House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) tried again this week to shift focus away from a divisive debate over impeachment and move it to a signature issue that Democrats credit with helping them win back a majority in that chamber: healthcare.
After a panel discussion on the Democrats’ health policy agenda in Monterey Park on Monday, Pelosi deflected questions about impeachment from reporters and said the news media were placing “a great deal of attention” on the topic.
“What we’re doing is legislating. We’ve sent bills to the Senate that talk about our Dreamers, we’ve sent bills to the Senate that talk about gun violence prevention,” Pelosi said, adding that she believes those issues are “unifying, they’re not dividing for our country.”
Minutes after the event concluded, Orange County freshman Rep. Katie Porter (D-Irvine) announced in a video that she supports opening an impeachment inquiry against President Trump.
The conflicting messages provide a preview of the ongoing struggle House leaders face as they try to contain talk of impeachment this summer. More than a quarter of Democrats in the House have publicly supported opening an impeachment inquiry, 14 of them from California.
Pelosi’s panel on Monday, which also included Rep. Judy Chu (D-Monterey Park) and Los Angeles County Supervisor Hilda Solis, was billed by Democrats as part of a “weekend of action” on healthcare. The renewed focus on key issues for Democrats is the latest sign that party leaders aren’t willing to budge on impeachment until public support is clear.
“When we won that election in November, it was all healthcare, healthcare, healthcare, healthcare,” Pelosi told the audience of several hundred people at East Los Angeles College in Chu’s district. “It was because it is so important to people’s lives.”
Meanwhile, Trump said over the weekend that he is working on a new healthcare plan, promising to roll out details within two months. Republicans on Capitol Hill want to move on from the debate over repealing the Affordable Care Act and are focusing instead on more narrow legislation to reduce healthcare costs.
House Democratic leaders said more than 140 healthcare-focused events were planned by House members across the country, part of a “drumbeat across America” on healthcare over the weekend.
But the beat wasn’t very loud in California’s most competitive districts. Although Rep. TJ Cox (D-Fresno) visited a rural health center in the Central Valley and Rep. Gil Cisneros (D-Yorba Linda) toured a nonprofit hospital and held a roundtable discussion with administrators in Orange County, neither event was publicized and both were closed to the news media.
Invitations to a telephone town hall on healthcare hosted by Rep. Katie Hill (D-Agua Dulce) went out to “randomly selected” constituents without advance notice to reporters. And Porter did not host a healthcare-focused event this weekend, her staff said.
The events coincided with a series of pro-impeachment rallies Saturday, including actions in all four Orange County swing districts that Democrats must protect to hold on to their majority in the House.
At a gathering in the coastal Orange County district of Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Laguna Beach), dozens of people lined up, using their bodies to spell out “IMPEACH” in the sand.
Several in attendance seemed willing to give Rouda, who has not yet come out in full support of impeachment, some leeway in his Republican-leaning district, particularly after Rouda said recently that he would call for impeachment proceedings if the White House fails to comply with congressional subpoenas by the end of June.
“I think we should impeach, but I am not ready to condemn [Rouda] for not doing it yet,” retired teacher Phyllis Totri said. “I keep thinking Nancy Pelosi has some secret plan.”
Carol Churchill, who lives in the reliably Democratic Long Beach district of Rep. Alan Lowenthal and contributed money to Rouda and Porter last year, said she’s eager for California Democrats to take more active roles in calling for impeachment.
As an attorney, Churchill said, she understands the desire to follow a trail of evidence through House investigations.
“I get that, but it’s not fast enough for me,” she said. “I want them to take vocal action.”
While some Democratic activists are torn as to what strategy they’d like to see House members take on impeachment, Californians — and Americans — are split on whether it should be pursued at all.
In a recent NBC national poll, 27% of Americans and 48% of Democrats said Congress should begin the impeachment process. A statewide poll conducted for The Times by the Institute of Governmental Studies at UC Berkeley showed a slim majority of California Democrats, 53%, and 35% of registered voters supported starting impeachment proceedings.
The findings illustrate the difficult position Pelosi faces in trying to protect a House majority built on vulnerable new members who must navigate between the left-leaning activists who helped elect them and independent voters they must win over to ensure they hang on to their seats.
Totri and others said they hoped the weekend’s rallies would help turn the tide of public opinion in support of impeachment and show Pelosi and other members that their constituents support it.
“We’re saying to our representatives specifically that we want impeachment, we think that’s the next step and we want them to take that step as well,” said Aaron McCall, chairman of the group Indivisible OC 48 in Rouda’s district. “These are the people in their districts who went out and volunteered for them and fought for them and supported them, and they’re saying, ‘We need you to go out and take a stand and do what’s right.’”
Times staff writer Jennifer Haberkorn contributed to this report.
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