‘Mueller didn’t do us any favors — he left us bread crumbs to follow,’ said Rep. Val Demings.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Monday rejected calls to launch impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump despite new voices in her caucus calling for the House to take that step in the aftermath of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.
The speaker vowed to wield the full power of her House majority to “uncover the truth” of Trump’s “highly unethical and unscrupulous behavior in his alleged attempts to obstruct justice. But the longtime Democratic leader wouldn’t endorse taking action to impeach the president despite a growing chorus from her party’s left flank to immediately hold hearings on the potential ouster of the president.
“We can investigate Trump without drafting articles,” she said during a call with House Democrats, referring to articles of impeachment, according to sources on the call. “We aren’t going to go faster, we are going to go as fast as the facts take us.”
“It is also important to know that the facts regarding holding the President accountable can be gained outside of impeachment hearings,” she wrote earlier Monday afternoon in a letter to House Democrats.
Other Democratic leaders stuck to their scripts on Monday, pledging to investigate Trump thoroughly and downplaying impeachment talk. But some Democrats expressed impatience with the party leadership’s resistance to begin a formal process for possible impeachment.
“We are struggling to justify why we aren’t beginning impeachment proceedings,” said Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, according to sources on the call. “As a 27-year law enforcement officer, and while I understand we need to see the full report and all supporting documents, I believe we have enough evidence now.”
“Mueller didn’t do us any favors,” Demings added, noting that “he left us bread crumbs to follow.”
Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.), who has supported beginning impeachment proceedings in the past, said Democrats must consider the downside “of the not [pursuing] impeachment in the face of this lawlessness.”
When one lawmaker, Rep. Suzanne Bonamici (D-Ore.) raised the prospect of a censure, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) — who is firmly in Pelosi’s one-step-at-a-time camp — said censure would be possible but legally meaningless.
Pelosi and top allies have spent weeks keeping a lid on impeachment fervor among progressives in the Democratic Caucus. Most of their colleagues have followed suit, promising thorough investigations. Even Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), one of the foremost impeachment advocates in the House, told colleagues on Monday’s call that while she supports moving ahead with it, she isn’t actively organizing with outside groups to pressure lawmakers to take that step.
Though Mueller reached no official decision on whether Trump obstructed justice — a decision he ascribed to technical considerations set out in Justice Department policy — he laid out evidence that suggested the president satisfied all the elements of the crime in multiple instances. The decision leaves House Democrats, who control the impeachment process, with a momentous choice that their leaders have long sought to avoid.
On Sunday, top Democrats seesawed between describing Trump’s conduct, as detailed by Mueller, in grave terms and insisting impeachment is not an immediate consideration.
“We may get to that. We may not. As I’ve said before, it is our job to go through all the evidence, all the information we can get,” said Nadler, whose committee is where any impeachment proceedings would begin.
Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, laid out the political calculus Democrats would have to make, knowing a Republican Senate would be almost certain to derail any impeachment effort, regardless of any evidence of obstruction in the Mueller report.
“That’s a very tough question, and I think is one we ought not to make overnight,” he said.
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer doused talk of impeachment last week, shortly after the Mueller report was made public, saying he didn’t think the process would be “worthwhile.” Instead, Democrats have demanded more hearings on Trump’s conduct and to hear from Barr — who oversaw the release of Mueller’s report and infuriated Democrats by painting a rosy picture of its findings for Trump. They also want to bring Mueller in to testify next month.
Democrats like Hoyer and Pelosi — who herself has downplayed the prospect of impeachment — are intimately familiar with the fraught politics of impeachment. They watched as Republicans’ efforts to remove President Bill Clinton sharply polarized the nation and then backfired on GOP lawmakers, who lost seats in the 1998 election, despite holding a typical historical advantage. Democrats today are hoping to avoid the same fate.
Democrats also surged to the House majority in January on the strength of wins in districts previously held by Republicans, and leaders are concerned that any drive toward a party-line impeachment effort could endanger their hold on those districts and the House.
Any impeachment effort led by the House likely would fail. Republicans in the GOP-controlled Senate have indicated they have no desire to remove the president from office.
But over the weekend, progressives began to rally behind the idea, led most notably by Democratic presidential contender Sen. Elizabeth Warren. The Massachusetts lawmaker has urged the House to begin the impeachment process as “a matter of principle.”