Lawmakers return to Capitol Hill on Tuesday facing a new reality: President Donald Trump may become the third president in American history to face impeachment proceedings.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s months-long effort to contain energy for impeachment crumbled late Monday in the face of startling new allegations of abuse of power by Trump. Pelosi is expected to make a statement on the issue Tuesday and has seemed more open to the idea of an impeachment investigation than ever before, according to lawmakers and aides.
The California Democrat will also face the 235-member Democratic Caucus in a closed-door meeting Tuesday afternoon that could determine whether she’s prepared to put the muscle of the speakership behind impeachment proceedings after months of resistance.
“It feels like the dam is beginning to break,” Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) said in an interview Tuesday. “It feels like there’s a growing sense that we cannot allow this to continue, and that Congress is greally the protector of our democracy.”
By Tuesday morning, the number of Democrats publicly backing impeachment proceedings had surged to two-thirds of the caucus, with more poised to join them by the end of the week. That includes a sharply climbing number of Democrats considered vulnerable in 2020.
“Having taken an oath of office before God and my fellow citizens to support and defend the Constitution of the United states, I can only conclude that Congress move forward with articles of impeachment,” said Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-N.Y.), one of 44 Democrats deemed by the party to be in a competitive district, said in a Tuesday morning statement.
Though impeachment seemed unlikely as recently as last week, Democrats were pushed to the brink amid reports that Trump used the leverage of his office to pressure Ukraine’s president to interfere in the 2020 election by investigating Vice President Joe Biden and his son.
As an intermediate step, the House may vote this week on a resolution to condemn Trump’s behavior.
Trump has already acknowledged that on a July 25 call with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, he encouraged the recently elected leader to probe Biden’s involvement in the ouster of a Ukrainian prosecutor who was seen by the international community as corrupt. But Trump allies have claimed with no evidence that Biden may have acted to protect his son Hunter, who had been consulting with a Ukrainian company that was facing scrutiny.
Democrats say Trump’s open solicitation of assistance in the 2020 election from a foreign leader — especially one reliant on U.S. aid in an ongoing military struggle against a Russian incursion in eastern Ukraine — is a grave abuse of power. Also outraging the party: Trump has blocked a whistleblower complaint reportedly involving his actions toward Ukraine from reaching Congress, despite laws requiring it to be shared with the Intelligence Committees.
Democratic leaders now view a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Thursday featuring Trump’s top intelligence official — as well as a deadline that day for the State Department to turn over related documents potentially implicating the president and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani — as the deciding factor over whether to move forward with impeachment proceedings.
Pelosi has been coming under increasing pressure to embrace impeachment as freshman Democrats in swing districts rethink their stance after Trump’s alleged attempt to pressure Ukrainian officials in an effort to tarnish the former vice president, the frontrunner for the 2020 Democratic nomination.
Notably, seven Democratic freshmen from swing districts called for “impeachment hearings” in a Washington Post op-ed for what they said would be an “impeachable offense” if true.
When Pelosi speaks to Democrats on Tuesday afternoon, it will be to a caucus that is now thirsting for a more aggressive confrontation with Trump. Many more lawmakers indicated they were likely to join the call for impeachment proceedings by Thursday, when the Trump administration is expected to blow off another congressional demand for the whistleblower complaint.
The contours of a potential impeachment process are still somewhat in flux. Though the Judiciary Committee is engaged in what the panel has been calling an “impeachment investigation” for months, some Democrats have been whispering since June about the prospect of forming a new “select committee” to handle the impeachment probe.
Though there would be logistical hurdles to such a move, it would come amid grumbling in some corners of the caucus — and from Pelosi herself — that the Judiciary Committee has struggled to sustain momentum for impeachment efforts.
Judiciary Committee Democrats, meanwhile, have at times expressed frustration about the constraints they’ve faced from House leaders. Pelosi herself has refused to publicly characterize the committee’s probe as an “impeachment investigation,” snarling the House’s message as members struggled to define what they were doing.
The rise of the Ukraine issue as the tipping point for impeachment efforts is a whiplash-inducing turn after Democrats failed to garner public support for such a move in the wake of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report about the Trump campaign’s welcoming of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Mueller portrayed a campaign eager to benefit from Russia’s malign activity and a president eager to thwart the investigation of his allies — providing evidence of potential instances of obstruction of justice.
But Mueller’s report and his public testimony in late July failed to galvanize public sentiment, even as a steady stream of Democrats cited his work to endorse impeachment proceedings.
Andrew Desiderio and Sarah Ferris contributed to this report.