The movement to oust President Trump crossed a new threshold Friday, with a majority of House Democrats endorsing an impeachment inquiry — a development that ramped up pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who continued to resist the move.
The push in the House to remove Trump has been accelerated by testimony from former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III confirming that the president could be charged with obstruction of justice after he leaves office. More than 20 Democrats have announced support for an inquiry since Mueller testified last week.
Those calls have come amid mounting pressure from liberal activists — applied in some cases by Democratic primary challengers arguing that incumbents, including four powerful committee chairmen, have been too reticent in taking on Trump.
As of Friday, 118 out of 235 House Democrats had said they supported at least opening an impeachment inquiry, according to an analysis by The Washington Post. (Some news outlets using different criteria reported the threshold was crossed Thursday.)
Rep. Salud Carbajal (D-Calif.) pushed Democrats past the majority milestone with his announcement Friday. “We cannot ignore this president’s actions, and we cannot let him off the hook because of his title,” he said in a statement.
Amid the growing support for impeachment proceedings, Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Friday issued a lengthy statement that recapitulated the progress of the House’s existing investigations without specifically mentioning the opening of a formal inquiry. “In America, no one is above the law. The president will be held accountable,” said Pelosi, who stressed that Democrats would continue to “legislate, investigate and litigate.”
Pelosi’s statement did note “a significant step” last week when the House filed a court petition seeking evidence underpinning Mueller’s report, citing the House’s need to determine “whether to exercise its full Article I powers, including a constitutional power of the utmost gravity — approval of articles of impeachment.’”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said last week that the filing was tantamount to launching an impeachment inquiry, even though there has been no vote by the committee or the whole House to open a formal probe.
Pelosi has cited the importance of public opinion and gaining at least some bipartisan cooperation in guiding a decision on impeachment. If the Democratic House were to vote for Trump’s impeachment, the charges would go to the GOP-controlled Senate for a trial to decide whether Trump should be removed from office. No Senate Republican has backed ousting Trump, and an acquittal would be the likely outcome.
A Washington Post-ABC News poll released last month showed 59 percent of Americans believe the House should not begin impeachment proceedings against Trump, while 37 percent believe it should — including 61 percent of Democrats.
Before leaving Washington last week for the six-week summer recess, Pelosi told reporters that her colleagues were free to chart their own course. But she also made clear that their decisions would not necessarily change her views.
“I’m willing to take whatever heat there is,” she said.
Among those newly backing an impeachment inquiry are two prominent House committee chairmen from New York, Rep. Eliot L. Engel of the Foreign Affairs Committee and Rep. Nita M. Lowey of the Appropriations Committee. Both are facing liberal primary opponents in next year’s elections.
Engel said Trump’s “repeated abuses have brought American democracy to a perilous crossroads. Following the guidance of the Constitution — which I have sworn to uphold — is the only way to achieve justice.”
In announcing her support for an inquiry, Lowey said in a statement that Mueller’s investigation showed “systemic deception that appears to be second nature for the president and his advisers.”
Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), who rattled some Democrats in January when she used profanity to describe the president, said that the recess would probably build support for impeachment.
“They’re going to be hearing this from their constituents,” Tlaib said. “I’ve seen more and more support for impeachment at my own town halls.”
Tlaib talked about impeachment at two Friday meetings in her district, starting with a town hall in Highland Park, where she said that “the Constitution demands” that a president “step away from conflicts of interest,” and Trump had not.
Probing Trump without the power of impeachment hearings was not enough, she said: “Going through the investigative process has been very draining, and it also hasn’t resulted in actual results.”
Trump and his administration has refused to comply with most of the congressional requests, forcing the House to pursue a resolution in the courts.
Tlaib attended a Detroit event Friday with Rep. Al Green (D-Tex.), who has forced multiple House votes on impeachment since Trump was inaugurated — most recently last month, when his effort was killed on a 332-to-95 vote.
Green said he was considering a tactic that had been rebuffed before — speaking at a pro forma session of the House to introduce impeachment proceedings while most members remained in their districts.
“Either we hold this president accountable or we will be held accountable,” Green said. “We have said that he’s committed impeachable acts. I don’t think we can say that and not take action.”
Liberal activist groups, meanwhile, are planning to spend the recess applying pressure on the remaining House holdouts. A coalition of groups has organized an “Impeachment August” campaign to encourage voters to press lawmakers at town halls and their district offices.
Sean Eldridge, founder and president of Stand Up America, one of the participating groups, called the majority support among House Democrats a “huge milestone” in the fight to hold Trump accountable.
“It’s time for Speaker Pelosi to support a formal impeachment inquiry,” he said. “No more dancing around it. No more delays.”
The number of lawmakers backing an impeachment inquiry has swollen in the wake of Mueller’s congressional testimony last month.
Despite an appearance devoid of blockbuster revelations, many Democrats said his testimony reaffirmed some of the more damaging revelations about Trump in Mueller’s 448-page, redacted report on Russian election interference and possible obstruction of the probe by Trump.
Of the Democrats calling for an impeachment inquiry, more than 75 have done so since Mueller made a public statement on May 29 about his findings. The special counsel said he could neither clear nor accuse Trump of obstructing his probe, leaving room for Congress to make that call.
Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.), who recently left the Republican Party, has also said he supports beginning impeachment proceedings against Trump.
Interviews with eight of the Democratic lawmakers who have publicly backed an impeachment inquiry over the past week showed they are eager to speak out against Trump but loath to breathe fire on the party leadership.
Instead, the Democrats have largely cast their announcements as intensely personal decisions that were the product of careful deliberation and close review of Mueller’s report and testimony. Many said they did not want their decisions to be interpreted as criticism of Pelosi or Nadler, and none called for an interruption of the six-week recess to return to Washington to launch a formal probe.
Some delivered praise for Pelosi while breaking with her more deliberate approach.
“I think she is phenomenal — you can put that in the paper,” said Rep. Lisa Blunt Rochester (D-Del.), who said in a statement last week that Congress “must stand up and demand accountability.”
“One of the things that she said is that, for each of us, we have to do what we need to do,” she added. “And I respect her for having that respect for us.”
Weigel reported from Detroit. Amber Phillips and Felicia Sonmez contributed to this report.