Rep. Norma J. Torres (D-Calif.) was not for impeaching President Trump — until she read the Mueller report. The moderate Democrat says special counsel Robert S. Mueller III convinced her that House Democrats should begin impeachment proceedings right away against Trump, regardless of any political consequences to their party.
As Democrats debate what to do, it will be voices like Torres’s that will ultimately shape their decision. She spoke by phone to The Fix on Tuesday. Our conversation has been edited for length.
The Fix: Why were you, before the Mueller report came out, against impeachment?
Torres: My calculation before the report came out was that the investigation had already started, and I wanted to make sure that we did not get in front of that.
However, once the report came out what changed my mind was two or three different things.
Number one: Clearly there was something up with the Trump campaign’s contact with WikiLeaks and the dissemination of information that was obtained by hacking.
Number two: There were 10 attempts by President Trump to impede the investigation by Mueller.
From my point of view, we have enough information that this president has total disregard for the rule of law, that this president is utilizing every tool at his disposal to block any investigation and to hold himself above the law.
Impeachment is a political proceeding and regardless of the votes from the GOP, everyone should be concerned about preventing and obstructing the rule of law.
The Fix: What do you think of the argument House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is making that Congress should keep looking into this via regular congressional investigations rather than jump to impeachment proceedings?
Torres: I think there is enough evidence in front of us to move forward. Speaker Pelosi may have additional information that I am not privy to that she may be fighting to make public, which is the reason why I will not sign onto any impeachment documents that have been introduced or are currently being introduced without the support of the caucus.
But if it came up for a vote today, I would vote to impeach this president.
The Fix: Democratic leaders are also arguing that there needs to be Republican buy-in for any impeachment effort; otherwise it’s a waste of time.
Torres: That was my position before, was that we needed to continue to focus on our work, continue to focus on the American priorities such as public health, continuing to work to lower the price of drugs, continue to lower the costs of health care, infrastructure.
But all of the good legislation is being killed either in the Senate or by President Trump himself. So he’s blocking every effort from Democrats to get anything done, and this is why I’m saying if the people’s agenda isn’t being listened to by the GOP or President Trump, then we need to meet them where they want to be met. And that is a political debate about all of the things President Trump has been doing regarding the rule of law and holding himself above the law.
The Fix: What do you think about the argument that Democratic voters and swing voters care more about kitchen-table issues than impeachment.
Torres: Absolutely. When I talk to my constituents, those are the things they care very much about. But we are at a stalemate we are not able to focus on those issues. This president took an oath of office to uphold the Constitution, and he’s violated that. He’s violated the spirit of the law. We need to hold him accountable.
The Fix: Would censuring Trump be enough for you?
Torres: I’m not sure if that would be something that would be enough. The caucus needs to have more of an open discussion and be able to move forward together on this.
The Fix: Is there momentum one way or the other within the Democratic caucus for impeachment?
Torres: I think the caucus is very concerned about where we stand in upholding the rule of law. I think that they are very concerned about the fact that President Trump has an “R” next to his name and some of his followers have exempted him from having to abide by any of our laws.
I think they are also very concerned about the hatred that has been spewed within our communities. That is a good reason for them wanting to hold the line on impeachment, and I understand we are very, very close to an election, where we could focus on defeating him. But the fact is that we are setting precedent here.
This president has violated every political norm, and if he’s not held accountable, then what would our future presidents be held accountable to?