Opinion writer

As of the latest count, there are 68 Democrats in the House of Representatives (and one Republican) who have publicly stated their support for launching impeachment hearings into President Trump.

That’s quite a way from the 218 that would eventually be needed at the end of the process to approve articles of impeachment. But it’s a number growing almost by the day, particularly as the Trump administration refuses to cooperate with congressional inquiries and acts as though it’s above the law.

Even if there isn’t a majority in the House supporting impeachment itself yet, one could argue that there’s more than enough justification to begin an impeachment inquiry. That’s one of the big misconceptions around the question of impeachment, and it was brought up again Monday night when Rep. Katie Porter released the video above, stating support for beginning that inquiry.

“I cannot with a clean conscience ignore my duty to defend the Constitution,” the California Democrat said. “I can’t claim to be committed to rooting out corruption and putting people over politics and then not apply those same principles and standards in all of the work I do.”

Porter’s decision is significant for a couple of reasons. First, she’s one of the stars of the freshman class in Congress. Even if she hasn’t reached the “vilified nightly on Fox News” level of Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ilhan Omar, Porter has distinguished herself on the Financial Services Committee with her smarts and knowledge. She vivisected JPMorgan Chase chief executive Jamie Dimon on the issue of whether people working at his bank can afford to live on what they’re paid.

So as someone with a relatively high profile who hadn’t taken a position on impeachment until now, she was bound to get attention with her decision.

More important, she isn’t from a safe Democratic district. The New York Times recently reported that the ultimate decision on impeachment will rest with Democrats representing swing districts, who as a group are much more reluctant about it than their colleagues who hold safe seats. Porter, who hadn’t yet made her decision, was one of those quoted by the Times.

She hails from Orange County, Calif., which was long a Republican stronghold though has recently become more demographically diverse and has begun trending Democratic. In 2016, Hillary Clinton beat Trump there by five points; in 2018, Porter unseated Republican Rep. Mimi Walters by a four-point margin.

That’s certainly not enough to feel secure that her constituents will automatically support her decision. The reason Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she’s resisting calls for impeachment is to protect members such as Porter from a hypothesized backlash.

But Porter is clear in her video that what she’s supporting is an inquiry, the first step. Her office also released a nine-page explainer answering questions about impeachment itself and what’s in the Mueller report that led her to this decision.

This is an important point, because even though many (perhaps even most) voters think “impeachment” means removing the president from office, it’s entirely possible, in theory anyway, that you could have an impeachment inquiry that concluded with no vote to impeach.

For now, Porter is advocating only the first step, an inquiry carried out by the House Judiciary Committee. Should Pelosi allow it (which, at the moment, she won’t), that process can begin without the full House voting on it, and thus without vulnerable members taking a vote yet, if that’s what they’re afraid of.

At the end of that investigation, the committee can approve articles of impeachment, which would then be voted on by the full House. But even if they started tomorrow, that vote could be months away.

There’s another important piece of context to consider. Democrats are reportedly frustrated that because of the never-ending Trump show they can’t get all the attention they’d like, whether it’s for their presidential candidates or for their initiatives on issues such as health care and immigration.

But the reality is that because it has the word “impeachment” attached to it, such an investigation would get a level of attention Democrats can’t achieve with almost anything else they do. The theory that “We’ll investigate Trump through ordinary hearings, and that will have the same effect in convincing the public of his misdeeds” doesn’t work if the public is barely aware the hearings are happening.

Now add in the increasing frustration of Democrats about the administration’s stonewalling, which some have specifically cited in their support for impeachment. That’s not only because that stonewalling may itself be an impeachable offense (the articles of impeachment for President Richard M. Nixon declared that he had defied “duly authorized subpoenas”), but also because Democrats are starting to feel that only an impeachment inquiry can pry out information Congress is seeking.

What all this means is that the number of Democrats supporting the commencement of an impeachment inquiry — including those with plenty of Republican constituents — is only going to grow. And as far as I know, there are few if any House Democrats who say that Trump doesn’t deserve to be impeached on the merits, whatever the politics of it might be. They just have to decide to do something about it.

Watch:

Read more:

Eugene Robinson: On impeachment, Nancy Pelosi has to pick her poison

Laurence H. Tribe: Impeach Trump. But don’t necessarily try him in the Senate.

George F. Will: Impeachment would be a debacle

Greg Sargent: Democratic equivocation over impeachment is a moral and political disaster

Ron Fournier: Will impeachment backfire on Democrats? Not if they do it right.