Democrats who favor impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump showed new signs of life Thursday even after former special counsel Robert Mueller’s uneven testimony this week failed to sway reluctant House leaders.
FiveDemocrats publicly endorsed an impeachment inquiry post-Mueller, joining more than 90 lawmakers who had already come out in favor — including Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), vice chair of the House Democratic Caucus and the highest-ranking Democrat to join the effort.
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Even though some had anticipated a moresignificant groundswell of new support after Mueller’s appearance, these lawmakers insist the impeachment effortisn’t dead.
“We did exactly what we wanted to, and that was to allow the American people to hear some of the most damaging portions of the [Mueller] report directly from the special counsel’s mouth — and we were able to do that,” said Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), a member of the Judiciary and Intelligence committees and a supporter of an impeachment inquiry.
“So it certainly did not set back impeachment,” added Demings, who had two opportunities to question Mueller on Wednesday about his 448-page report.
Like Demings, other Democrats who support an impeachment inquiry vowed that their push would continue, even as they face a six-week August recess that could sap momentum and bring the country closer to the 2020 presidential primary season, when many Democrats view impeachment as untenable.
And Speaker Nancy Pelosi reiterated to Democrats on Thursday that despite Mueller’s testimony — and her assertion that Trump has committed crimes — she believes impeachment would be too divisive.
“We have a lot to protect here. … He isn’t worth dividing our country,” Pelosi told her leadership team in a closed-door meeting Thursday, the morning after Mueller’s testimony, according to multiple sources in the room.
But Democrats who favor impeachment proceedings said they are hopeful that despite any speed bumps caused by the Mueller hearings and his shaky performance, they would see a return to the daily drumbeat of new support from their colleagues — a steady climb that has inched closer to nearly half the 235-member Democratic caucus in recent weeks. Reaching that mark, they say, could change the conversation.
These lawmakers were also buoyed by Pelosi’s emphasis that she wouldn’t stand in the way of any Democrats who decide to publicly endorse impeachment, noting, “Everybody does their thing and nobody has ever said to anybody, ‘do not do this, do not do that.’ Do your own thing.”
Behind closed doors, however, Pelosi rejected House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler’s push to open an impeachment inquiry. Pelosialso appeared to brush aside criticisms Thursday over her handling of the impeachment question.
“I do kind of not feel too comfortable when people say, ‘If you care about the Constitution, you would be for impeachment. If you are not for impeachment, you don’t care about the Constitution,’” she said, according to sources in the room. “Thank you very much, we all do.”
As lawmakers prepare to leave Washington for the summer recess, Pelosi’s posture leaves a muddled picture for Democrats hoping to reenergize impeachment efforts. Though time away from Washington could dampen enthusiasm among impeachment supporters, it’s also a chance for advocacy organizations to target lawmakers from the left — through ads or town hall protests.
And amid that jumble is an approaching point at which many Democrats acknowledge impeachment would no longer be feasible.
“There is a time certain at which point it wouldn’t make a lot of sense to do impeachment, but that time hasn’t come yet,” said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a House Judiciary Committee member who supports opening an impeachment inquiry.
Lieu said he viewed the February 2020 Iowa Caucuses as the ultimate deadline for considering impeachment, adding that he would respect whatever decision Pelosi reaches on impeachment as she consults with the full Democratic Caucus.
Pelosi said her timetable for considering impeachment proceedings would, in part, be based on the House’s ongoing court fights to obtain Trump’s financial records and force Mueller’s witnesses to testify to Congress — processes that could take months or years to resolve.
“My position has always been that whatever decision we make in that regard would have to be done with our strongest possible hand, and we still have some outstanding matters in the courts,” she said Wednesday shortly after Mueller testified. “It’s about the Congress, the Constitution and the courts. And we are fighting the president in the courts.”
But some Democrats who favor impeachment proceedings view relying on the slow-moving court processas a risky proposition.
“We don’t control the court calendar. And so we can only go as far as the court calendar allows us to be in court,” Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), chairwoman of the Financial Services Committee and a longtime supporter of impeaching Trump, said in an interview. “We give the subpoenas; they’re going to resist the subpoenas.”
Rep. Lori Trahan (D-Mass.), the first lawmaker after Mueller’s testimony to announce support for an impeachment inquiry, was a congressional staffer during Bill Clinton’s impeachment in the late 1990s and said she understands how “disruptive” impeachment is to the country. But she said Mueller’s hearings allows the public to better understand why an impeachment inquiry is a sound path.
“A lot of people are going to go home to their districts and see and hear where they’re at,” Trahan said. “It’s a decision that you have to arrive at based on the input that you’re getting.”
Demings said she expects impeachment to be one of the top issues she hears about when she holds town halls in her district in August.
The immediate next step for House Democrats is to file twin lawsuits aimed at defeating the Trump administration’s defiance of their subpoenas.
The first is an effort to compel former White House counsel Don McGahn’s testimony before the Judiciary Committee; the second is a lawsuit seeking a court order to release Mueller’s grand jury evidence, which is kept secret by law.
Still, some Democrats are ready to move on from the Mueller report and worry that the continued uncertainty about the fate of impeachment could be a drag on Democrats.
“If we just let this overshadow all these other issues for a longer period of time, we are really endangering the election for the Democrats,” said Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-N.J.).
Heather Caygle contributed to this report.