Speaker Nancy Pelosi doesn’t want to impeach President Donald Trump, but a growing number of her members are trying to drag her there.
Despite repeated pronouncements from the California Democrat that she doesn’t want to try to remove Trump from office — including taking a hard line in a series of tense leadership meetings Monday night — Pelosi faces increasing calls from her rank and file to trigger an impeachment inquiry.
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“It’s time to start,” said Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), a member of the House Intelligence Committee.
In an effort to mollify the growing pro-impeachment faction, Pelosi will hold a special members-only meeting Wednesday morning to fully brief lawmakers on House Democrats’ sprawling oversight efforts and investigations.
“Speaker Pelosi strongly encourages your boss to attend,” read a notice sent to members from her office late Tuesday, adding that the meeting would focus on “the great” victory Democrats won Monday regarding Trump’s financial records and “other litigation.”
The members-only huddle is Pelosi’s latest attempt to keep her caucus in line as the White House continues to fuel the conflict with the new House majority over its investigations and more Democrats speak out in favor of impeachment.
Trump on Tuesday blocked his former White House counsel from testifying in a highly anticipated House Judiciary Committee hearing. Lawmakers on the panel, which has jurisdiction over impeachment proceedings, said former White House counsel Don McGahn’s no-show was an “inflection point” in their thinking about what should happen next.
“I’m not saying this as the co-chair of the Progressive Caucus,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), a member of the Judiciary Committee backing the push to open an impeachment inquiry.
“There are actually a lot of frontline members who are coming up to me and saying … ‘A situation in which the president and the administration can completely, not just undermine, but actually destroy the foundations of checks and balances is something we can’t live with.'”
Still, there were some signs late Tuesday that Pelosi’s attempt to buttress leadership’s posture against impeachment was working.
Rep. Steve Cohen, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said he has drafted articles of impeachment and they’re “ready to go.” But the Tennessee Democrat later said that without Pelosi’s backing, “it’s not going to happen.”
And Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), one of the members of Pelosi’s own leadership team who pressed her on impeachment Monday night, was also taking a much more subdued approach on Tuesday.
“This isn’t a decision that gets to be made by me,” Cicilline said. “We recognize that the speaker will make that judgment, and I fully support her, obviously.”
The shift in tone comes after a remarkable few hours on Monday night when Pelosi and other top Democrats clashed with fellow members of the Democratic leadership team — including Cicilline — who pushed to begin impeachment proceedings. And the relative calm may be short-lived as House Democrats and the White House both opened new fronts in their ongoing war Tuesday.
The Judiciary Committee issued subpoenas for two former administration aides — Hope Hicks and Annie Donaldson — likely setting up another legal battle with Trump. House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff received a last-ditch attempt from the Justice Department to stave off a likely vote to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for a second time.
Trump also moved to appeal a Monday court ruling requiring his accounting firm to turn over eight years’ worth of his financial records to the House Oversight Committee.
“I don’t know what the president’s lawyers have up their sleeve. I don’t know what’s going to happen. I’m just going to play it day by day,” Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), said. “I have not been running around declaring victory. I just want to do my job. I don’t know what’s going to happen.”
And Democrats are increasingly frustrated with their inability to secure testimony from special counsel Robert Mueller, who is so far wary of testifying.
Calls for moving toward impeachment surfaced in multiple closed-door meetings Monday, as frustrated members of the Judiciary Committee and other rank-and-file Democrats vented about the White House’s repeated stonewalling of their investigations and urged Pelosi to begin the impeachment process.
“Yes, we do need to start an inquiry,” said Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.), one of several members of Judiciary who sharpened her stance his week.
“I think we’re at an inflection point. We’re no longer dealing with a president who obstructed the Mueller inquiry. He’s now obstructing Congress at every turn including telling witnesses who no longer work for the government that they cannot speak about public documents,” Scanlon said.
But at an emergency private meeting later Monday night, Pelosi rejected calls from House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler to move ahead with an impeachment inquiry, according to multiple sources. Nadler was also instructed to tell members of the panel not to bring up the notion of an impeachment inquiry at the panel’s high-profile hearing Tuesday, which McGahn skipped, defying a Democratic subpoena.
And not all Judiciary members are on board with opening an impeachment inquiry. Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.) hails from a Republican-leaning district and said she worries about the politics of the committee’s Trump investigation every day.
“I don’t take joy in this process at all, and I’m in great angst over this,” McBath said. “Nobody wants to see that we’re thinking about impeaching the leader of the free world. I don’t want to have to do that. “
McBath said the committee should stay focused on efforts to win subpoena fights in court — a push that got a boost Monday when a federal judge ruled that Congress has broad latitude to investigate the president, even without opening an impeachment inquiry.
Reps. Lou Correa (D-Calif.) and Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.) similarly suggested that Congress should stay its current course and not immediately pursue impeachment.
The issue did not come up at the caucus’ hour-long meeting Tuesday morning, which focused on the Trump administration’s heightened tensions with Iran.
But with McGahn defying Democrats, impeachment was on the minds of many rank-and-file members — several of whom said they were warming to the idea of moving toward impeachment.
“A couple of more moves like that latest is probably going to push me over. And I don’t celebrate it, it’s not something that makes me happy,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) said.
Nadler stopped short of endorsing an impeachment push at Tuesday’s empty-chair hearing with McGahn. But he vowed to take action in response.
“We will hold this president accountable, one way or the other,” Nadler said.
Key members of leadership are also backing the speaker, who worries any impeachment push would distract from the party’s agenda and could backfire politically.
“It’s clear to anybody who’s paying attention. We’re in the majority because of … [members] who did not run on impeachment, did not run on collusion, did not run on obstruction of justice,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said.
“That remains the North Star for the overwhelming majority of the House Democratic Caucus,” he said.
Other Pelosi allies insisted any movement toward impeachment was mostly contained to the Judiciary Committee.
“Judiciary members may be intense. But I fully support Nancy Pelosi where she is right now,” Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.) said. “We also have to deliver on prescription drugs and infrastructure, and a partisan impeachment would tear this country apart.”
John Bresnahan contributed to this story.