Schumer backs Pelosi as impeachment roils caucus

Schumer backs Pelosi as impeachment roils caucus
© Aaron Schwartz

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerCharles (Chuck) Ellis SchumerOvernight Health Care — Presented by American Health Care Association — Lawmakers raise alarms over Trump coronavirus response | Top official warns virus appears inevitable in US | Democrats block two Senate abortion bills Lawmakers raise alarms over Trump coronavirus response Democrats block two Senate abortion bills MORE (N.Y.) on Tuesday said he supports Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOcasio-Cortez: Trump would 'never' say to her face some of the shots he takes at her on Twitter Oversight Committee room to be dedicated to late Rep. Elijah Cummings Lawmakers raise alarms over Trump coronavirus response MORE’s (D-Calif.) decision to hold back on a formal impeachment inquiry against President TrumpDonald John TrumpWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Democrats duke it out in most negative debate so far 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 MurrayLawmakers raise alarms over Trump coronavirus response Public health experts raise alarm as coronavirus spreads Overnight Health Care: Senate panel to hold hearing on US coronavirus response | Dems demand Trump withdraw religious provider rule | Trump Medicaid proposal sparks bipartisan backlash 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 StabenowOn The Money: GAO to investigate Trump aid for farmers | Bloomberg calls for bolstering Dodd-Frank | Where the 2020 Democrats stand on taxes GAO launches investigation into Trump aid for farmers Democrats worried about Trump's growing strength MORE (D-Mich.), the Senate Democratic Policy Committee chairwoman, also offered support for the move.

Democratic Caucus Vice Chairwoman Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth Ann WarrenWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE (D-Mass.), Steering Committee Chairwoman Amy KlobucharAmy Jean KlobucharWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate Democrats duke it out in most negative debate so far MORE (D-Minn.), Outreach Chairman Bernie SandersBernie SandersWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate MORE (I-Vt.) — who are all presidential candidates — and Chief Deputy Whip Jeff MerkleyJeffrey (Jeff) Alan MerkleyInterest rate caps are popular — for good reason Overnight Energy: EPA to regulate 'forever chemicals' in drinking water | Trump budget calls for slashing funds for climate science centers | House Dems urge banks not to fund drilling in Arctic refuge Democratic senators criticize plan that could expand Arctic oil and gas development 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 Fahr SteyerWinners and losers from the South Carolina debate Five takeaways from the Democratic debate Sanders most searched, most tweeted about candidate during Democratic debate 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 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 testimony before two House committees last week on his investigation into Trump and his inner circle.

Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDemocratic senators ask DOJ watchdog to expand Giuliani probe Senate Dems blast Barr for 'clear violation' of duty in Stone case, urge him to resign What the impeachment vote looked like from inside the chamber 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: Appeals court strikes down Medicaid work requirements | Pelosi's staff huddles with aides on surprise billing | Senate Dems pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit Senate Democrats pressure Trump to drop ObamaCare lawsuit Trump under pressure to renew last nuke treaty with Russia 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) TesterDemocratic senator: 'The ultimate of ironies' for Trump to hit Romney for invoking his faith Committee on Veterans Affairs sends important message during tense Senate time Democrats cry foul over Schiff backlash 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 ReidDemocratic insiders stay on the sidelines in 2020 race Harry Reid calls for end to all caucuses Reid pushes back on Sanders suggestion that a Democrat with plurality of delegates should be the nominee 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 CantwellThree lessons from BIPA for data privacy legislation Swing votes steal spotlight in marathon Trump impeachment Q&A Hillicon Valley: UK allows Huawei to build 5G in blow to Trump | Lawmakers warn decision threatens intel sharing | Work on privacy bill inches forward | Facebook restricts travel to China amid virus MORE, was the only congressional Democrat from the state not to join the effort.