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House Democrats Have a Decision to Make—Impeach Trump or Not?

Luke Johnson

House Democrats are faced with a decision before them—to impeach or not to impeach President Donald Trump.

The question came to the forefront of the public consciousness following Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s May 29 statement when he said that he had followed Department of Justice guidelines in not indicting a president while in office but did not exonerate Trump on allegations of obstruction of justice.

The House of Representatives, therefore, could take the obstruction of justice allegations that Mueller outlined, and open an impeachment inquiry. This would lead to the removal of the president, should two-thirds of Republican senators vote to convict, which seems currently remote. However, since Mueller’s statement, more Democratic voters overall and House Democrats have voiced support for impeachment.

While a growing number of Democrats favor opening an impeachment inquiry, they face an obstacle in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who has resisted calls to do so. And only 59 Democrats, according to the New York Times, have publicly favored an inquiry; while 64 do not support it, do not support it now, or are undecided; and 112 have not stated a position.

Part of the reason that more do not support impeachment is Pelosi, said Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, which would conduct impeachment hearings. He estimated that the Democratic caucus was three or two-and-a-half-to-one against opening an inquiry, and “a lot of that is because of Speaker Pelosi. And there’s a reason her name is speaker. Speaker Cohen? It’d be different,” he said, speaking to reporters on Capitol Hill on June 4.

Meanwhile, some Democrats, particularly in safe Democratic districts, are clamoring for an impeachment inquiry, including Cohen.

“We have heard from our constituents, and there is an overwhelming sense that Congress needs to stop the lawlessness,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.).

But Raskin and Cohen publicly are in the minority. Some members have echoed Pelosi’s line that it’s best to hold off for now.

“I am not prepared to vote yes right now,” said Rep. Mark Takano (D-Calif.). “It’s not clear to me that an impeachment inquiry gives us anything more than moving forward with vigorously enforcing our subpoenas.” He nevertheless said that Trump behaved “egregiously and has been been showing himself to think he’s above the law.”

Beyond Takano, a number of Democrats in more conservative districts have echoed Pelosi’s line or gone further and opposed impeachment.

But there is a question over how long the hold-off-for-now position can last.

The Trump administration has ratcheted up the conflict with Congress by refusing oversight attempts from Congress. The Trump administration has continued to defy congressional subpoenas for current and former officials, the latest being former Trump aide Hope Hicks. Frustrated with their stonewalling, House Democrats are set to vote next week on a contempt citation for Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn for refusing to comply.

The slow trend of more House Democrats supporting impeachment seemed clear.

“We’re getting closer but there’s a distance, there’s still a pretty good gap,” said Cohen. “Did it go up while we were talking?” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), laughing, at a briefing for reporters. “We’re all talking about this, just as you’re all talking about this,” he added, referring to impeachment.

But as more members come out in favor of impeachment, it could influence public opinion, said Raskin. “A lot of people are influenced by members of Congress,” he said, “but as members of Congress begin to change their minds, you’ll see public opinion change on this.”

A recent CNN poll showed that the uptick in public support for impeachment came mostly because of a rebound in support among Democrats, indicating that Mueller’s public statement may well have had an impact in a way that the written report did not.

But Democrats, even those agreeing on impeachment, are even divided on whether impeachment would happen. House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) recently walked back comments suggesting that impeachment would happen, saying it was not inevitable.

“In politics, nothing is inevitable but nothing is impossible. It’s only possible through the democratic arts of organizing and public education,” said Raskin, when asked about the inevitability of impeachment.

Cohen, meanwhile, sounded optimistic that Pelosi would come around.

“She’s continuing to sound like that at the end of the rainbow there’s going to be an impeachment,” he said. “That’s the pot of gold. I think she foresees it.”

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