House Democrats don’t have a majority for impeachment, but support is growing
When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke last weekend at the California state Democratic Party convention, she was greeted with cries of “Impeach! Impeach!” from the crowd.
The reality, however, is far different: Among House Democrats, a majority do not currently support even opening a formal impeachment inquiry, let alone an actual vote to impeach President Trump, House members and staff say.
About one-quarter of House Democrats publicly support opening an impeachment inquiry against Trump. More say they are moving closer to that position as the White House continues to defy congressional demands for documents and witnesses.
The growing support for an impeachment inquiry creates the potential for a dramatic clash with the Trump administration this summer over Congress’ investigative demands. But the wide range of views over impeachment continues to shape Pelosi’s strategy as she maneuvers to keep the Democrats from dividing over the issue.
The spectrum of opinions can be seen in stark relief in the vast, 46-member Democratic delegation from California, home to one in five House Democrats.
Twelve California Democrats publicly support starting an impeachment inquiry. In recent days, several more have signaled that they see evidence of impeachable offenses or that they feel impeachment is all but inevitable amid what they call stonewalling from the White House.
“I’m evolving,” said Rep. Scott Peters of San Diego, a centrist.
“I support the speaker’s notion of following the facts through these hearings.” But, he said, on the question of whether to move from holding hearings into Trump’s conduct to opening a formal impeachment inquiry, “I heard a lot of people at home say, ‘What’s the difference?’ So I’m not sure quite how we label it. But, I think, I predict that that’s where it’s headed.”
Like Democrats on the whole, the majority of House Democrats from California — more than 30 of them — don’t currently support an impeachment inquiry, according to the lawmakers or their spokespeople. Their positions fall somewhere on a spectrum from those who say they are nearly ready to start an inquiry to those who would rather talk about the issues that they say won them the majority, such as healthcare and infrastructure.
In recent weeks, however, many of the members who have not been calling for an inquiry appear to be moving closer to the idea.
Some have already gone a long way down the road.
“Let’s get ready for impeachment of this president,” Rep. Eric Swalwell of Dublin said on a recent CNN town hall. “That’s where we’re headed.”
Others suggest that they don’t support an inquiry now because the evidence isn’t there to convince a skeptical public that impeachment is warranted, but that they would be ready to move if it becomes clear.
Rep. Linda Sanchez of Whittier said she would support starting impeachment proceedings “should the facts lead us to a strong case against the president.”
Reps. Karen Bass of Los Angeles and John Garamendi of Walnut Grove both voted in support of an impeachment resolution last year when Republicans controlled the House. Now that Democrats are in charge, and impeachment is a real possibility, they do not support starting the process — yet.
Bass said she worries that the public needs time to understand the difference between impeachment — which the House can do alone — and removal, which requires agreement of two-thirds of the Senate.
“I need time to do the work with the people in my district to understand what impeachment is and what impeachment isn’t,” she said. “So why would we do this now when we haven’t done the work of educating the public?”
Garamendi wants more investigation into obstruction of justice “to determine whether there is hard evidence on which impeachment proceedings can be based,” a spokesman said. “If there is, then he will support impeachment.”
Several House Democrats have drawn a line in the sand on any move by Trump to defy a court order to turn over information or documents. They include Reps. Katie Hill of Agua Dulce, Harley Rouda of Laguna Beach and Lou Correa of Santa Ana.
Pelosi, of San Francisco, has been trying to hold back the impeachment push, arguing that Congress should only move if the evidence is overwhelming and the support is bipartisan. Democrats aligned with Pelosi worry that a rush to impeachment wouldn’t have public support, potentially costing Democrats the presidency and control of the House in 2020.
She has been able to strike a balance between impeachment supporters and those who are more critical by pushing back on the Trump administration when officials have defied Congress’ investigations.
Another opportunity will come next week as the House plans to vote on contempt of Congress citations against Atty. Gen. William Barr and former White House Counsel Don McGahn for snubbing subpoenas.
On Wednesday, Pelosi said the House is purposefully “on a path” but stopped short of saying whether impeachment lay at the end of that road.
“When you’re impeaching somebody, you want to make sure you have the strongest possible indictment, because it’s not the means to the end that people think,” she said.
Still, several Democrats who may support impeachment have acceded to her cautious approach.
“A lot of that is because of Speaker Pelosi,” said Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), one of the most vocal backers of impeachment. “If it was Speaker Cohen, it would be different.”
Rep. Brad Sherman of Northridge introduced his own articles of impeachment two years ago but today “leaves it to leadership as to what the official title of the hearings are,” according to a spokesman.
Rank-and-file Democrats say they respect Pelosi’s political acumen. So far, few are willing to criticize her decision even if they don’t agree with her.
“I feel like our voices are being respected and heard,” said Rep. Jared Huffman of San Rafael, another supporter of opening an impeachment inquiry.
“I’m not aware of anyone who has been told to sit down and shut up.”
Huffman is in the minority now. But he predicts the impeachment support will only grow with time.
The issue will only come to a head if there is a House vote related to impeachment. Pelosi could allow a vote to start an impeachment inquiry. Or, because of special rules surrounding impeachment, any rank-and-file member could force the House to vote on bringing articles of impeachment against Trump.
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