It’s getting harder by the day for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) to hold the line that the House of Representatives should not consider impeaching President Trump.
She’s not budging, but some of her key allies are. The Washington Post’s Rachael Bade and Mike DeBonis report that House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) argued to Pelosi Monday night that Congress should open an impeachment inquiry into Trump.
That’s a big deal. Nadler leads the committee that would impeach Trump. He had previously been Pelosi’s close ally on no-impeachment (though he doesn’t seem to have entirely made up his mind, according to Bade and DeBonis’s reporting).
And it’s not just Nadler coming around to the idea that Congress may have no choice but to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump. On Monday, five members of Pelosi’s leadership team also urged her to consider impeachment proceedings.
Their reasoning isn’t quite the same as the traditional pro-impeachment faction of the party. Those Democrats argue that Trump deserves to be impeached for his obstruction-y actions outlined in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report.
Instead, these influential lawmakers see two more practical reasons to open impeachment inquiries: 1) saying the “i” word would help them make their case to the courts to get key information in their investigations, and 2) Trump is backing them into a corner by blocking all those investigations.
To break those down a bit:
- Trump is blocking every investigation of significance that Congress has into him and his administration. (Twenty so far, a Washington Post analysis finds.) Congress is going to the courts — already with some success — to get what they want. But they are at risk of losing some key court fights such as the one to get the unredacted Mueller report. Congress could strengthen its hand by starting impeachment proceedings. Grand jury information, which makes up much of the redactions in the report, is typically kept secret except for judicial proceedings. Impeachment is a trial, so saying the “i” word would turn Congress into a judiciary body (instead of a legislative one) and thus strengthen its case for why it needs to see the underlying grand jury testimony that makes up the Mueller report.
- Some of these Democrats on the Judiciary Committee argue that if Congress wants to assert its constitutionally mandated oversight authority over this president — and future presidents —- it has no choice but to launch an impeachment inquiry. On Tuesday, former White House counsel Donald McGahn ignored a subpoena and didn’t show up to a House hearing. He’s a key witness in the Mueller report about Trump’s attempts to fire the special counsel and then lie about it. Rep Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), a Judiciary Committee member who agrees with those who made their case to Pelosi, told The Post Monday: “If the answer is, ‘No, you can’t talk to anyone, you can’t have anything, we’re simply not going to cooperate,’ then at that point the only avenue that we have left is the constitutional means to enforce the separation of powers, which is a serious discussion of impeachment.”
They tried investigating Trump first, rather than jumping to impeachment based on the Mueller report like other Democrats wanted. But if they can’t even get the initial information to start these investigations, what’s the use?
“We will hold this president accountable,” Nadler said at the Judiciary Committee hearing Tuesday, with an empty seat where McGahn was supposed to be, “one way or another.”
None of this is to say that these influential lawmakers want Congress to actually impeach Trump. Democratic leaders are wary of the political blowback from such a move, given polls show a majority of Americans don’t support impeachment, even though most think the president lied. Beginning an impeachment inquiry is like dipping their toes in the water without committing to a swim. They don’t have to actually hold a vote on whether to impeach the president.
All of that may be a distinction without a difference for Trump, though, who is casting congressional Democrats as overzealous investigators bent on destroying him politically. (That gets more difficult to do now that a Republican member of Congress is open to impeachment proceedings.)
Pelosi knows how Trump would play any kind of impeachment inquiry. She knows there are political risks for Democrats that come from even considering impeachment proceedings. That’s been the glue she’s used to build a dam against impeachment calls in her party. But now, that may be breaking.