Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Democratic leaders on Wednesday tried to tamp down the brewing fervor among rank-and-file lawmakers to move more aggressively toward trying to impeach President Trump, even as she accused the president of engaging in a “cover-up.”
Pelosi (D-San Francisco) convened a closed-door meeting of her House Democratic members Wednesday morning in the basement of the Capitol to walk through the series of investigations and court cases Democrats have launched against the White House, with hopes of pumping the brakes on calls to move immediately to impeachment.
“That was really the message: Be a little bit patient,” said Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), a member of the House Oversight Committee. “Things are kind of breaking our way, and more is about to happen. Let’s not rush to something that we can’t take back.”
Pelosi has long advocated a cautious approach toward impeachment. But the White House’s refusal to cooperate with the House probes — his Cabinet and lawyers have snubbed congressional inquiries and subpoenas — prompted several rank-and-file lawmakers to publicly come out Tuesday in favor of impeachment.
She fortified the pro-impeachment crowd by emphasizing that the White House is engaging in a “cover-up.” She’s used the term before and House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) has urged Democrats to repeat the phrase as often as possible in their public comments, according to a Democratic source.
“We do believe it’s important to follow the facts. We believe that no one is above the law, including the president of the United States, and we believe that the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up — in a cover-up,” Pelosi said.
But the goal was to convince Democrats to ease up on the impeachment fervor.
She pulled her key allies — leaders of the committees that are conducting investigations — to catalog recent Democratic wins, such as a court ruling in favor of Congress’ oversight power.
Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Los Angeles), one of the chairs, spoke in support of impeachment, according to two lawmakers who were in the room. But other rank-and-file members told their colleagues that they can’t go there yet. They include California Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Fremont), a progressive, and Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-San Jose), a veteran lawmaker.
Pelosi also explicitly put on the table the idea of Congress using its so-called inherent contempt power — a rarely-invoked authority to directly enforce its subpoenas through fines or even jail time, instead of relying on the courts or Justice Department to enforce them, according to Democrats in the room.
Lawmakers are now confronting the reality of what was once a theoretical question about whether to impeach the president. It raises deep constitutional and philosophical questions that will have repercussions for the 2020 election and for future Congresses that want to do oversight of the executive branch.
“We’ve all been struggling with this on a personal basis about what’s the right thing to do given our obligation based on the oath we swore to the constitution,” said Rep. Katie Hill (D-Agua Dulce), who said the calls to her office about impeachment have risen dramatically, with 3-1 in support.
She acknowledged that future generations will judge lawmakers on how they act today. “This is a moment in history.”