/No. 4 House Democrat backs opening Trump impeachment inquiry

No. 4 House Democrat backs opening Trump impeachment inquiry




Rep. Ben Ray Lujan

“I support moving forward with an impeachment inquiry, which will continue to uncover the facts for the American people and hold this president accountable,” Rep. Ben Ray Lujan said in a statement. | Stefani Reynolds/Getty Images

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Ben Ray Luján is the highest-ranking House Democrat to support an impeachment investigation.

The push to remove the president from office gained momentum on Monday after the No. 4 House Democrat announced support for an impeachment investigation into Donald Trump.

Ben Ray Luján, a close ally of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, is the highest-ranking House Democrat to back impeachment thus far. The New Mexico Democrat, who currently serves as assistant speaker, is running to fill an open Senate seat in his home state next year.

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“I support moving forward with an impeachment inquiry, which will continue to uncover the facts for the American people and hold this president accountable,” Luján said in a statement Monday, citing the findings from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report released this spring.

“What is evident is that President Trump is abdicating his responsibility to defend our nation from Russian attacks and is putting his own personal and political interests ahead of the American people.”

Although Luján is leaving the House next year, his decision to back impeachment could still put significant pressure on other rising Democrats to either come out in favor or explain why they remain opposed to the idea.

The highest-ranking Latino in Congress, Luján is the 127th House Democrat to back impeachment proceedings, according to a POLITICO tally. He is also one of more than two dozen Democrats to announce support for opening an impeachment inquiry into removing Trump from office since the House decamped for a six-week break in late July.

Luján said much of his decision was based on Mueller’s report, which detailed repeated election interference by the Russian government and outlined nearly a dozen instances in which Trump attempt to obstruct the investigation.

“President Trump’s lack of action is jeopardizing our elections, national security, and Democracy,” Luján said. “Not only has he ignored the warnings that our Democracy is being targeted, but he has also actively encouraged Russian interference.”

Luján’s endorsement of an impeachment inquiry is a notable milestone because he helped elect many of the House’s current crop of freshmen as the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee last year. Backers of an impeachment inquiry have indicated that Luján’s support could provide critical momentum among a swath of freshmen who have yet to endorse an inquiry.

Luján is the third member of House leadership to support the move, joining Reps. Katherine Clark (D-Mass.), the vice chair of the Democratic Caucus, and Rep. David Cicilline, head of the Democratic messaging arm. But Pelosi has long resisted calls to launch formal impeachment proceedings, instead calling for the House to continue its efforts to investigate Trump and fight his attempts to stonewall them in court.

Those investigations were thrown into some confusion last month when House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) insisted that the House had already formally launched impeachment proceedings. In court filings, Nadler’s committee argued that the panel was seriously considering whether to recommend articles of impeachment against Trump and therefore, no formal vote was needed.

But the declaration hasn’t stopped the flow of individual lawmakers — as they face voters in their districts during a six-week summer recess — announcing their views on an impeachment inquiry. Reps. Anthony Brown (D-Md.) and Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) endorse an inquiry in recent days, even as the Judiciary Committee pressed its case in court.

Before announcing plans to run for the Senate, Luján was seen as a rising start in his caucus – and even mentioned as a potential future speaker when Pelosi retired.

But the six-term House Democrat is just the latest in a string of younger Democrats to leave the House after running into limited options to advance due to the party’s longtime leaders – Pelosi and her two deputies, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.) – who have been in power for more than a decade.

Luján announced his decision to run for Senate in April after New Mexico Sen. Tom Udall announced plans to retire at the end of his term in 2020. He was quickly buoyed by support from the Democratic establishment, including Senate Democrats’ campaign arm.

Luján must now fend off at least two primary challengers, including New Mexico Secretary of State Maggie Toulouse Oliver.

But Toulouse Oliver faces an uphill battle for the Democratic nomination. Not only does Luján have the backing of the Democratic establishment but his family has deep political roots in New Mexico. His father, Ben Luján, was speaker of the New Mexico House.

John Bresnahan contributed to this report.