House Democrats on Tuesday began discussing several ideas to counter President Trump’s refusal to cooperate with Congress, brainstorming ways to force him and administration officials into compliance including impeachment, fines and even jailing obstinate officials.
Rep. Al Green, a longtime proponent of impeaching the president, said Tuesday that he plans to force a vote to oust the president if leadership does not call one eventually. The Texas Democrat, who has been pushing the effort for more than a year, stood on the House floor and held up a copy of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report to argue that “this Congress has a date with destiny” and must impeach Trump for obstructing justice.
“The bells of history are reminding us that we have a responsibility to our country that we must take up,” Green said. “I will not put party above people. I will not put politics above principle. And I will not put this president above the law.”
A few hours later, talks about whether House Democrats should fine Trump officials who ignore congressional subpoenas began picking up steam with frustrated chairmen.
During a private meeting with the centrist New Democrat Coalition, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) suggested fines for officials who ignored compulsory measures was one possible response. Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.) echoed that sentiment to reporters off the House floor — even refusing to rule out jailing some.
“We’ll do what we’ve got to do, okay?” Cummings said. “Because we cannot have a situation where the Oversight Committee — or any of our committees — are being blocked with regard to information . . . that’s not the way the American system works; I’m sorry.”
Of course, Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) would have to approve any such plan to punish Trump officials. Her office did not respond to request for comment on her position on such ideas.
The discussions over how to respond to the White House heated up amid a renewed drive for impeachment in the House. Democratic investigators are simmering over Trump’s refusal to cooperate with their investigations. He declared last week that he would block all subpoenas while instructing administration officials to ignore requests for testimony and documents.
Further escalating the clash with Congress, Trump and his family, as well as the Trump Organization, filed suit Monday against one of their lenders and one of their banks, seeking to stop the financial firms from complying with subpoenas from congressional committees.
The lawsuit against Deutsche Bank, which has loaned Trump more than $360 million in recent years, and Capital One are designed to prevent the two institutions from providing records to the House Intelligence and Financial Services committees.
“The Trump lawsuits are baseless and they are likely to be dismissed in court,” House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) said Tuesday morning. “We are not going to run away from our constitutional responsibility to serve as a check and balance on an out-of-control executive branch. That’s not the Democratic caucus playbook. That’s not the Nancy Pelosi playbook.”
Pelosi (D-Calif.) remains opposed to initiating impeachment proceedings, telling her fellow leaders Monday night that they must stay focused on the legislative agenda ahead of the 2020 election. She has said impeachment is “divisive” and that Trump is “not worth it.” She has encouraged her chairmen to keep investigating.
But the pressure on Pelosi is growing, both inside and outside the halls of Congress. More and more Democrats are fed up with Trump’s flagrant move to block their investigations. And on Tuesday, former vice president Joe Biden said the House may have “no alternative” but to impeach Trump if his administration keeps ignoring their inquiries.
“What the Congress should do and they are doing is investigate that,” the 2020 presidential candidate said on ABC’s “Good Morning America.” “And if in fact they block the investigation, they have no alternative but to go to the only other constitutional resort they have: impeachment.”
A new group of Democrats is starting to say the same. Freshman Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.) said Tuesday morning that “if that road takes us to impeachment, so be it.”
“We’re going to do our job. We’re going to walk right down this road step by step by step,” she said. “If they put up roadblocks, we have constitutional muscle, we have the rule of law that will allow us to get the information . . . and if that road takes us to impeachment, so be it.”
Additionally, more rank-and-file Democrats embraced the idea of censuring Trump and fining officials who ignore subpoenas.
“I would absolutely support that,” said Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a member of the Judiciary Committee and Pelosi’s leadership team who has endorsed monetary penalties. “Congress clearly has the ability to issue lawful subpoenas but also enforce them.”
The divide in the caucus over impeachment probably will only worsen over time. And Green’s move to force a vote in the House may exacerbate that split, forcing Democrats to cast a tough vote: with the base, which supports impeachment, or with the nation, which overall does not, according to recent polling.
But in an interview with The Washington Post, Green said elected officials come to Washington to take tough votes. He argued the House would not be doing its duty if it doesn’t vote on the matter eventually: “I will not allow history to show that this Congress did not take a vote on the impeachment of a reckless, ruthless, lawless president,” he said.
Green would not say when he plans to force the vote. Procedurally, once he files the articles, leadership would have two legislative days to head off the debate by scheduling a vote to table them, refer them to the Judiciary Committee or postpone consideration.
Green said he is not lobbying lawmakers to join his cause but merely asked that they vote their conscience. House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), two other vocal impeachment backers, similarly said Tuesday morning that they were not organizing at the moment to push leadership on the matter.
“I think the speaker has an awesome responsibility to act in the best interest of the entire caucus, and she’s doing that — I get that,” Waters said. “And I think those of us who chair committees have a responsibility to do the work that the Constitution mandates that we do, and that’s what I’m doing.”
Democrats opposed to starting impeachment now say there is no chance that the Republican-led Senate would convict Trump and force him out, despite Trump’s refusal to comply with Congress.
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) said the decision rests with the leadership of the committees “when they feel they cannot go any further” and the leadership of the caucus “when they’ve tried everything they can to get answers to their questions.”
“But,” she added, “I live in the real world. And the real world is that there is a Senate that has no desire to do the right thing so long as Republicans are in charge. So we need to figure out: How do we keep the fire on the president?”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday said that while he planned to read the Mueller report closely, “most Americans think it's over. Time to move on.”