Democrats seek to quell Trump impeachment talk
They call it the ‘I’ word.
Just a month into Donald Trump’s presidency, Democratic Party leaders are trying to rein in the talk of impeachment that’s animating the grassroots, the product of a restive base demanding deeper and more aggressive investigations into Trump’s ties to Russia.
Democratic officials in Republican-dominated Washington view the entire subject as a trap, a premature discussion that could backfire in spectacular fashion by making the party appear too overzealous in its opposition to Trump. Worse, they fear, it could harden Republican support for the president by handing his party significant fundraising and political ammunition when the chances of success for an early impeachment push are remote, at best.
“We need to assemble all of the facts, and right now there are a lot of questions about the president’s personal, financial, and political ties with the Russian government before the election, but also whether there were any assurances made,” said California Rep. Eric Swalwell, a member of the House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence. “Before you can use the ‘I’ word, you really need to collect all the facts."
“The ‘I’ word we should be focused on,” added Pennsylvania Rep. Brendan Boyle, “is 'investigations.'"
The problem for party lawmakers is that the hard-to-placate Democratic base has assumed a stop-Trump-at-all-costs posture. At a recent town hall in Albany, Oregon, Sen. Ron Wyden faced three questions about the issue. Rep. Jim McGovern, who was also confronted with the impeachment question at an event in Northampton, Mass., told his constituents it's not the right strategy for the moment, according to local reports. In California, a real estate broker has launched a challenge to Republican Rep. Dana Rohrabacher using a new “Impeach Trump Leadership PAC.”
But it’s not just furious rank-and-file Democrats who are raising the idea. A handful of Democratic House progressives — among them California Rep. Maxine Waters, Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, and Texas Rep. Joaquin Castro — have already publicly raised the specter of impeachment.
Waters has said she thinks Trump is marching himself down the path to impeachment, while Raskin — whose office was presented this week with a petition carrying more than 850,000 signatures calling for impeachment — has repeatedly brought up the prospect of voting for impeachment "at some point" in rallies and interviews. Castro has said Trump should be impeached if the president repeatedly instructed Customs and Border Protection officials to ignore federal judges' orders.
Some have read New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler’s “resolution of inquiry” that could force the Department of Justice to share information about Trump’s Russian ties and conflicts of interest as a way to further lay the groundwork for impeachment.
“You see immense energy from people who want to resist the president. And that’s affecting the Congress,” said California Rep. Ted Lieu, who has said that a Democratic-controlled House of Representatives would impeach Trump. "A recent poll came out saying that 46 percent of Americans want the president impeached, and certainly members of Congress take notice."
Still, most congressional Democrats insist on drawing a line that stops far short of using the loaded term — Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi went so far as to call Waters’ impeachment chatter “strategically incoherent” and “reckless" this month.
They believe that even if they did have enough evidence to start impeachment proceedings — which they don’t, since a number of investigations are still in their early stages, and Democrats can’t just impeach a president because they don’t like him — they wouldn’t have anywhere near enough votes as long as Trump-sympathetic Republicans control the majority.
Neither party leadership nor the campaign committees have circulated talking points or suggested ways to respond to impeachment questions that are starting to appear. But they are already aware of the potential electoral blowback to the party.
The mere mention of impeachment on the left has already kicked off a fundraising frenzy on the Republican side, with both the GOP House and Senate campaign wings raising cash off it — much like Democrats did under Obama when Republicans speculated about the prospect.
“No president has EVER endured the level of disrespect shown to President Trump. (It’s sickening) Unprecedented obstruction from the left on his cabinet nominees. Mockery and scorn from the liberal media. And now the liberal elite are calling for his impeachment … IN HIS FIRST MONTH,” reads a National Republican Senatorial Committee email from this week.
Since 12 House Democrats sit in seats won by Trump while 23 House Republicans serve districts won by Hillary Clinton, party operatives eyeing gains in the chamber fear that crossover voters could turn against Democrats if their party is perceived as reckless in its pursuit of Trump.
Nonetheless, the pressure to stand in Trump’s way has amped up on the ground in the days since the resignation of National Security Adviser Michael Flynn, say party officials, and Democratic voters appear poised to pounce on any further revelations.
“The energy right now is really on Congress and trying to get some Republicans to find some backbone. As we see the Flynn stuff and the question of who asked him to make the call, that could change as it develops,” said Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper, who’s been touring his state in a series of town hall meetings. “But for the moment people are focused on the most productive avenues for their frustrations, like ‘call Pat Tiberi’ or ‘tell Rob Portman to vote against Scott Pruitt.’"
Rather than pursuing impeachment, most Hill Democrats are focusing their energies on convincing colleagues across the aisle to publicly support or join their investigations, viewing that as the most productive path forward. The brewing voter anger can only help them reach that goal, they believe.
“Both Democrats and Republicans are going home for the next 10 days for our district work period, and I suspect Republicans are going to hear a lot from home, from their constituents,” said Swalwell. “Before Flynn resigned, as this was boiling up over the weekend, Republicans I would run into in town would start to say, ‘What is going on?’ Even those who were willing to give him the benefit of the doubt."
Senate Democratic leadership is for now content with the Republican-led Senate Intelligence Committee taking the lead, while others have called for an independent, 9/11-style commission looking into Trump’s Russian ties. Urging the creation of such a group, the Democratic National Committee proclaimed that the scandal was already “bigger than Watergate."
Those ever-more-popular comparisons to Richard Nixon, accordingly, are as close to impeachment talk as most Democrats will get.
“There are eerie parallels,” said Boyle, "between the 1972 campaign going into ’73 and the beginning of the Watergate hearings, and the experience of 2016 going into 2017."