Schumer backs Pelosi as impeachment roils caucus

Schumer backs Pelosi as impeachment roils caucus
© Aaron Schwartz

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerTurf war derails bipartisan push on surprise medical bills Senate confirms Trump's nominee to lead FDA CEO group pushes Trump, Congress on paid family, medical leave MORE (N.Y.) on Tuesday said he supports Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiUSMCA is nice but no model Anti-impeachment Democrat poised to switch parties Grassley urges White House to help farmers in year-end tax talks MORE’s (D-Calif.) decision to hold back on a formal impeachment inquiry against President TrumpDonald John TrumpRepublicans aim to avoid war with White House over impeachment strategy New York Times editorial board calls for Trump's impeachment Trump rips Michigan Rep. Dingell after Fox News appearance: 'Really pathetic!' 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 MurraySenate confirms Trump's nominee to lead FDA Overnight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — Deal on surprise medical bills faces obstacles | House GOP unveils rival drug pricing measure ahead of Pelosi vote | Justices to hear case over billions in ObamaCare payments Obstacles remain for deal on surprise medical bills 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 StabenowBoth sides have reason to want speedy Trump impeachment trial GOP set for all-out battle over Michigan Senate seat Overnight Energy: EPA delays board's review of 'secret science' rules | Keystone pipeline spill affecting more land than thought | Dems seek probe into Forest Service grants tied to Alaska logging MORE (D-Mich.), the Senate Democratic Policy Committee chairwoman, also offered support for the move.

Democratic Caucus Vice Chairwoman Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenTrump executive order aimed at combating anti-Semitism stirs up controversy Booker leads other 2020 Dems in petition urging DNC to change debate qualifications Democrats threaten to skip next debate over labor dispute MORE (D-Mass.), Steering Committee Chairwoman Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharBooker leads other 2020 Dems in petition urging DNC to change debate qualifications Democrats threaten to skip next debate over labor dispute Senate gears up for battle over witnesses in impeachment trial MORE (D-Minn.), Outreach Chairman Bernie SandersBernie SandersSanders 'outraged' after MLB threatens to cut ties with minor league teams Booker leads other 2020 Dems in petition urging DNC to change debate qualifications Democrats threaten to skip next debate over labor dispute MORE (I-Vt.) — who are all presidential candidates — and Chief Deputy Whip Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyMcConnell says he's 'honored' to be WholeFoods Magazine's 2019 'Person of the Year' Overnight Energy: Protesters plan Black Friday climate strike | 'Father of EPA' dies | Democrats push EPA to abandon methane rollback Warren bill would revoke Medals of Honor for Wounded Knee massacre 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 SteyerThomas (Tom) Fahr SteyerBooker leads other 2020 Dems in petition urging DNC to change debate qualifications Democrats threaten to skip next debate over labor dispute Krystal Ball: Influx of billionaire cash in 2020 contest is 'deeply corrosive' to 'civil society' 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) Swan MuellerJeffries blasts Trump for attack on Thunberg at impeachment hearing Live coverage: House Judiciary to vote on impeachment after surprise delay Trump says he'll release financial records before election, knocks Dems' efforts MORE’s testimony before two House committees last week on his investigation into Trump and his inner circle.

Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoHorowitz offers troubling picture of FBI's Trump campaign probe Live coverage: DOJ inspector general testifies on Capitol Hill Democrats rip Barr over IG statement: 'Mouthpiece' for Trump 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 ShaheenOvernight Health Care — Presented by That's Medicaid — House passes sweeping Pelosi bill to lower drug prices | Senate confirms Trump FDA pick | Trump officials approve Medicaid work requirements in South Carolina Senate confirms Trump's nominee to lead FDA Senate panel advances Turkey sanctions bill despite Trump objections 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) TesterTrump trade deal likely to sow division in Democratic presidential field Krystal Ball: Is this how Bernie Sanders will break the establishment? GOP braces for Democratic spending onslaught in battle for Senate 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 ReidNevada journalist: Harry Reid will play 'significant role' in Democratic primary The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by AdvaMed - A crucial week on impeachment The Hill's Morning Report — Pelosi makes it official: Trump will be impeached 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 CantwellLet's enact a privacy law that advances economic justice There's a lot to like about the Senate privacy bill, if it's not watered down Hillicon Valley: House passes anti-robocall bill | Senators inch forward on privacy legislation | Trump escalates fight over tech tax | Illinois families sue TikTok | Senators get classified briefing on ransomware MORE, was the only congressional Democrat from the state not to join the effort.