CANTON, Mich. — Rep. Haley Stevens, an impeachment skeptic representing a Republican-leaning district, stood before a suddenly animated crowd of voters and heard deafening calls to oust President Trump.
“Get rid of him!” one person shouted at a recent town hall in these suburbs west of Detroit. “Impeach him!” another demanded of the freshman Democrat who flipped a Michigan district that backed Trump in 2016.
But Stevens stood her ground, resisting the pleas. “We have got to have all the facts,” she said, even as she promised vigorous oversight of the Republican president.
Much of the Democratic Party base, most of the 2020 presidential candidates and more than half the House Democratic Caucus endorse impeachment against Trump, casting the president as unfit for office. But a month-long effort by liberal groups to rally support for forcing out the president has fallen flat with perhaps the most critical group of Democrats: those representing Trump districts.
Of the 31 lawmakers from districts Trump won in 2016, only two — freshman Reps. Lauren Underwood of Illinois and Chris Pappas of New Hampshire — have backed impeachment during the six-week-long congressional recess, according to an analysis by The Washington Post.
“People in my district are wanting us to pass bills, and they fear that if we go down this path of impeachment, we’re not going to be working on the things that affect their lives, their pocketbooks, their kids,” said freshman Rep. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.), who represents a Trump district and has yet to back an impeachment inquiry.
The lack of movement among Trump-district Democrats is problematic for impeachment proponents: Senior Democrats have long considered such members to be a bellwether for broader impeachment sentiments.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) has also resisted calls for proceedings in part out of concern about political blowback on these very lawmakers who were crucial to delivering the House majority last year. It’s one of the reasons outside groups like Indivisible organized this summer to put pressure on these Democrats, hopeful that by moving them, they’d move Pelosi, too.
Despite the fervor on the left, however, the positions of these Trump-district members reflect the general public. A recent Monmouth University poll found 59 percent of Americans said Trump should not be impeached, while 35 percent said he should. The numbers are virtually the same as a June survey conducted before former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III testified to Congress — and before liberal groups began their pressure campaign.
To be sure, the recent impeachment push has had some success. The Post analysis found that 35 House Democrats have backed launching an impeachment inquiry since Congress left Washington at the end of July. The movement also passed a major threshold during the break, with a majority of House Democrats — 134 of the 235 — supporting a move to oust Trump.
“When I came out in favor of the impeachment inquiry, nobody was arguing that it was a really smart political move. But it’s moved much quicker than I thought it would,” said Rep. Sean Casten (D-Ill.), a swing-district freshman who backs impeachment proceedings.
However, most of those new converts hail from safe Democratic districts or are facing primary challenges from the left. “I think it’s the only time I’ve gotten a standing ovation at a town hall!” exclaimed Rep. Ro Khanna, a liberal California Democrat who endorsed impeachment during the recess.
The growing number of impeachment backers is sure to increase the pressure on House Democratic leadership this fall. Pelosi in a recent call told lawmakers “the public isn’t there on impeachment” and asked those who want proceedings to give her space.
“Give me the leverage I need to make sure that we’re ready and it is as strong as it can be,” Pelosi said on the a conference call, according to an aide familiar with the remark. “The equities we have to weigh are our responsibility to protect and defend the Constitution and to be unifying and not dividing. But if and when we act, people will know he gave us no choice.”
When lawmakers return to Washington on Sept. 9, all eyes will be on members like Stevens and Slotkin, the latter who said she expects to make a decision about impeachment in mid-to-late September. Slotkin plans to consult her colleagues from similarly moderate districts, a group she calls “the Gang of 10.” The members, who keep in touch regularly via group text, have a dinner date set for the first night they are back in Washington, she said.
At Slotkin’s recent town hall in Howell, Mich., Kelly Lovelady, a 62-year-old who has voted for Republicans and Democrats, came with the Mueller report tucked under her right arm and sought Slotkin out after the town hall to press her on the matter.
“All of the issues front and center on the news are not nearly as important as what’s happening with Trump becoming normal, the normalization of his behavior,” the Brighton, Mich., woman told Slotkin. “Yes, everything else means so much — I mean, my dad can barely afford health care — but this means so much more.”
“I hear you,” Slotkin said three times, nodding her head. But even the personal pitch didn’t move the congresswoman.
“Quite honestly, I sometimes worry that a lot of Democrats I know constantly just focus on the president and they’re not explaining to people how they’re going to fight to help their pocketbooks and their kids,” Slotkin said. “If you don’t have an affirmative message and you’re just the party of resistance, people don’t know what you’re about.”
Slotkin had allies in the room that night. Jeanette Freeland, a 61-year-old from Howell, Mich., called impeachment a “dangerous road” and said she appreciated Slotkin’s careful consideration about whether to proceed.
Based on more than a dozen town halls either attended or watched online by The Post, House Democrats certainly faced an uptick in questions on impeachment this summer.
Activists and other Democrats say the norm-shattering president should be impeached over possible obstruction of justice of the Mueller probe, his alleged involvement in a 2016 scheme to silence two women who alleged affairs and, most recently, promising pardons to aides he is encouraging to break the law to build the U.S.-Mexico border wall.
On the latter, the White House says the president was joking.
But the pressure did not appear to rise to the level of the full-boil anger that made for explosive town halls 10 years ago over the party effort to revamp the health-care system or the Republican drive to repeal the Affordable Care Act in 2017.
For example, just outside industrial, blue-collar Allentown, Pa. — where Hillary Clinton won by a single digit in 2016 — Rep. Susan Wild (D-Pa.) actually received light applause when she explained to a town hall Wednesday night that she did not think there was sufficient evidence for impeachment. One Democrat in attendance, who had said in an interview before the event that he supported impeachment, returned to a reporter after Wild’s answer to say he changed his mind and agreed with his congresswoman.
“I get a decent number of people who ask why I have not come out in favor of impeachment,” Wild said after the event. “Usually, I get very positive responses when I answer exactly the way I did, which is, ‘You know, I don’t think we’ve got the facts lined up.’ ”
During a town hall in Allison Park, Pa., on Aug. 20, attendees pressed Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) three times on his position on impeachment. Chris Leininger, a 56-year-old from Beaver, Pa., said the United States is “under attack right now” by Russia, quoted from the Mueller report and urged Lamb to defend the country by impeaching Trump.
Some in the crowd reacted angrily when Lamb blamed the Senate — and Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) — for not voting on an election security bill he supports.
Minutes later, Nita Fandray of Mount Lebanon, Pa., doubled down on those remarks, demanding Lamb agree with and support the insistence of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) that an impeachment inquiry is already underway. Lamb wouldn’t do that.
“Conor is behind,” Fandray later said. “I just want him to support what’s going on right now, that the majority of his colleagues have already come out and support. He just hides! He’s hiding in the shadows and losing traction.”
In another Trump district, constituents pressed Rep. Andy Kim (D-N.J.) to back impeachment, though their comments hewed more toward expressions of support should he decide to endorse proceedings.
“I want you to know you have my vote for impeachment,” said Elizabeth Carpenter, 78, of Mount Laurel, N.J. Lynn Winkler, 66, also of Mount Laurel, agreed: “I’m with this woman,” she said referring to Carpenter. “If you vote for impeachment, I’m right behind you.”
Underwood was an exception to the impeachment resistance by Democrats in Trump districts. In early August, she told Vox that because the people in her district don’t support impeachment, backing proceedings would amount to a “power grab” on her part.
“We need to move forward in a way that brings the community with us,” she said at the time, explaining that her district doesn’t support impeachment “because if I act unilaterally, or what’s perceived as unilaterally, and leave my community behind, then it looks like a power grab. . . . And then I’m no better than him.”
But on Aug. 20, at a town hall for senior citizens in Shorewood, Ill., one of the six constituents in attendance told Underwood: “I think we should” impeach Trump. Hours later, Underwood backed impeachment on social media, surprising leadership aides who have cautioned swing-district members — particularly those in Trump territory — against such stances.
“No one is above the law. No one. No one in the United States of America is above the law, and that includes the president,” she responded to the constituent that day, remarks she’d later echo in her pro-impeachment statement.
Ultimately, the number of House Democrats backing an inquiry may not even matter. Because Nadler and Judiciary members recently began arguing they are already conducting an impeachment inquiry, even without a formal vote, the numbers calling for such proceedings appear increasingly moot.
And as Rep. Katie Porter (D-Calif.) told impeachment-backing constituents at a recent town hall: The Senate is refusing to vote on a bipartisan gun control bill supported by the vast majority of Americans; if the Senate won’t do that, don’t expect senators to vote to convict Trump, she said.
Hailey Fuchs in Shorewood, Ill.; Meghann Cuniff in Irvine, Calif.; Gavin Jenkins in Allison Park, Pa., JM Rieger, Terri Rupar and Amber Phillips in Washington; and Natalie Pompilio in Burlington Township, N.J., contributed to this report.