Schumer backs Pelosi as impeachment roils caucus

Schumer backs Pelosi as impeachment roils caucus
© Aaron Schwartz

Senate Democratic Leader Charles SchumerChuck SchumerAn August ultimatum: No recess until redistricting reform is done Biden to meet with 11 Democratic lawmakers on DACA: report Schumer's moment to transform transit and deepen democracy MORE (N.Y.) on Tuesday said he supports Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Justice Department says Trump's tax returns should be released | Democrats fall short of votes for extending eviction ban House adjourns for recess without passing bill to extend federal eviction ban Photos of the Week: Olympic sabre semi-finals, COVID-19 vigil and a loris MORE’s (D-Calif.) decision to hold back on a formal impeachment inquiry against President TrumpDonald TrumpMeghan McCain: Democrats 'should give a little credit' to Trump for COVID-19 vaccine Trump testing czar warns lockdowns may be on table if people don't get vaccinated Overnight Health Care: CDC details Massachusetts outbreak that sparked mask update | White House says national vaccine mandate 'not under consideration at this time' 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 MurrayDemocrats consider scaling back new funds to fight next pandemic Tech executives increased political donations amid lobbying push Schumer, Tim Scott lead as Senate fundraising pace heats up 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 StabenowBiden pays tribute to late Sen. Levin: 'Embodied the best of who we are' Former longtime Sen. Carl Levin dies at 87 Energy chief touts electric vehicle funding in Senate plan MORE (D-Mich.), the Senate Democratic Policy Committee chairwoman, also offered support for the move.

Democratic Caucus Vice Chairwoman Elizabeth WarrenElizabeth WarrenCalifornia Democrats warn of low turnout in recall election Pelosi disputes Biden's power to forgive student loans Warren hits the airwaves for Newsom ahead of recall election MORE (D-Mass.), Steering Committee Chairwoman Amy KlobucharAmy KlobucharHillicon Valley: Democrats urge tech CEOs to combat Spanish disinformation | Amazon fined 6M by EU regulators Democrats urge tech CEOs to combat Spanish disinformation Bill would honor Ginsburg, O'Connor with statues at Capitol MORE (D-Minn.), Outreach Chairman Bernie SandersBernie SandersAngst grips America's most liberal city Democrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire Democrats say they have the votes to advance .5T budget measure MORE (I-Vt.) — who are all presidential candidates — and Chief Deputy Whip Jeff MerkleyJeff MerkleyHuman rights can't be a sacrificial lamb for climate action Senate Democrats press administration on human rights abuses in Philippines Bipartisan congressional commission urges IOC to postpone, relocate Beijing Games 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 SteyerOvernight Energy: 'Eye of fire,' Exxon lobbyist's comments fuel renewed attacks on oil industry | Celebrities push Biden to oppose controversial Minnesota pipeline | More than 75 companies ask Congress to pass clean electricity standard Celebrities push Biden to oppose controversial Minnesota pipeline Six things to watch as California heads for recall election 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) MuellerSenate Democrats urge Garland not to fight court order to release Trump obstruction memo Why a special counsel is guaranteed if Biden chooses Yates, Cuomo or Jones as AG Barr taps attorney investigating Russia probe origins as special counsel MORE’s testimony before two House committees last week on his investigation into Trump and his inner circle.

Sen. Mazie HironoMazie Keiko HironoDemocrats warn shrinking Biden's spending plan could backfire Hillicon Valley: Facebook tightens teen protections | FBI cautions against banning ransomware payments | Republicans probe White House-social media collaboration Top FBI official advises Congress against banning ransomware payments 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 Defense: First group of Afghan evacuees arrives in Virginia | Biden signs Capitol security funding bill, reimbursing Guard | Pentagon raises health protection level weeks after lowering it Equilibrium/ Sustainability — Presented by NextEra Energy — Clean power repurposes dirty power CIA watchdog to review handling of 'Havana syndrome' cases 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) TesterDemocrats say they have the votes to advance .5T budget measure The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Facebook - A huge win for Biden, centrist senators Senate votes to take up infrastructure deal 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 ReidWhite House seeks to shield Biden from GOP attacks on crime issue Lobbying world Warner backing 'small carve-out' on filibuster for voting rights 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 CantwellTop Democrat: 'A lot of spin' coming from White House on infrastructure Biden officials pledge to confront cybersecurity challenges head-on Congress must act now to pass a bipartisan federal privacy law MORE, was the only congressional Democrat from the state not to join the effort.