After release of Mueller report, Democrats face unenviable choices on impeachment

Should lawmakers decide Trump's fate? Or should they leave it to voters?

Demonstrators call for Trump's impeachment at 2018 protest at Trump Tower.  CREDIT: Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images
Demonstrators call for Trump's impeachment at 2018 protest at Trump Tower. CREDIT: Erik McGregor/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

Now that special counsel Robert Mueller’s report has been released, congressional Democrats have a potentially perilous choice to make: Should they seek the immediate impeachment of President Donald Trump? Or should they close ranks and wage an all-out effort to beat him next year at the ballot box?

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer know they must tread carefully to keep the party united and focused on defeating Trump in November 2020.

This task is a balancing act for Democratic leaders, who are mindful of how the GOP was punished at the polls for impeaching then-President Bill Clinton in 1998. Clearly, Pelosi and Schumer, who were both in Congress at the time, remember how Clinton’s popularity rose among Democrats at the perception of GOP overreach. They are loath to allow Trump to benefit in a similar fashion.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-MD), the second-ranking Democrat in Congress, told reporters after the report’s release that impeachment isn’t in the immediate future, the better to let voters make the decision.


“Based on what we have seen to date, going forward on impeachment is not worthwhile at this point,” Hoyer said on CNN. “Very frankly, there is an election in 18 months, and the American people will make a judgment.”

Hoyer’s statement echoed one made weeks ago by Pelosi, who said impeaching Trump “wasn’t worth it.” But that comment came before the report’s release, and even then she tempered it by saying she wanted to see what Mueller’s report would say.

“Impeachment is a divisive issue in our country, and let us see what the facts are, what the law is, and what the behavior is of the president,” Pelosi said.

Polling suggests voters are leery of a prolonged impeachment battle, especially if it’s likely to fail.

A Quinnipiac University poll last month found that nearly two-thirds (64%) of those surveyed believe Trump committed crimes before he became president. Respondents were almost equally divided 45% to 43% on whether Trump committed any crimes during his presidency. But more than half (59%) opposed House Democrats starting impeachment proceedings against the president, while slightly more than one in three (35%) percent supported impeachment.


Still, the Mueller report’s release ramped up the already energetic impeachment calls among some outraged Democrats, who now have the special counsel’s document to buttress their arguments in favor of removing Trump from office.

Among those leading that charge, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who sits on the House Oversight Committee. An outspoken leader and rising star among the party’s progressive wing, she cited the Mueller report on Thursday in her support for a resolution that could lead to Trump’s impeachment.

Similarly, Luis Miranda, a Democratic strategist and former Democratic National Committee spokesman, urged Ocasio-Cortez and other Democrats to bear down on Trump with impeachment, no matter the political risks. 

“Based on what I’ve seen so far, the House has to seriously consider impeachment, with Robert Mueller having laid out a very detailed case for it,” Miranda told National Public Radio.


“Democrats were elected to a majority in the House to exercise congressional oversight and to carry out their constitutional duty as a co-equal branch of government,” Miranda said. “Trump is unlikely to resign or be found guilty in the GOP-controlled Senate, but if you were elected to the House you have a distinct responsibility, even if it doesn’t square with 2020 electoral interests. It would be hard to go back to voters and ask them to trust you with their vote if you don’t follow the Mueller report to where it leads.”

Thanks to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, the entire nation knows the Trump administration tried to derail the investigation of its campaign’s suspected involvement with the Russian meddling into the 2016 presidential elections.

As the two-volume, 448-page report makes painstakingly obvious, Trump tried at least 10 separate times to interfere with Mueller’s investigation or fired people with knowledge of the campaign’s activities. Oddly, Trump failed because wiser minds within the White House knew better than to follow the president’s dubious demands.

Mueller makes a resounding case that the president tried to obstruct the special counsel’s investigation. But that, in and of itself, wasn’t enough of a crime for Mueller to call for Trump’s prosecution. His reluctance stemmed partly from Justice Department guidelines that prohibit prosecution of a sitting president and partly, as Mueller wrote, “[b]ased on the facts and the applicable legal standards, however, we are unable to reach that judgment.”

Mueller punted the question of “what’s next?” into the laps of the congressional Democratic leadership. Indeed, he almost invited Congress to take the actions that he didn’t — or couldn’t — perform.

“With respect to whether the President can be found to have obstructed justice by exercising his powers under Article II of the Constitution, we concluded that Congress has authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice,” Mueller wrote.

So what are Democrats going to do?