Just hours after Rep. Jan Schakowsky broke with longtime ally Speaker Nancy Pelosi and called for an impeachment inquiry of President Trump, the Illinois Democrat qualified her comments.
“A lot of people are going to say, ‘Well, Nancy Pelosi, you’re a big supporter,’ which I am,” Schakowsky said Thursday in an interview. “And I think that she’s ultimately right, that the way that we’re going to get rid of Donald Trump is in the election in 2020.”
Compare that to her Wednesday night announcement, which made headlines as she joined 72 other Democrats in supporting impeachment.
“Today, I am announcing that I believe that the House of Representatives should begin an impeachment inquiry, officially, because President Trump certainly has committed all kinds of offenses that meet the standard of impeachment, high crimes and misdemeanors,” Schakowsky, a senior chief deputy whip and member of Pelosi’s leadership team, said in a video posted on her official website.
Schakowsky’s dual statements — backing an impeachment inquiry while also suggesting that Pelosi (D-Calif.) is justified in refusing to launch one — reflect the posture many pro-impeachment Democrats have taken in recent weeks: When they endorse impeachment, they tend to defer to Pelosi rather than trying to pressure her into backing proceedings.
The carefully calibrated approach has allowed Democrats to placate the liberal base while avoiding angering or disappointing their leader, who has consistently argued that impeachment will divide the country, lacks the support of a majority of Americans and will backfire on their party. In recent weeks, Schakowsky, for example, has received hundreds of phone calls from constituents calling for impeachment to begin.
Schakowsky is far from alone. A Wall Street Journal-NBC News poll released this week found that Democratic support for impeachment is growing, with 48 percent backing hearings compared with 30 percent in the same poll a month ago.
Still, Pelosi has pushed back, arguing that public sentiment is everything — and public support simply isn’t there. And she’s right: The same poll found that only 27 percent of Americans say there’s enough evidence to impeach Trump, while 48 percent disagreed.
“What I believe is that when we go forward, if we go forward, it has to go deep. It can’t be the Democrats impeach in the House; the Senate, in his view, exonerates,” Pelosi told reporters Wednesday, referring to Trump.
A Washington Post analysis of lawmakers backing impeachment found that, on average, Democrats calling for impeachment proceedings hail from districts that favor Democrats by just over 19 percentage points, according data from the Cook Political Report. Schakowsky’s district, encompassing part of Chicago and its north suburbs, voted for Hillary Clinton over Trump by 45 percentage points.
But it’s not just lawmakers from deep-blue districts that are calling for Trump’s ousting. Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.), who represents a GOP-leaning district in Chicago’s western suburbs, also recently added his name to the list of lawmakers backing an impeachment inquiry. He told the Chicago Sun-Times that lawmakers “need to use every tool in our power to get those facts” about Trump’s actions “and get them to the American public.”
Casten is the third of the freshman Democrats who flipped their districts from red to blue in 2018 to announce such a move. So, too, did Reps. Katie Porter (Calif.) and Tom Malinowski (N.J.), who hail from competitive swing districts.
Despite the lawmakers joining the impeachment push, Pelosi allies contend that she is feeling little pressure to change her stance. They currently are a minority of the caucus. Pelosi, these people said, will not be pushed into greenlighting an impeachment inquiry if public sentiment is still opposed, even if a majority of her caucus wants it.
Others, however, are not so sure she can withstand such pressure and predict Pelosi may come around when — or if — support for impeachment grows to a majority of the caucus.
“I don’t think we’re at the critical mass yet,” said pro-impeachment Rep. David N. Cicilline (D-R.I.), who said “the speaker’s position reflects the consensus of the caucus broadly.”
“But I think as that consensus changes, so will the position of the leadership. . . . And I frankly think that’s how this process is supposed to work,” he said.
Cicilline, like Schakowsky, is one of the members in Pelosi’s leadership circle who wants impeachment proceedings to begin. As head of an internal committee that helps craft talking points for members and party messaging, he’s been at the fore in making the argument for impeachment.
However, Cicilline and other pro-impeachment members such as Rep. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Md.) said the matter is too personal to lobby members on.
“I honestly feel that the situation is so complex and difficult that nobody wants to pressure anybody else,” Raskin said. “Everybody wants to give people the space to figure out what they think is the best thing to do and then to engage in a dialogue about it. So we have very lively and active conversations taking place across the caucus all the time.”
Their refusal to organize internally, however, ultimately helps Pelosi keep the issue in check. Leadership officials say there is a big difference between their members supporting impeachment publicly and actually pushing Pelosi for it.
Schakowsky said Thursday that she was ultimately convinced to back an impeachment inquiry because she believed it would allow the House to gather more information for its investigations and because she felt compelled to speak out.
“I think it’s important for people like me to name what’s happening right now — that this man is unfit to be president, that he has committed high crimes and misdemeanors, that he has disobeyed the law, that he has attacked every institution of our democracy,” she said.
She also acknowledged the fact that she is close to Pelosi weighed on her decision: “I think that what she has been doing has been very important, in pushing ahead and pointing out all the flaws of this president,” she said.
For now, many pro-impeachment Democrats appear to be looking to outside groups to increase pressure and build grass-roots support. For example, liberal group MoveOn organized a nationwide activist call Tuesday with several pro-impeachment lawmakers: Raskin, as well as Reps. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), Al Green (D-Texas) and Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.).
The MoveOn session included a call to action on impeachment events they’re planning this summer. The hope, according to House officials in the pro-impeachment camp, is that lawmakers will return to their districts over the long August recess, hear impeachment demands from constituents and support the movement when they return in the fall.
That’s exactly what happened to then-Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) in the summer of 2013, according to his former chief of staff Mike Sommers. It was during the August recess that a “brush fire” started among the base, with Republican voters demanding their party shut down the government to try to defund the Affordable Care Act, he said.
Boehner’s team lost control of their members, making the speaker powerless to stop it. Impeachment proponents hope Pelosi will be, too — eventually.
For now, however, diplomacy is the strategy of the day. Schakowsky, for instance, talked to Pelosi about her decision before she came out publicly on the issue.
“She did not try to talk me out of it,” she said. “I told her how I feel. She was saying that she’s not sure that having an impeachment inquiry actually does bolster our ability to get information — that we’re going to get the information, and we’re going to be able to go forward. But no, not at all — she did not try to dissuade me.”