House speaker Nancy Pelosi has not wavered from her position on impeaching Donald Trump, which can be fairly summarized as "Maybe, but not yet." This cautious approach, so far, reflects the mood of the majority of her caucus, where 69 of its 235 members or 29 percent—mostly occupants of reliably blue seats—had openly expressed their support for a formal impeachment inquiry. Several, including Michigan's Rashida Tlaib and California's Maxine Waters, did so before the Mueller report's release in April; others, including New York congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, made up their minds shortly afterwards.
But this week, a pair of freshman Democrats who flipped two all-important swing districts last fall, Katie Porter of California and Sean Casten of Illinois, declared for the first time that they, too, are ready to invoke the constitutionally-prescribed method of holding a president accountable. In a video posted on Monday, Porter said she arrived at her decision only after "weeks of study, deliberation, and conversations" with her constituents in Orange County. The former law professor and protégé of Elizabeth Warren—who was the first Democratic presidential candidate to come out on impeachment—emphasized that she did not run for office intending to impeach the president. "But when faced with a crisis of this magnitude," she explained, "I cannot with a clean conscience ignore my duty to defend the Constitution."
Casten echoed this disclaimer-and-conclusion combination in a statement Thursday morning. "I ran to fight climate change, push for commonsense gun reform, uphold women’s right to choose, and strengthen our economy," he wrote. "But when our President displays blatant disregard for the law and undermines the fundamentals of our democratic institutions, it’s in our duty to use all of the tools at our disposal to uncover the whole truth." His announcement followed that of his fellow Illinois representative, House chief deputy whip Jan Schakowsky, who came out in favor of impeachment a day earlier. Schakowsky's seat is safe, but a close Pelosi ally and member of the Democratic leadership team is a significant addition to the pro-impeachment cohort.
Casten and Porter join New Jersey representative Tom Malinowski, who also took down a Republican incumbent in 2018, as the only three Democrats in vulnerable districts to back impeachment. (Michigan's Justin Amash, a Tea Partier who helped found the ultraconservative Freedom Caucus, remains the lone Republican to break ranks on the subject, and quickly earned a primary challenger next year as a result.) "There has to be some institution in our government that is willing to say this matters," Malinowski told the New Jersey Star-Ledger editorial board last month. "Some institution has to hold that line. Because if nobody holds that line, there is no line."
Among Democratic voters, support for impeachment is getting stronger. A Politico/Morning Consult poll released this week found that two-thirds of registered Democrats believe Congress should begin impeachment proceedings, and 52 percent say doing so should be a "top priority." Both figures represent slight increases from a version of the same survey conducted back in April. Among self-identified strong Democrats, the majorities are even more impressive—74 percent and 58 percent, respectively.
Among independents, though—the voters whose support propelled Malinowski and Casten to victory, and who helped Porter win in a GOP stronghold that hadn't been represented by a Democrat since its creation in 1983—support for impeachment remains muted. In that same Politico/Morning Consult poll, 31 percent of independent respondents support impeachment, while 48 percent oppose it and 20 percent remain undecided. In places where the margins of victory are razor-thin every year, lawmakers must be pragmatic about their impeachment stance, since they cannot afford to alienate those critical yet less-enthusiastic voters as they seek to keep their jobs and preserve their party's House majority.
The positions of elected officials like Porter and Casten and Malinowski, though, reflect the historical reality that impeachment can drive public opinion as easily as public opinion can drive impeachment. In the 15 months between the beginning of the Senate Watergate hearings and Richard Nixon's resignation, support for impeaching him famously never rose above 50 percent until the week he actually left office.
Her public-facing cautiousness aside, at various points since the Mueller report's release, Pelosi has characterized Trump as "engaged in a cover-up" and "not fit" to serve as president; called his conduct "villainous to the Constitution of the United States"; and told colleagues she wants to see Trump "in prison" for his crimes. "If the goods are there, you must impeach," she told reporters on Wednesday morning. As more members defending purple seats crunch the numbers, examine the "goods," and decide it is politically safe—or, at the very least, politically defensible—to move forward with impeachment, House Democrats inch a little closer to drawing Pelosi's logical conclusion.
Originally Appeared on GQ