Congress

Democrats divided over whether it’s time to open impeachment inquiry

Caucus to discuss the matter during a special meeting Wednesday

Rep. John Yarmuth of Kentucky is among the Democrats who do not think it is quite time to begin impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump. (Caroline Brehman/CQ Roll Call)

Updated 2:50 p.m. | House Democrats are divided over whether they should open an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, with top leaders still hesitant to do so even as more rank-and-file members say it’s time.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has called a special caucus meeting Wednesday morning to discuss oversight matters, including the impeachment question, several members said.

The support in the Democratic Caucus for beginning impeachment proceedings — not necessarily impeachment itself — has grown as the president and his administration continue to ignore congressional subpoenas and stonewall various committees’ efforts to conduct oversight and investigate alleged wrongdoing. 

Although Pelosi and her top lieutenants are still opposed to moving forward with impeachment at this time, a few lower-ranking members of leadership are shepherding the push to open an inquiry. 

They include House Judiciary member David Cicilline, who is No. 8 in leadership as chairman of the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee. The tipping point for the Rhode Island Democrat was former White House counsel Don McGahn’s decision to ignore, on the advice of the administration, a congressional subpoena to testify Tuesday.

“That will for me establish a pattern of this president to continue to obstruct our collection of evidence to try to prevent us from getting to the truth, to continue a cover-up that is preventing the American people from knowing all of the facts,” Cicilline told reporters on the way to the Judiciary session for which McGahn was a no-show.

“We simply cannot allow the executive branch to decide what Congress will receive in terms of witnesses and documents as we do our oversight work. Because if we allow the executive branch to do that, they can effectively extinguish congressional oversight, and that’s something which has very dire consequences for the American people,” he added. 

Cicilline said he does not feel it is problematic for him as head of the caucus’s messaging arm to speak out in favor of launching impeachment proceedings when the full caucus and leadership team is not yet on board.

“One of the responsibilities that we have in leadership is to share our viewpoint and to make our case both to our colleagues in the leadership team as well as to our colleagues in the caucus — and the speaker invites that,” he said. “We know, in the end, the decision about whether we open an inquiry or not will be a collective decision of the House Democratic leadership reflected by the sentiment of our entire caucus and ultimately decided by the speaker.”

Other leading voices in the Democratic Caucus who have called for opening an impeachment inquiry include: DPCC co-chair  Ted Lieu of California; Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, leadership representative for members serving five or fewer terms; Congressional Progressive Caucus co-chairs Pramila Jayapal of Washington and Mark Pocan of Wisconsin; and Congressional Hispanic Caucus Chairman Joaquin Castro of Texas.

Cicilline, Lieu, Raskin and Jayapal all serve on the Judiciary Committee — the panel that would vote to open an inquiry. Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, according to The Washington Post, pressed Pelosi on Monday evening to support such a move, but she declined. Nadler declined to comment when approached about the matter Tuesday.

Stay the course

The message from the top House Democratic leaders is to let the six committees who are investigating Trump continue to get more information before deciding whether opening an impeachment inquiry is appropriate.

“There will be discussions among the leadership and among the caucus as to whether or not we have reached a point where it is clear that the responsible thing is to move ahead on that,” House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer said. “I don’t think we’re there at this point in time.”

The Maryland Democrat said he doesn’t think there’s any demographic within the caucus “who probably wouldn’t in their gut say, ‘You know, he’s done some things that probably justify impeachment.’”

“Having said that, this is the important point: The majority of Democrats continue to believe that we need to continue to pursue the avenue that we’ve been on in trying to elicit information, testimonies, review the Mueller report, review other items that have been brought up,” Hoyer said. “And if the facts lead us to a broader action, so be it.”

Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, the No. 5 in leadership, also advocated staying the course. Most members did not run on impeachment, he said. They ran on helping everyday Americans and “that remains the North Star for the overwhelming majority,” the New York Democrat said.  

Most of the members pushing for impeachment proceedings, especially those new to the cause, cite the lack of information committees have been able to obtain because of Trump’s stonewalling.

“The president has made it very difficult for Congress, almost impossible for Congress, to get the information it needs to do proper investigation,” Castro said. “And perhaps the only way that’s going to be possible now is to open an impeachment inquiry.”

Longtime impeachment supporters such as Financial Services Chairwoman Maxine Waters and Texas Rep. Al Green welcomed the growing number of colleagues joining their ranks.

Judiciary member Steve Cohen, who filed articles of impeachment against Trump in the last Congress and is waiting for special counsel Robert S. Mueller III to testify before doing so again this session, wants to get things moving but acknowledged that impeachment involves a “difficult internal political dynamic.” 

“It’s not going to be easy” to change Pelosi’s tune, the Tennessee Democrat admitted.

Another Judiciary member who supports opening an impeachment inquiry, Texas freshman Veronica Escobar, said the concern, especially among the so-called Frontline members who won in swing districts that helped Democrats regain control of the House, is that impeachment would be a distraction from the kitchen-table issues members promised voters they’d focus on.

Escobar is among the members who think Congress can do both and that waiting to proceed on impeachment only makes the politics more difficult.

“If we continue down this road and see repeated obstruction, so much time will come by that soon we’ll be in the campaign season. And then it looks political to the American public,” the Texas Democrat said. “So my personal belief is the time to act is now.”

Majority or minority view?

It’s hard to judge whether a majority or a minority of the Democratic Caucus supports moving forward with an impeachment inquiry. Members also have different opinions on where their colleagues are.

“We’re there,” California Rep. Jared Huffman said. “I am certain that if you polled our caucus, an overwhelming majority of us — for different reasons and with different sentiments attached to that — would say it’s time to start.”

Huffman said none of his colleagues are happy that this is where things have ended up, but they can’t ignore the ongoing obstruction by the administration.

“The downside of not starting an impeachment process is just becoming more glaring,” he said. “That reality is setting in for a lot of members.”

Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth agrees that support for opening an inquiry is growing, but he doesn’t believe it’s reached critical mass yet.

“The majority view of the caucus is that we need to vote to continue the investigation before we initiate an inquiry,” he said. 

Yarmuth said he is fine if Democrats don’t rush into opening an impeachment inquiry right now because Congress is investigating problems with Trump that go far beyond what’s detailed in Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election, like his financial dealings and potential violation of the Emoluments Clause.

“The speaker’s right that these investigations need to go on,” he said. “I don’t think they should go on interminably. There’s probably a time when we’ve got to hack it or not. My guess is that’s really fall, at the latest.”

Many of the arguments for and against beginning impeachment proceedings will likely be aired during the special Wednesday caucus meeting. Some members have not yet made up their minds about which side they come down on.

“I’m not sure,” Illinois Rep. Jan Schakowsky said. “I want to hear these arguments. I certainly, I believe that [Trump] has definitely committed impeachable offenses. The question is how do we proceed to follow up on all the misdeeds that we’ve seen.”

Griffin Connolly contributed to this report.

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