The impeachment dam has broken.
More than half of House Democrats say they would vote to launch impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, a crucial threshold that backers say will require Speaker Nancy Pelosi to reconsider her steadfast opposition.
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Though Pelosi has given no indication that even a majority of Democrats embracing impeachment proceedings would shift her view, supporters of an inquiry argue that crossing the halfway mark among Democrats will be a symbolic boost that could shift the political dynamic.
“The President’s repeated abuses have brought American democracy to a perilous crossroads,” said Rep. Eliot Engel (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, who announced his support on Tuesday. “Following the guidance of the Constitution – which I have sworn to uphold – is the only way to achieve justice.”
Democrats who support impeachment proceedings eclipsed the halfway mark — 118 out of 235 voting members — on Thursday, when Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida announced his support. Deutch was also the 23rd Democratic lawmaker to support impeachment proceedings in the week since former special counsel Robert Mueller testified to Congress, affirming publicly his damning evidence that Trump attempted to obstruct justice.
Mueller’s appearance reignited a push for impeachment proceedings among Democrats, who had been slowly gathering momentum for the effort since April. Though his testimony was at times halting, Mueller confirmed to lawmaker his report’s findings that Trump’s 2016 campaign welcomed Russian assistance and that Trump himself repeatedly attempted to undermine the investigation of Russia’s hacking and propaganda operation.
Perhaps more significant than the raw number of Democrats backing an inquiry is the identities of the members themselves. The latest additions include Reps. Mike Levin (D-Calif.), Chris Pappas (D-N.H.), Jennifer Wexton (D-Va.) and Jason Crow (D-Colo.), four freshmen who flipped Republican-held districts in November. Rep. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), a member of Pelosi’s leadership team, added her name to the list on Friday.
Engel, a veteran lawmaker from New York City, is also one of six committee chairmen tasked by Pelosi with investigating Trump’s conduct. He’s the second of those committee leaders, along with Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), to publicly demand an impeachment inquiry. Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) has privately advocated for one as well.
The level of support for an inquiry, as calculated by POLITICO, does not take into account the positions of the handful of Democrats from Washington D.C. and U.S. territories because they don’t get to vote on the House floor — though they do have influence in the Democratic caucus and on committees. On Tuesday, Washington D.C.’s delegate, Eleanor Holmes Norton, who sits on the oversight committee, voiced her support for an impeachment inquiry. Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.), who left the Republican Party in July shortly after declaring his support for impeaching Trump, also is not reflected in the count.
Trump’s continued attacks on black lawmakers, particularly Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), has ratcheted up the fervor for supporters of impeachment as well. Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), who forced a July 17 vote on a measure to impeach the president because of his racist comments about four freshman lawmakers, said simply condemning the president had proven ineffective.
“The President’s shameful comments about Congressman Cummings make it evident that his bigotry is not going away,” Green said on Twitter Sunday. “We can no longer tolerate it and condemnation by the House of Representatives clearly wasn’t enough. We must impeach.”
The lawmakers quietly working to organize support for Trump’s impeachment say there are two important figures to watch in the next few weeks. Assistant speaker Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), who is running for an open Senate seat against a primary opponent who has embraced impeachment proceedings, and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a civil rights icon who has questioned the legitimacy of Trump’s election but so far deferred to Pelosi on impeachment.
Though there’s no indication he’s changing his tune, Luján’s support for impeachment proceedings could help unlock the backing of a slew of freshman Democrats who Luján helped election in 2016, when he ran Democrats’ campaign arm, pro-impeachment lawmakers say. And Lewis’ support would carry significant sway with members of the Congressional Black Caucus who have remained on the fence so far. Lewis has repeatedly been asked for his opinion on impeachment proceedings but has repeatedly indicated that he’s deferring to Pelosi.
Pelosi’s concerns about impeachment proceedings against Trump aren’t simply a math equation. Most Democrats facing serious reelection fights — whose 2018 victories in GOP-held districts helped deliver the House to Democrats — have avoided taking a position or outright opposed impeachment proceedings. In addition, Pelosi is worried that a successful impeachment in the House would send the question to the Republican-controlled Senate, which would ultimately acquit Trump and deliver him a potent weapon for his 2020 reelection campaign.
Rather, Pelosi has urged a more methodical approach, calling for continued House investigations and legal fights to obtain Trump’s personal financial records as well as testimony from some of Mueller’s key witnesses.
In a sign of a shifting dynamic for House Democrats, though, Pelosi last week signed off on a legal argument lodged by the Judiciary Committee to obtain Mueller’s secret grand jury evidence. That argument indicated to a judge that the Judiciary Committee is already seriously weighing whether to recommend articles of impeachment against Trump, obviating the need for a formal declaration of impeachment proceedings.
That announcement, though, hasn’t dampened calls among House Democrats. Four Washington state House Democrats, as well as Washington Sen. Patty Murray — the third-highest ranking Senate Democrat — called for impeachment proceedings against Trump on Sunday. And the Senate Democrat’s No. 4, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, also came out this week to publicly support an impeachment inquiry.