More than half of the Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee say their panel may eventually need to open an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump if his administration’s efforts to stonewall congressional investigations continue.
CQ Roll Call talked to all but one of the 24 Democrats on the panel over the past two weeks about their views on impeachment in light of Trump, his administration and his allies deciding not to cooperate with their investigation into potential obstruction of justice, corruption and abuses of power. The Democrat not reached directly, California’s Eric Swalwell, a presidential candidate, weighed in on Twitter.
The interviews reveal that a majority of Democrats on the panel with sole jurisdiction over impeachment not only want to keep that tool available but also see an unfolding scenario in which they may need to use it.
The White House has asserted executive privilege to prevent Congress from obtaining special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s unredacted report and investigatory materials and is threatening to use it to block witnesses from testifying or handing over documents.
While most are not ready to launch impeachment proceedings at this time, many say they may need to if they exhaust other options.
Those include holding in contempt of Congress officials like Attorney General William Barr who do not comply with subpoenas and pursuing civil court action. Also under consideration is using Congress’ inherent contempt power to impose fines on individuals until they comply.
The fact that many Judiciary Democrats describe an impeachment inquiry as a serious option is significant given their leadership’s resistance to the idea.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi has left impeachment on the table but made clear she prefers not to use it. Most of Judiciary Democrats with similar views are more senior, underscoring how steep a hill it is. But the interest in launching impeachment proceedings can only be ignored for so long.
Here’s where all 24 Judiciary Democrats stand on impeachment:
Jerrold Nadler, New York
“I don’t know how it unlikely it is,” Nadler, the Judiciary chairman, told reporters May 15 when asked about comments he made in an interview with CNBC’s John Harwood posted that morning.
Nadler had made several, sometimes contradictory, comments to Harwood about impeachment, starting with his view that Trump was “making it increasingly difficult” not to impeach him.
“Impeachment is a decision for down the road,” the chairman said later in the interview. “But we have to get the facts. Ultimately, impeachment or [no] impeachment is a political act. And before you do it, the American people have to support it.”
But it was this remark from Nadler that drew the most attention: “It depends what comes out. It depends where the American people are, whether they want to go that way or not. I don’t want to make it sound as if we’re heading for impeachment. Probably we’re not.”
Told that many of his colleagues are saying the reverse, Nadler provided more wiggle room to potentially opening an impeachment inquiry.
“Maybe. It’s hard. I don’t know.” he said.
Zoe Lofgren, California
Reached in person May 15, Lofgren declined to elaborate on a statement her office provided to CQ Roll Call May 13.
“As much as I appreciate what I have been permitted to see of the special counsel’s work, Congress can’t outsource fact finding or decision making to others,” Lofgren said in the statement. “We need the full report, the underlying evidence, and will need to hear from a number of witnesses. Then we’ll see what, if anything, we are obliged to do next.”
Sheila Jackson Lee, Texas
“We are committed to investigating and finding out the truth,” Jackson Lee said May 8 when asked whether she prefers Democrats litigate the administration’s obstruction of subpoenas in the courts before making a decision on impeachment.
On May 16, Jackson Lee said Democrats should file a resolution of investigation containing instructions to the Judiciary Committee to formalize its current probes. The resolution would first go through the Rules Committee, which would then refer it to the full House for a vote.
“No word in front of it,” she said when asked if the resolution would authorize an impeachment investigation.
Steve Cohen, Tennessee
“I’m in both camps. I support the leadership and I understand where Speaker Pelosi is coming from, and I know we’re a team, and I know realistically nothing’s gonna happen without her being in support,” Cohen said May 9. “But I also think he’s committed impeachable offenses and I think he ought to be impeached. Because I think we need to put up a scarlet letter on him. He deserves it.”
Hank Johnson, Georgia
“We should proceed on a deliberate course to obtain documents and testimony from live witnesses,” Johnson said May 9. “And if we’re having problems with that, then the next route is to go to court. And litigation will result in things turning out the way that we expect them to. And I don’t think that it has to take an inordinately long period of time. But, no, we’re not where we need to be yet in order to commence impeachment proceedings in the House as far as I’m concerned.”
Still Johnson acknowledged that point could be reached.
“There could be accumulation of snow on the roof that would get so heavy that it causes the roof to fall in,” he said. “And so I don’t know what’s going to happen as we move forward. But it seems that the Trump administration is hell bent on impeding Congress’s ability to exercise oversight. And so yeah, every snowflake makes the roof heavier.”
Ted Deutch, Florida
“When you start with obstruction of justice in an investigation and then you obstruct Congress in … preventing us from doing the job that we need to, you aren’t left with many options,” Deutch, who chairs the House Ethics Committee, said May 9. “There’s a reason that so many of us refer to this as a constitutional crisis. And what the administration is trying to do is unprecedented, both the way they’re trying to prevent anyone from testifying and the blanket like refusal to comply with subpoenas, the blanket executive privilege, which is totally unfounded.”
“It’s a dangerous combination of obstruction of justice and obstruction of Congress,” he added. “At that point you need to look at how ever we would respond to a constitutional crisis. And impeachment is certainly one way to do it.”
Karen Bass, California
Bass, who chairs the Congressional Black Caucus, said Judiciary doesn’t need to pursue impeachment to get information it’s seeking.
“The process is extremely important. It’s important that we go through each one of these steps and then we make a decision. But I do not think it’s appropriate to rush,” she said May 15.
Cedric L. Richmond, Louisiana
“If the coach calls impeachment, give me the ball, I’m ready to run with it,” Richmond, a former CBC chairman, said May 14. “If they still want to wait on more evidence, then I’ll give them that luxury. But it is very clear that there’s a problem. Just because you obstruct in full view of the country, it doesn’t mean it’s any less obstruction. Just because you coordinate with Russia at a press conference, saying, ‘Russia, go get the emails,’ and they do it, it doesn’t make it any less a conspiracy to affect the election.”
“The Constitution requires us to get the information. And if it takes impeachment for us to get the information, then so be it,” he added. “But you can’t let the executive branch just do what he’s doing.”
Hakeem Jeffries, New York
“The standard that has been articulated by Speaker Pelosi remains clear: The evidence should be compelling, the case overwhelming, and impeachment should be bipartisan in nature, in terms of public sentiment,” Jeffries, the Democratic Caucus chairman, said May 8. “So, we are still in the fact-gathering process.”
David Cicilline, Rhode Island
“We have absolute responsibility to ensure that we have all of the relevant evidence before we make a judgment on how to proceed,” Cicilline, who chairs the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee, said May 9. “And at the very beginning of that is a collection of the evidence that was collected during the special counsel’s investigation, as well as an unredacted copy of the Mueller report. We’ll know in very short order whether or not we’re going to have the ability to access that information, or whether the president is going to continue this broad stonewalling of the committee of the American people.”
“There may come a time where it becomes clear we cannot do our work, in which case we might have to consider the approach that was taken in the Nixon impeachment, the Article III of obstruction of Congress,” he added. “But we’re just beginning our evidence collection.”
Eric Swalwell, California
“We’re on the road to impeachment. We don’t want to be here, but we need to hold Trump accountable,” Swalwell said in a tweet May 13, linking to an MSNBC interview in which he made similar comments.
Ted Lieu, California
“It would depend on the actions of the Trump administration. So if they keep ignoring congressional subpoenas, then, yes, we may have to go there,” Lieu, a DPCC co-chair, said May 14.
“We would do contempt actions first. We’re going to get a ruling from a federal judge pretty soon on a congressional subpoena, so we’ll see how that goes as well,” he added. “We have still a number of options [at] our disposal. But if we still get no information, then we’re just gonna have to consider impeachment.”
Jamie Raskin, Maryland
“There’s a growing and solidifying sense that we’re dealing with a lawless and out-of-control administration,” Raskin, who serves as the leadership representative for members who’ve served five or fewer terms, said May 17. “Things are coming to a tipping point in terms of our ability to respond, and so we have some big decisions to make.”
“People ask me, impeach or not impeach. And that’s the wrong question,” he added. “That’s the end of the process. The real question is whether or not we should launch an inquiry. And an inquiry would subsume so many of the other investigations that are going on now, and it would increase tactically our ability to collect evidence against an obstructionist administration.”
Pramila Jayapal, Washington
“What this White House is doing is absolutely undermining our Constitution against the law — in some cases, one person said, contemptuous. And that leads to no checks and balances on one branch of government,” Jayapal, who co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said May 17. “So we may start an impeachment inquiry down the road. That is different from an impeachment vote. But we have to make sure we do all of the steps along the way to give the White House whatever chances they need to show that they can comply.”
“I don’t know how quickly this will move, because it all depends on the White House’s behavior,” she added. “But it allows us more legal remedies in the courts. And in general, if there is a formal impeachment inquiry started and the White House continues to do this, we won’t have any choice. But we’re not there yet.”
Val B. Demings, Florida
“I believe that we have enough to begin those proceedings,” Demings said May 14. “And that’s Val Demings talking. I know that leadership has to consider a lot of other things. But as a former law enforcement officer, when I see wrongdoing clearly, I take action.”
“We may not get to a place where I would like to get as quickly as I would like to get there,” she added. “I trust the leadership to make the right decisions and get us to the place where we need to be.”
Lou Correa, California
“It is not the time to ask the question of impeachment yet,” Correa, a co-chair of the moderate Blue Dog Coalition, said May 9. “We’re not there yet. I want to look at the facts.”
“I’ve got to do what’s right in the eyes of the American people, the eyes of the law, in the eyes of my constituency. I’m not going to predict what’s going to happen,” he added. “All I want to do is my job, and my job is oversight. My job is to provide transparency. … Start with the facts and the other stuff, we’ll take it one day at at time.”
Mary Gay Scanlon, Pennsylvania
“I don’t think it’s anything that anyone wants to pursue, but we’ve got an administration that is not abiding by the rules of the Constitution, so if we’re forced into it, we may have to,” Scanlon, the committee’s vice chair, said May 16. “But it’s far from anyone’s first wish. And it shouldn’t be the administration’s first wish.”
Sylvia R. Garcia, Texas
“He’s getting us closer to making that decision,” Garcia said May 15, referring to Trump. “I’m personally not there yet. We need to continue doing what we’re doing to try to get to the bottom of it, try to make sure that we leave no stone unturned. Because [impeachment] is the big enchilada. … So before we do that, we have to be judicious, and we have to be careful, and we’ve got to be steady. So we should try all avenues and exhaust them to try to reach an accommodation. In the end, the court will judge us by that.”
Joe Neguse, Colorado
“I think we definitely need to be having these discussions,” Neguse, one of the freshman class leadership representatives, said in a statement May 20. “We have a report that details multiple instances of obstruction of justice by this president and an administration that is engaging in wholesale obstruction of Congress by continuing to block administration witnesses from testifying and preventing the release of the unredacted report from Congress. As the president continues to impede our oversight role, it is critical that we don’t take any options off the table, including impeachment.”
Lucy McBath, Georgia
“I don’t take this lightly. I have no joy in wanting to even talk about impeachment,” McBath said May 15.
She emphasized that her focus is on the committee obtaining as much information as it can as it seeks the unredacted Mueller report, testimony from the special counsel and other witnesses.
“Whatever comes out of getting the information that we need to give to the American people, let the chips fall where they may. But at this point, our job, my focus is still getting the information that we need,” McBath said.
Greg Stanton, Arizona
“I’m not talking about that particular issue. I don’t want to go on the record and talk about impeachment,” Stanton said May 15. “But the president has to, the administration has to cooperate with Congress. That is our system of government. And I support Chairman Nadler and our committee to aggressively pursue it. So yeah, when it gets to that point, I’ll talk about it, but I’m not there yet.”
Madeleine Dean, Pennsylvania
“I don’t think it’s time. Not today,” Dean said May 10. “That can change at any moment. And of course, the president is driving us toward that moment by this blanket statement of a blanket obstruction of justice, a blanket disregard for our lawful, subpoena power. We’re a coequal branch of government, not that the president ever regarded us that way.”
“I have confidence that no matter how frustrating this incredibly lawless and corrupt and indecent administration we are facing, we will fly our stripes and by the strength of our Constitution, do our job, get this stuff before the American people,” she added. “If impeachment is in our future, so be it.”
Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, Florida
“We, at this point, are looking at all our options,” Mucarsel-Powell said May 9. “There have to be clear and strong consequences. This is the first time that we’ve seen in the history of this Congress for a president to block every subpoena that we have requested. He does not have the legal authority to do that. … We will do what is right at the right time. We need to have political courage to do the right thing, not when it’s convenient, but when it’s necessary.”
Veronica Escobar, Texas
“There are two considerations,” Escobar said May 7. “There’s literally the political consideration and whether an impeachment hearing will trigger another four years of Donald Trump, which would be a catastrophe for this country.”
“There’s the other consideration for me, personally, in that, how can we allow such lawlessness to go unchecked. And history will judge this moment,” she added. “It’s the tone and the example we have set for future generations and for what is acceptable and what is not.”
“We are on this dangerous precipice, where it almost feels like every answer is the wrong answer and every answer is the right answer,” Escobar said. “I personally feel like we cannot tolerate this level of obstruction, that if we do, then we have lowered the bar to the point where any criminal can be president of the United States and that should be unacceptable to all of us.”
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