The "i-word" has been on the tongues and in the tweets of several of California's House Democrats. Rep. Jackie Speier has said impeachment is "really the only way we can go" if the facts show President Trump obstructed justice in the Russia investigation. Rep. Ted Lieu tweeted a photo of his weekend reading: a report on the impeachment process. Rep. Maxine Waters led a chant of "Impeach 45!" at the recent L.A. Pride Parade.
But only one member of Congress has actually begun the procedure: Brad Sherman, an 11-term Democrat who represents Los Angeles' San Fernando Valley, has drafted and circulated articles of impeachment.
Sherman's move puts him at odds with House Democratic leaders, who have tried to quell talk of impeachment to keep the focus on the economy, healthcare and the investigation into Russia's interference in the presidential election.
The impeachment proposal, which Sherman released earlier this month, accuses Trump of trying to thwart the investigation into former national security advisor Michael Flynn and threatening former FBI director James B. Comey, who was heading the inquiry.
Passing the measure will be nearly impossible under a Republican-controlled House, and then it would take a two-thirds vote of the Republican-controlled Senate to remove Trump from office.
Sherman has said he has "no illusions" that the proposal will pass anytime soon, but he has other goals.
"I think that the president's approach to governance is a threat to the republic," Sherman said in an interview this week. "I'm circulating the articles to try to move one step closer in the process and also, hopefully … push the White House to say we've got to move toward competence."
In a letter to colleagues, Sherman said he wants the Judiciary Committee to consider his proposal. But he has also said he'd be willing to use a procedural move to bring it to the House floor "after consultation with colleagues and leadership." Such a tactic could force Democrats into an on-the-record vote on impeachment that many of them consider premature.
In a closed-door meeting of House Democrats, Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi of San Francisco said it was "a big deal to talk about impeachment," and she believed Trump would "self-impeach," according to a person with knowledge of the meeting. Another colleague said such moves were "selfish" and could put House Democrats at political risk. (Rep. Al Green, a Democrat from Texas, has also said he will draft articles of impeachment, but has not released them.)
As House speaker, Pelosi fought the failed efforts to impeach President George W. Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney during their second terms.
Only two presidents have been impeached — Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton — and none have been removed. Democrats used Clinton's impeachment to fire up their base and made record gains in the House in 1998.
"I do think the issue of impeachment is a very profound issue, one that strikes at the core of our democracy," said Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) at a news conference after the closed-door meeting, adding that many in the caucus agreed "further discussion" is necessary before a measure like Sherman's makes it to the floor.
Sherman says no other members have signed on to support his proposal, and he has assured Pelosi he won't ask for a floor vote on impeachment without consulting the Democratic caucus.
Lieu, who represents Torrance and sits on the Judiciary Committee, doesn't intend to co-write Sherman's measure. Lieu's spokesman said the congressman believes that "aside from declaring war, impeaching a president is the gravest action members of Congress can take and it should never be the first option."
The impeachment effort is a bold move for Sherman, who is viewed as a locally focused politician. He has spent most weekends at ribbon cuttings, community festivals and other low-key events in his district, earning him a loyal following and reelection by 72% of voters last November.
"I think he's taking something of a risk," said Parke Skelton, Sherman's longtime political advisor. "Brad is willing to strike an independent route when he feels very strongly about something."
Sherman's strong stance could hint at his future ambitions.
A poll released in January ostensibly offered an early glimpse of the still-unsettled 2018 race for California governor. It also floated Sherman's name as a possible candidate for U.S. Senate if Sen. Dianne Feinstein chooses to retire, and put his numbers ahead of state Senate leader Kevin de León's.
The Public Policy Polling survey was paid for by Jeffrey Haines, a longtime Sherman donor who has contributed more than $30,000 stretching back to 1998.
Sean Clegg, a political consultant for Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democratic candidate for governor in 2018, said the hypothetical U.S. Senate field used in the survey appeared somewhat "artificial."
"Is this an indication of interest by Brad Sherman or his supporters of a candidacy for Senate? It sure looks like it to me," Clegg said.
Sherman said that the only seat he's running for right now is his own, and he intends to urge his constituents to vote for Feinstein, who has not announced whether she'll run for reelection in 2018.
The pressure could also easily be coming from Sherman's own district, where Democrats hold a nearly 30-point advantage in voter registration.
A group has promised to gather outside his office weekly to support Sherman's effort. About 30 attended last Thursday, some holding "Impeach" signs. But with the warnings from leadership and after the shooting of House Republican Whip Steve Scalise, Sherman says he's proceeding with caution.
Pelosi "is against 1,000 degrees of temperature on impeachment right now," Sherman acknowledged. "I have one candle. How many degrees is that?"
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