Pelosi puts tight grip on talk of Trump impeachment. UPI via The Hill
WASHINGTON (THE HILL)--Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) is keeping her troops in line on one of the most divisive issues facing Democrats internally and the country more broadly: the impeachment of President Trump.
As the minority leader over the past two years, Pelosi faced a small but intensifying push from rank-and-file Democrats to oust the president - a movement that won two floor votes in the last Congress and the support of 66 House Democrats in early 2018.
Yet in the weeks since taking the Speaker's gavel, Pelosi has tamped down the impeachment talk in her ranks, according to multiple lawmakers, arguing it is important to allow special counsel Robert Mueller to wrap up his investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to sway the 2016 election.
The effort is paying dividends, winning over even the most liberal Trump critics in the caucus while dissuading new acolytes to the impeachment effort, which has struggled to find a foothold in the new Congress.
"I'm in Speaker Pelosi's camp. I think we have to see the report," said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a leader of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
"Every week Mueller gives us something else to be aware of. And so most people think he's doing a very good job. And we ought to let him finish."
Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), who had championed impeachment articles in the last Congress, has yet to introduce them this year and says there's little urgency to do so. He noted that no impeachment effort can succeed without public backing, and Democrats will have more luck building that support if they await the results of Mueller's probe.
"Those people, including myself, who think he's committed impeachable offenses and should be impeached understand also the pragmatic politics of waiting for the report as proof to get more of the American public in agreement. Because you've got to have the American public on your side," Cohen said.
"I think Mueller's report will be a blockbuster."
To be sure, the push for removing Trump under the Democratic majority has not gone away. Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) introduced articles of impeachment on the very first day of the new Congress. And Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), a sponsor of a separate impeachment resolution, joined forces Tuesday with Tom Steyer, a billionaire environmentalist and anti-Trump activist, to make the case for ousting Trump immediately.
"We have a president who is unfit, [and] we have a means by which we can deal with it," Green said.
Yet Green was the only Democratic lawmaker to appear at Tuesday's impeachment event just off of Capitol Hill, creating the impression that it was more sideshow than budding campaign. And the Texas Democrat is quick to emphasize that he's not asking other lawmakers to join him in the effort.
"I don't lobby the members," he said. "I leave it for each person to do this as a question of conscience."
Rep. Matt Cartwright (D-Pa.), a leader of the Democrats' messaging arm, pointed to efforts by Pelosi to discourage an impeachment campaign - a cautious approach he characterized as "eminently responsible."
"The Clinton impeachment was totally political and wrong," said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). "As a result, I think we're being prudent and careful, and we'll see what Mueller has to say."
Boosting that message has been Pelosi's handling of the recent government shutdown, which has made her more powerful - and more persuasive - within the diverse Democratic caucus.
The issue is a tricky one for Pelosi and her leadership team. On one hand, they want to be an aggressive counterweight to Trump for the sake of energizing their liberal base. On the other, they don't want to get ahead of their skis and risk alienating more moderate voters in ways that might help Trump win reelection in 2020.
A number of Democrats noted another reason the impeachment push hasn't taken off in the new Congress: The party's new majority lends them powerful committee gavels to investigate the numerous allegations dogging Trump and his administration.
"It's not just the Mueller report. It's all the other hearings that are going to happen," said Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), a co-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a member of the Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over the impeachment process, agreed, arguing the need for the various panels "to create a record" surrounding the allegations facing Trump.
"After that is done, it will either exonerate the president and his associates, or it will not," Lieu said. "But at that point then we, with the American people, will make a decision [on impeachment]."
Cohen, who will chair the Judiciary Committee's subpanel on the Constitution, said he's eyeing a number of hearings to help make the public case for eventual impeachment, even if it takes some time.
"Right now there's no chance it's going to be successful in the Senate," Cohen said. "So if we wait a little bit and let the teapot steam - nothing wrong with that."