The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Nearly half of House Democrats support impeachment. But that doesn’t mean it’s imminent.

Members of a veterans group protest President Trump in front of Trump Tower on July 25 in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

There’s substantial support among House Democrats for at least taking the first step to impeach President Trump. Almost half of House Democrats back beginning an impeachment proceeding, a proportion that has been steadily growing for months. But that doesn’t mean the House will start the process.

To get a better understanding of the likelihood of impeachment, let’s look at the trends before we analyze why things don’t appear to be going anywhere.

After former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III testified to Congress last week about Trump’s potentially obstruction-y behavior, as outlined in his report, more than a dozen Democrats joined the impeachment call. (So did a top Senate Democrat, Patty Murray of Washington, although only the House has the authority to impeach a president. The Senate’s role is to hold a trial to remove a president from office.)

There are now 107 Democrats supporting an investigation into whether Trump committed “high crimes and misdemeanors.” That’s 45 percent of all of House Democrats. It’s a sizable jump from two weeks ago, when 86, or a third, of House Democrats supported impeachment.

And in the body where proceedings would start, the House Judiciary Committee, more than half of Democrats support an inquiry. On Sunday, the chairman of that committee said he, too, could be open to an impeachment inquiry if the American public supported the idea.

"My personal view is that he richly deserves impeachment. He’s done many impeachable offenses,” Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) told CNN on Sunday.

So the pro-impeachment caucus keeps growing, and it has powerful leaders in Congress open to backing it. But impeachment hits significant roadblocks when you dig into the numbers a little deeper.

Only nine of the 107 House Democrats who want impeachment proceedings to begin come from Republican-leaning districts. The rest of their more moderate colleagues make up the core of the other half of House Democrats, about 120 lawmakers, who oppose impeachment. See all the purple, gray and light blue in the image below, in the section showing lawmakers who don’t support going ahead with impeachment? That reflects a much more moderate group of Democrats who are hesitant about launching that process.

And those are the lawmakers who matter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the ultimate decider on impeachment. Her main job is to keep control of the House in 2020, and she’s worried that impeachment would undermine that goal.

She’s anxious that lawmakers such as newly elected Rep. Lucy McBath in Georgia or Abby Finkenauer in Iowa or Lizzie Fletcher in Texas would get caught in the crossfire of an impeachment fight. They represent districts that voted for Trump in 2016 and/or lean Republican, and they knocked off Republicans last year to win their seats. They are top Republican targets for 2020. And they don’t support even beginning an impeachment inquiry.

"We need to see the underlying documents, and frankly we need to see the full unredacted report to be able to reach certain judgments,” Fletcher told Houston Public Media in April, which is code for: Stay the course on investigating Trump without elevating it to an impeachment proceeding.

The Post’s James Hohmann went to New Hampshire recently and talked to voters there about whether they would support beginning impeachment, as the state’s two Democratic representatives do. He found that the average Democrat isn’t clamoring for it. “[Trump’s] choices aren’t great, but I’m not sure he’s done anything that’s deserving of him getting kicked out of office,” Rich Fortier, a lifelong Democrat, told Hohmann. Might sentiments like that recalibrate how lawmakers think when or if impeachment actually gets going?

Among the 107 lawmakers on the pro-impeachment list, there are varying degrees of support for it. You have someone such as Rep. Yvette D. Clarke (D-N.Y.), who represents one of the most liberal districts in the country, making clear that when she says she favors an impeachment inquiry, it means she wants to impeach Trump:

And then you have someone like Rep. John Garamendi (D-Calif.), who represents a more moderate district, being much more noncommittal about whether he would vote for impeachment. When Garamendi told The Washington Post after the Mueller hearing that he supports an impeachment inquiry, he had this caveat: “and then we will see where we go with an impeachment.”

This isn’t a theoretical roadblock to impeachment. Earlier in July, the House voted on whether to consider impeaching Trump. A majority of House Democrats voted to table, or set aside, a resolution brought by Rep. Al Green (D-Tex.) calling for Trump’s impeachment.

It’s important to remember this wasn’t an impeachment vote. It was a procedural motion on whether to consider an impeachment vote, and 137 of the 235 House Democrats voted against it. Translated: When push came to shove, a majority didn’t even want to consider voting for impeachment. That’s why, even with nearly half of House Democrats supporting an inquiry, impeachment isn’t imminent.