Following the Trump administration’s unprecedented efforts to stonewall Congress, especially when it comes to questions about special counsel Robert Mueller’s redacted report into Russian election interference, House Democrats appear increasingly supportive of a dramatic move: impeaching the president.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) — who has batted down talk of impeachment time and again — held a closed-door meeting with all House Democrats on Wednesday morning that centered on impeaching the president. While no specific measures have yet come out of the meeting, it’s clear at this point that House Democrats are increasingly chafing at Pelosi’s reluctance to impeach President Donald Trump.
The pressure on Pelosi has been building for some time: The first burst of momentum in the House for impeachment came late last month, in the immediate aftermath of the release of a redacted version of the Mueller report that showed rank malfeasance and obstruction on the president’s part. That initial impeachment push was led by relative newcomers to the House, including Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY). A handful of Democratic presidential contenders, including former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julian Castro and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D), also came out in favor of Trump’s impeachment. (Rep. Joaquin Castro of Texas likewise echoed his brother’s call on impeachment.)
The severity of this misconduct demands that elected officials in both parties set aside political considerations and do their constitutional duty. That means the House should initiate impeachment proceedings against the President of the United States.
— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) April 19, 2019
The pressure to begin impeachment inquiries has snowballed since then, as the Trump administration has stonewalled congressional oversight into both the Mueller report and presidential conduct.
Earlier this month, Attorney General William Barr — who initially spun the Mueller report to make it appear far more favorable to Trump than it actually was — refused outright to appear before the House Judiciary Committee. Barr’s office has likewise refused to comply with a congressional subpoena demanding a release of the full, unredacted Mueller report.
As such, the House Judiciary Committee voted to hold Barr in contempt. If the full House votes to support the House Judiciary Committee’s measure, it would be only the second time in American history that a sitting member of a presidential cabinet would be held in contempt — even if the move would be largely symbolic.
But Barr wasn’t the only one close to Trump to thumb his nose at the House. This week, former White House counsel Don McGahn refused to appear before the same committee, defying a congressional subpoena. McGahn’s refusal followed a formal opinion from the Office of Legal Counsel, which claimed that McGahn would not face any legal repercussions if he refused to appear.
“We will hold this president accountable, one way or the other,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), the chair of the House Judiciary Committee, said Tuesday.
The administration also continues to reject House requests for Trump’s financial records. A federal judge ruled Monday that one of the accounting companies associated with Trump must comply with congressional subpoena, handing over financial records including tax returns, but the president is appealing the decision. The Treasury Department has refused to hand over the president’s tax returns, despite a law mandating it do so.
There were signs of a break in the impasse between the administration and Congress on Wednesday, as the House Intelligence Committee reached a deal with the Justice Department to start receiving some evidence from the Mueller probe.
Still, the clear efforts at obstruction and malfeasance surrounding the 2016 campaign, the administration’s ongoing efforts to subvert the law and block congressional oversight, officials’ decisions to avoid even bothering to show up at congressional hearings appear to be leading House Democrats to a breaking point on the question of impeachment.
Stonewalling Congress on witnesses and the unredacted Mueller report only enhances the President’s appearance of guilt, and as a result, he has pushed Congress to a point where we must start an impeachment inquiry.
— Rep. Mark Pocan (@repmarkpocan) May 21, 2019
“I don’t think there’s any question [that] there’s a growing realization in the caucus that impeachment is inevitable,” Rep. John Yarmuth (D-KY) told NPR. “It’s not a question of if but when.” Added Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD), chair of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, “I think we’re in a position where we’re moving more and more towards [impeachment] because [Trump] is not leaving us with any choices. You don’t have any choices.”
Even those who are still uncomfortable with the move are starting to see a clear path toward impeachment. “A couple of more moves like that latest is probably going to push me over,” Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-MO) told POLITICO following McGahn’s no-show. “And I don’t celebrate it, it’s not something that makes me happy.”
Pelosi’s closest allies have also acknowledged the broadening support for impeachment among congressional Democrats. “Candidly, I don’t probably think there’s any Democrat who probably wouldn’t in their gut say, ‘[Trump] has done some things that probably justify impeachment,’” Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD) told The New York Times on Tuesday.
Those in the growing chorus to impeach Trump have several arguments in their favor. Congress remains tasked with oversight of the legislative branch, and impeachment remains one of the tools available should the executive branch refuse to cooperate, as the Trump administration has repeatedly done.
There’s also a clear political component. As with the moves to hold Barr in contempt, impeachment would be largely symbolic, as it would likely falter in the Senate, where Republicans are the majority. But it would, as supporters have long noted, illustrate that House Democrats are willing to use all of the tools in their arsenal to maintain their oversight capacities.
Still, the push for impeachment isn’t entirely political. As the New York Times reported, House Democrats in support of the move note that an “impeachment inquiry would streamline disparate House inquiries and empower the chamber’s committees as they conduct oversight of the executive branch.” While it would focus media attention on impeachment inquiries, it would also free up Congress to refocus on Pelosi’s legislative agenda by streamlining the oversight process.
Democrats advocating impeachment are no longer alone: Over the weekend, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan became the first Republican to break ranks and come out in favor of impeaching Trump.
The final move, though, rests with Pelosi. After her closed-door meeting on Wednesday, Pelosi didn’t come out in favor of impeachment, but she seemed to agree with the basic argument. “No one is above the law, including the president of the United States,” she said.
Speaker Pelosi: "We do believe that it's important to follow the facts. We do believe that no one is above the law, including the president of the United States." (corrects: law)
— NBC News (@NBCNews) May 22, 2019
Added Pelosi, “We believe the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up.”