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Democratic Reps. Luria and Spanberger of Virginia join calls for Trump’s impeachment

From left, Democratic Reps. Jennifer Wexton, Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria of Virginia. Spanberger and Luria have joined Wexton, and other Democratic members of the Virginia congressional delegation, in calling for the impeachment of President Trump. (Cal Cary, Ryan M. Kelly and Vicki Cronis-Nohe/For The Washington Post)

The day after two Democratic congresswomen from Virginia joined a chorus of calls to impeach President Trump, Reps. Elaine Luria and Abigail Spanberger got their wish.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) emerged Tuesday from a closed-door meeting with Democrats to announce a formal impeachment inquiry into the president’s conduct amid allegations that Trump pressured a foreign leader to investigate a political opponent.

After Pelosi told the caucus she was moving forward with the inquiry, Luria said, lawmakers clapped but the mood was sober.

“I didn’t come to Washington wanting to impeach the president,” said Luria, a former Navy commander who served in the military for 20 years. “It’s obviously a very sad day for our country.”

Rep. Abigail Spanberger (D-Va.) said Congress should start an impeachment inquiry into President Trump. (Video: Luis Velarde, Whitney Shefte, Rhonda Colvin/The Washington Post)

Luria and Spanberger won races in red districts that previously voted for Trump, part of a wave of moderate Democrats who helped flip the House in 2018. They both resisted earlier calls for impeachment by more-progressive members of the Democratic caucus.

But over the weekend, as news broke about Trump’s communications and actions toward Ukraine, Luria and Spanberger joined five fellow freshman lawmakers with backgrounds in national security to craft an op-ed in The Washington Post to announce their support for impeachment. It posted late Monday.

They urged their colleagues “to consider the use of all congressional authorities available to us,” including impeachment hearings, to investigate the allegations against Trump.

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The op-ed’s other authors were Reps. Gil Cisneros of California, Jason Crow of Colorado, Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania, Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey and Elissa Slotkin of Michigan.

Luria and Spanberger said that, unlike previous speculation about the president, the allegations that Trump attempted to manipulate Ukraine for his political gain, if true, were a clear violation.

“These allegations represent the sort of corruption that we are used to tracking in other nations [and] the sort of politics of self above else that we see in countries throughout the world, countries that we aspire not to be,” said Spanberger, a former CIA officer who served undercover working on counterterrorism and nuclear proliferation.

The seven lawmakers communicate constantly by text, and over the weekend the conversation turned exclusively to impeachment, Spanberger said.

On Sunday evening they arranged a group call to discuss the allegations, where they stood and what do to next.

“We decided to put pen to paper and see where that landed us,” she said.

Trump is alleged to have used his position to ask the Ukrainian president to investigate a political rival, while withholding military aid appropriated by Congress as leverage. His administration has also refused to give lawmakers a whistleblower complaint, as required by law, that reportedly includes concerns about the call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky.

On Tuesday, Trump confirmed that he had withheld military money from Ukraine but said he did so because of concerns that European allies were not contributing.

Luria, who represents a military-heavy district in Virginia Beach, also put out a separate statement calling for impeachment with no caveats.

She said the president’s actions show “a total disregard for our democratic political process.”

Both congresswomen spent Tuesday hopping from local and national television spots to meetings and a previously scheduled panel organized by the Atlantic.

All the while, more of their colleagues, including fellow Virginia Democratic Reps. Robert C. “Bobby” Scott, chairman of the House Education and Labor Committee, and A. Donald McEachin, joined the march toward impeachment.

Luria and Spanberger both said they made their decisions on impeachment because they thought it was the right thing to do, regardless of political risks they may face in their red districts. Experts say the women are counting on Democrats and independents for reelection.

Of the more than 150 calls Spanberger and Luria each received at their Capitol Hill and district offices about impeachment Tuesday, most of the callers supported impeaching Trump, and about 20 percent were opposed, they said.

Spanberger said she did not consider the impact on her reelection prospects when deciding whether to support impeachment, which she considers a matter of national security and election fairness. She is part of a task force of freshman lawmakers looking into election security.

“I trust the people of our district voted me as their representative because they thought I would be thoughtful and principled in my representation, and I believe that’s what I’m doing,” she said.

The National Republican Congressional Committee accused Luria and Spanberger of caving to the far left of their party.

“In districts President Trump won, Elaine Luria and Abigail Spanberger have dropped their phony moderate act to join their impeachment-obsessed base, and it will cost them their seats in 2020,” NRCC spokeswoman Camille Gallo said.

By Tuesday afternoon more than 150 lawmakers — a majority of House Democrats — favored impeachment, including most Democratic members of the House Judiciary Committee, which has taken the lead on investigations. Party leaders are also discussing the possible creation of a select committee to conduct impeachment.

Luria does not yet have a Republican challenger, although that is expected to change after the November legislative races.

Tina Ramirez, who leads a nonprofit organization devoted to religious liberty, is the only Republican so far raising money to run against Spanberger.

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Independent analysts at the Cook Political Report consider the races to be toss-ups, while forecasters at Inside Elections and the University of Virginia Center for Politics say the districts lean or tilt Democratic.

Rachel Bitecofer, a political scientist at Christopher Newport University, said favoring impeachment could help Luria’s and Spanberger’s reelection efforts.

“This particular incident is just such a clear-cut violation of the oath of office,” she said. “It becomes an untenable position for someone who purports to be a national security candidate to ignore flagrant abuses of power.”

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