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The Memo: Trump allies see impeachment push backfiring on Democrats

Democratic calls to begin impeachment proceedings against President TrumpDonald TrumpTrump DOJ demanded metadata on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses, Apple says Putin says he's optimistic about working with Biden ahead of planned meeting Biden meets Queen Elizabeth for first time as president MORE are reaching a crescendo — and that’s fine with Republicans, who believe such a push would rebound to the GOP’s advantage.

Some Trump allies even claim the president is trying to goad his opponents into pursuing impeachment against him. They note both his provocative rhetoric and his stonewalling of congressional inquiries.

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“I see some of what the president is doing as a briar patch strategy,” said Michael Caputo, a longtime Trump friend who met with the president at the White House last month. “I am not the only one who thinks that impeachment would be a disaster for the Democrats.”

But Democrats, especially on the left of the party, are increasingly assertive about impeachment.

On Tuesday, Rep. Mark PocanMark William PocanThe Memo: The pre-Trump 'normal' is gone for good Overnight Defense: Pentagon pitches 5B budget | Kamala Harris addresses US Naval Academy graduates Pentagon pitches 5B budget with cuts to older weapons MORE (D-Wis.) tweeted that Trump had “pushed Congress to a point where we must start an impeachment inquiry.”

Rep. Mary Gay ScanlonMary Gay ScanlonHouse unveils antitrust package to rein in tech giants House Democrats to Schumer: Vote again on Jan. 6 probe Democrats introduce bill seeking to protect voting rights of people in subsidized housing MORE (D-Pa.) declared her position, too. “No one is above the rule of law. It's time to start an impeachment inquiry,” she said in a statement.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-CortezAlexandria Ocasio-CortezSimmering Democratic tensions show signs of boiling over Out-of-touch Democrats running scared of progressives Progressives rally behind Omar while accusing her critics of bias MORE (D-N.Y), an icon on the left, told MSNBC’s Kasie Hunt, “I believe that we have come to the time of impeachment. … This is no longer about politics. This is about upholding the rule of law.”

Tensions have also become sharper between Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiVaccinated lawmakers no longer required to wear masks on House floor Simmering Democratic tensions show signs of boiling over Pelosi signals no further action against Omar MORE (D-Calif.), who is reluctant to fire the starting pistol on an impeachment inquiry, and other members of her caucus. House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerDemocrats demand Barr, Sessions testify on Apple data subpoenas Wray grilled on FBI's handling of Jan. 6 Omar feuds with Jewish Democrats MORE (D-N.Y.) is said to have aligned himself with the pro-impeachment faction on Monday.

The pro-impeachment case seems compelling — to Democrats.

They note that 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 explicitly declined to exonerate Trump from obstruction of justice in his Russia report. They say that Congress needs to assert its proper authority or have its oversight powers weakened forever. And, as a political matter, they believe that an impeachment inquiry could give a sharper focus to the probes that are now going on across several different committees.

But those who are skeptical of the political case for impeachment can buttress their case, too.

There is little evidence in opinion polls that the public is crying out for impeachment proceedings to begin.

An NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll late last month found that 48 percent of respondents believed Congress should not begin impeachment hearings, while only 17 percent thought it should do so. The Pelosi position — that Congress should keep investigating but not yet go down the road of impeachment — was favored by 32 percent. 

A Quinnipiac University Poll around the same time found 29 percent of respondents saying Congress should begin impeachment proceedings, while 66 percent were against doing so.

Since then, however, more questions have emerged about Attorney General William BarrBill BarrTrump DOJ demanded metadata on 73 phone numbers and 36 email addresses, Apple says DOJ to probe Trump-era subpoenas of lawmaker records Democrats demand Barr, Sessions testify on Apple data subpoenas MORE’s initial characterization of the Muller report. During the intervening period, the Trump administration has also discouraged potential witnesses, including former White House counsel Don McGahn, from testifying before Congress.

An empty chair took center stage at a House Judiciary Committee meeting Tuesday, when McGahn did not appear.

There is also the question of whether voters would find the beginning of impeachment proceedings a distraction from more pressing matters regarding the economy, jobs and infrastructure.

Pelosi is said to be concerned about the possibility of an impeachment push overshadowing her party’s agenda on kitchen-table issues.

Others note that such proceedings would become a circus for the political media. 

Republicans are highlighting an earlier House Judiciary Committee hearing as a sign of things to come. On May 2, Rep. Steve CohenStephen (Steve) Ira CohenWray grilled on FBI's handling of Jan. 6 Viola Fletcher, oldest living survivor of Tulsa Race Massacre, testifies in Congress 'seeking justice' Lobbying world MORE (D-Tenn.) brought fried chicken to the hearing to mock Barr’s purported cowardice in declining to appear.

Doug Heye, a former communications director for the Republican National Committee who has at times been critical of Trump, told The Hill, “Pelosi is right about this. If you want to have a winning message to a larger group of voters, impeachment is not the way to do it.”

Such an effort, Heye added, “would give Trump a real opportunity to present himself as a victim, to say to voters, ‘Since the day I started, they’ve been out to destroy me.’” 

Trump critics will inevitably see political self-interest in a Republican making such an argument. But Heye, citing the impeachment of former President Clinton, insisted impeachment would be bad for the nation.

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“Having worked in the House during the Clinton impeachment — yes, that resulted in bad electoral results for Republicans, but it was also not in the best interests of the country," he said.

Democrats argue that the likelihood of negative information about Trump emerging during their inquiries could change the political dynamics and hamper Trump’s reelection prospects.

They were buoyed by the decision by a U.S. District Court judge on Monday to uphold a subpoena for Trump’s financial records that House Democrats issued to his accounting firm, Mazars.

But some Republicans again hearken back to the impeachment of Clinton in the late 1990s.

“I lived through the Clinton impeachment, and I worked for a moderate Republican who was on the fence about whether he was going to vote to impeach the president,” said GOP strategist Ron Bonjean. 

“A lot of embarrassing information came out — the blue dress with the stain — and what largely happened was that it hurt Republicans, and we almost lost the House of Representatives because of it,” he said. 

For now, it seems that partisans are set on a full-on collision course. Progressive Democrats are bent on impeachment. Trump loyalists say, bring it on.

Democrats “can’t resist it. They are addicted to it. Impeachment is their crack,” said Caputo.

The Memo is a reported column by Niall Stanage, primarily focused on Donald Trump’s presidency.