deals to bolster support for relief bill Senate Democrats offer fresh support for embattled Tanden Watch live: Schumer, Senate Democrats hold press briefing MORE (D-Mich.), the Senate Democratic Policy Committee chairwoman, also offered support for the move.

Democratic Caucus Vice Chairwoman Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenPhilly city council calls on Biden to 'cancel all student loan debt' in first 100 days Hillicon Valley: High alert as new QAnon date approaches Thursday | Biden signals another reversal from Trump with national security guidance | Parler files a new case Senators question Bezos, Amazon about cameras placed in delivery vans MORE (D-Mass.), Steering Committee Chairwoman Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: YouTube to restore Trump's account | House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference | Senators introduce legislation to create international tech partnerships House-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference Klobuchar, Murkowski urge FTC to protect domestic abuse victims' data MORE (D-Minn.), Outreach Chairman Bernie SandersBernie SandersABC names new deputy political director, weekend White House correspondent Ron Johnson forces reading of 628-page Senate coronavirus relief bill on floor GOP pulling out all the stops to delay COVID-19 package MORE (I-Vt.) — who are all presidential candidates — and Chief Deputy Whip Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyHouse-passed election bill takes aim at foreign interference Bipartisan bill would ban lawmakers from buying, selling stocks Pentagon prevented immediate response to mob, says Guard chief MORE (D-Ore.) also back an inquiry.

Despite the backing of those key members, Senate Democrats overall are divided over how to handle the impeachment question, with a majority of the conference arguing it should be left entirely to Pelosi and the House.

But proponents of taking a more aggressive position say the momentum is shifting in favor of starting impeachment proceedings.

Merkley said Murray’s announcement was a major development in the Democratic battle over impeachment.

“I think it’s very helpful. It adds to the momentum,” he said

Advocates for impeachment think it will be easier to persuade Pelosi to move forward if Schumer and other Senate Democrats call for a formal impeachment process.

“We’ve been running advertising nationwide and of course we’ve got supporters in all 50 states and so when we do our grass-roots organizing, we always include the senators in that. So they’ve received tens of thousands of phone calls and emails and other outreach,” said Kevin Mack, the lead strategist of Need to Impeach, a group founded by Democratic mega-donor Tom SteyerTom SteyerGOP targets ballot initiatives after progressive wins On The Trail: The political losers of 2020 Biden Cabinet picks largely unify Democrats — so far MORE, who is also running for president.

“We feel strongly that Leader Schumer should be for impeachment and should make his feelings known and we think the more Democrats that come out for this, the more pressure there is on the House leadership to do their constitutional duty,” Mack added.

Need to Impeach on Tuesday announced the launch of a “six-figure” ad campaign featuring key moments of former special counsel 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 testimony before two House committees last week on his investigation into Trump and his inner circle.

Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoOvernight Defense: Capitol Police may ask National Guard to stay | Biden's Pentagon policy nominee faces criticism | Naval Academy midshipmen moved to hotels Republicans blast Pentagon policy nominee over tweets, Iran nuclear deal OVERNIGHT ENERGY: House Democrats reintroduce road map to carbon neutrality by 2050 | Kerry presses oil companies to tackle climate change | Biden delays transfer of sacred lands for copper mine MORE (D-Hawaii), a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says a formal impeachment inquiry would boost House investigations of Trump. She said it could help get judges to force the administration to comply with Democratic subpoenas.

“They should just do an impeachment inquiry so that they’re able to issue the subpoenas and have the subpoenas have, possibly if you have to go to court, more weight,” she said.

Hirono said if a formal impeachment process is started then federal judges who rule on subpoenas are less likely to view Congress as “just fishing” but instead “very purposeful in their investigatory efforts.”

But Senate Democrats are divided over whether launching the impeachment process would be smart ahead of the 2020 elections.

Sen. Jeanne ShaheenCynthia (Jeanne) Jeanne ShaheenPro-Choice Caucus asks Biden to remove abortion fund restrictions from 2022 budget Bottom line Senators press Treasury to prioritize Tubman redesign MORE (D-N.H.), who is up for reelection next year in a traditional swing state, said impeachment is a divisive topic and argued that voters care more about bread-and-butter economic issues, such as how to afford health care coverage and pay for college. Her remarks are similar to those Pelosi has made publicly in suggesting an impeachment drive could backfire on Democrats.

“The most important thing to do is to defeat Donald Trump at the ballot box. I think the country is still very divided and that would increase the divisions in the country,” she said of impeachment.

“I hear from people on both sides,” she said of feedback from constituents when she goes back home.

She said voters are more concerned about “how to they’re going to get health care for their kids, how they’re going to pay their college loans” while “companies are worried where they’re going to get their workers.”

Sen. Jon TesterJonathan (Jon) TesterMellman: How the Senate decided impeachment Senate Democrats negotiating changes to coronavirus bill Senate mulls changes to .9 trillion coronavirus bill MORE (D-Mont.), who represents a state that Trump won by 20 points in 2016, said he’s worried that an impeachment debate would overshadow other issues.

“My concern is that it takes our focus off the issues that Montanans are talking about, which is health care and college and infrastructure and that kind of stuff,” he said.

Murray’s call for the beginning of impeachment proceedings caught colleagues by surprise and prompted speculation within the Senate Democratic Conference over whether she was trying to establish an independent brand within the leadership or merely responding to political dynamics at home.

“She’s a very planful person. She doesn’t do things from the gut,” said a Democratic senator who requested anonymity to comment on Murray’s motives.

Murray is the assistant Democratic leader, the third-ranking member of the Senate Democratic leadership, and was on a swift trajectory upward under former Senate Majority Leader Harry ReidHarry Mason ReidHow to pass legislation in the Senate without eliminating the filibuster Who is the Senate parliamentarian and why is she important? Trumpists' assaults on Republicans who refuse to drink the Kool-Aid will help Democrats MORE (D-Nev.), who often praised Murray in the highest terms when he was in charge of the conference.

Reid picked her in 2011 to serve as the Democratic co-chair of the so-called supercommittee, or the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction, which was formed after a standoff over raising the debt limit earlier that year.

He also tapped Murray to head the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee in the 2011-2012 election cycle, when Democrats picked up two seats.

Murray’s call for impeachment proceedings to begin may solidify her liberal credentials for a future leadership race or may help stave off a potential primary challenge when she is up for reelection in 2022.

All seven Democrats of the House delegation from Washington state have also called for an impeachment inquiry against Trump. Washington’s junior senator, Sen. Maria CantwellMaria Elaine CantwellMurkowski votes with Senate panel to advance Haaland nomination Regulators keep close eye on Facebook's deal with Australia Video stirs emotions on Trump trial's first day MORE, was the only congressional Democrat from the state not to join the effort.