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House Dem impeachment support gains new momentum

By Kyle Cheney

Public support among House Democrats for impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump is growing despite Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s attempts to halt the effort.

More than two dozen Democrats who hadn’t previously taken a position voted Wednesday to advance a measure to impeach the president over his racist attack on their colleagues. Before Wednesday, about 85 Democrats had publicly called for an impeachment inquiry — over one third of the 235-member House Democratic caucus.

The new outpouring comes before next week’s Capitol Hill testimony by former special counsel Robert Mueller, which is expected to inspire many more lawmakers to join them. Pelosi’s resistance to impeachment, while firm, could be undercut if enough Democrats sign on publicly to remove the president.

If all 27 of the Democratic lawmakers who for the first time sided with Green were to publicly seek an impeachment inquiry, it would put nearly half of House Democrats in that camp.

One of them, Rep. Donald Payne Jr. of New Jersey, said he supports an impeachment inquiry but hadn’t confirmed it publicly until now because he hadn’t been asked. Doris Matsui of California also supports an inquiry. Another, Rep. Karen Bass of California, chair of the influential Congressional Black Caucus, would support opening an impeachment inquiry against Trump if it comes up for a vote in the House Judiciary Committee, an aide said.

And Rep. Lucille Roybal-Allard’s office confirmed that the California Democrat supports an “impeachment inquiry to determine whether or not there are legal grounds for impeachment.”

But the situation is complex. POLITICO reached out to all 27 lawmakers who voted Wednesday to advance Al Green's narrowly tailored articles of impeachment. In interviews or statements from their offices, several revealed they were ready to publicly call for Trump’s ouster or for impeachment proceedings to begin. But others said they joined Green only for technical legislative reasons that had little to do with seeking Trump’s immediate impeachment.

The camp of outright impeachment supporters now includes Reps. Peter Welch of Vermont and Rick Larsen of Washington. Larsen, said he became motivated to support impeachment after Trump’s comments urging four minority congresswomen to “go back” to their home countries — including three who were born in the United States

“I do not come to this decision lightly,” Larsen said in a statement. “His comments do not protect the concept of U.S. citizenship. They undermine it. He should not be the President of the United States.”

Others took a more nuanced view. Rep. Frank Pallone of New Jersey, chairman of the powerful House Energy and Commerce Committee, said he voted with Green because he personally believes Trump has committed offenses worthy of impeachment — but added he’s hesitant to formally seek an inquiry that would be doomed in the Senate.

“Personally, I think he has obstructed justice and has done all these things that would qualify for impeachment. That’s why I vote the way I did,” Pallone said. “Because the Senate will never take up an impeachment, it’s not something I think we should spend our time on.”

Similarly, House Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot Engel of New York said he voted with Green simply to keep open the option of impeachment, even though he’s not ready to embrace an impeachment inquiry.

Despite the new groundswell of support, a slew of others who sided with Green said they did so over a procedural technicality: that the measure should have been referred to the Judiciary Committee instead of summarily blocked.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler of New York cited this procedural dispute as the reason he sided with Green, as did the No. 2 Democrat on his committee, Zoe Lofgren of California and a freshman member of the panel, Sylvia Garcia of Texas. Reps. Mike Thompson of California, Dina Titus of Nevada, Anthony Brown of Maryland and Grace Meng of New York, who aren’t members of the committee, also said they voted with Green because they backed Nadler’s position.

“I will support an impeachment inquiry when it becomes necessary in order to get the truth for my constituents,” Meng said in a statement.

Meng noted, though, that she’ll carefully eye Mueller’s testimony next week as she weighs her decision. So did Lori Trahan of Massachusetts.

“Her vote makes clear that Congress stands ready to hold the president accountable and will not hesitate to assert its authority. She looks forward to special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony next week,” a Trahan spokesman said.

One notable vote with Green was Rep. Mike Levin, a freshman California Democrat from a swing district who hadn’t taken a definitive stand on whether to support an impeachment inquiry. In a statement, Levin said he joined Green for the same technical reason as Nadler but noted he’s looking ahead to Mueller’s testimony next week.

“I will support an impeachment inquiry when it becomes necessary in order to get the truth for my constituents,” Levin said.

Other Democrats who voted with Green cited philosophical reasons — but not the desire necessarily to pursue Trump’s impeachment.

“What is this country coming to?” said Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.). “I’m not ready for impeachment, but I’m just disgusted by the rhetoric in this country.”

Rep. Frederica Wilson of Florida said she’s “torn” about what to do but has worried that a failed attempt at impeaching Trump could play into his hands.

California lawmakers Jimmy Gomez and Jerry McNerney said they’d support an impeachment debate on the House floor.

At least eight members of the Congressional Black Caucus who hadn’t previously sought Trump’s impeachment voted to advance Green’s articles of impeachment. But several of them told POLITICO they were making a broader statement about Trump’s racist comments rather than aligning with the impeachment effort.

“I think it represents a larger more important conversation that we need to have about ... what we’re willing to tolerate as a citizenry from our commander in chief,” said Andre Carson (D-Ind.). “What responsibility the commander in chief has to the electorate in terms of not fanning the flames of Islamophobia, xenophobia and outright hatred.”

Four of the 27 Democrats who voted with Green — Reps. Joyce Beatty of Ohio, Nita Lowey of New York, Katherine Clark of Massachusetts and David Scott of Georgia — did not respond to requests for comment. A sixth, Eddie Bernice Johnson of Texas, declined to comment.

Notably, more than a dozen lawmakers who already favor an impeachment inquiry voted to sideline Green’s articles of impeachment. Several argued that Green’s focus on Trump’s racism excluded other evidence of potentially impeachable offenses like obstruction of justice.

“We’re not going to take someone and say, ‘Well let’s charge him with manslaughter when he committed mass murder,’’” said Rep. Val Demings of Florida.

Andrew Desiderio contributed to this report.