/Pro-impeachment ranks grow as Pelosi remains unmoved

Pro-impeachment ranks grow as Pelosi remains unmoved

Nancy Pelosi

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has stood her ground as a growing number of fellow Democrats have called for impeaching the president. | Win McNamee/Getty Images

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More than 70 Democrats now back beginning an impeachment inquiry against Trump — and the numbers are expected to increase.

The number of House Democrats calling for impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump has swelled to more than 70, showing momentum for efforts to oust the president, even as Speaker Nancy Pelosi refuses to go along with such a move.

Just on Thursday, four Democrats — Nydia Velázquez of New York, Tony Cardenas of California and Jan Schakowsky and Sean Casten of Illinois — announced their support for an impeachment inquiry.

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That makes a dozen more Democrats now on record backing the inquiry since just last week, boosting the total to nearly one-third of the caucus. Included in the group are vulnerable freshmen members who beat Republicans during the last election cycle, and more Democrats are expected to announce their support in the coming days.

The slow drip of members embracing impeachment isn’t entirely by accident. The rollout is being assisted by a handful of Judiciary Committee Democrats who have been providing tactical advice such as how to raise the issue with leadership and messaging support to their colleagues as they publicly back impeachment, according to multiple lawmakers and aides.

“I think it is important for people like me to name what’s happening right now,” Schakowsky, a close ally of Pelosi, told reporters in explaining why she threw her support to an impeachment inquiry after months of holding back.

“That this man is unfit to be president, that he has committed high crimes and misdemeanors, that he has disobeyed the law, that he has attacked every institution of our democracy. And that makes him deserving of an impeachment inquiry,” Schakowsky added.

Yet even as some of her closest allies shift to backing an impeachment inquiry, Pelosi still refuses to consider the idea without Republican support. She told reporters on Wednesday that support for launching impeachment proceedings would have to “run deep” for her to change her mind. However, Pelosi also ruled out censuring Trump — a far less severe reprimand — leaving Democrats with only removing Trump from office if they want to punish him.

“I don’t think you should have an inquiry unless you’re ready to impeach. Again, I’ve never asked any members not to do this, that,” Pelosi said. “I feel no pressure from my members to do anything. And I have no pressure on them to do anything.”

So far, only one Republican — Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan — has called for an impeachment inquiry.

Yet despite Pelosi’s confident assertions, she’s seeing the ground slowly shift under her feet as a mix of key Democratic allies, committee leaders and vulnerable freshmen throw their support behind the effort to oust the president.

“If it wasn’t for politics, we would be impeaching this guy,” said Rep. Juan Vargas (D-Calif.). “If this was a regular situation where we were taking a look at what a person has done, the crimes they have committed, I think it’s a clear call that he should be impeached.”

“There may be only 72 [pro-impeachment Democrats] in public, but there are 200 in private,” said another Democratic aide, speaking on the condition of anonymity. “But they’re holding back out of deference for Pelosi.”

House Judiciary Committee members have been battling Trump’s White House for months, attempting to highlight evidence obtained by former special counsel Robert Mueller that the president attempted to obstruct justice during the Russia election meddling probe.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) huddled with four of the most vocal Democrats on the issue — Reps. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, David Cicilline of Rhode Island, Joe Neguse of Colorado and Pramila Jayapal of Washington state — on Wednesday afternoon.

During the meeting, the members discussed the possibility that Pelosi could create a special committee to oversee an impeachment inquiry and appoint California Rep. Adam Schiff, an ally of the speaker and leader of the House Intelligence Committee, as chairman, according to lawmakers and aides.

No one in the upper ranks of leadership has ever raised this possibility, according to Democratic sources, but the idea has been privately fretted about among rank-and-file members for weeks. Schiff is one of the loudest voices against impeachment inside Democratic leadership. So even mentioning him as part of the impeachment inquiry underscores the paranoia among some members that Pelosi would try to undermine the proceedings even if she were to publicly support the plan.

Top Democratic staffers swatted down the idea of a select committee as a non-starter, adding that it’s never even been on the table. One Democratic aide said the leadership is “happy with the progress the six chairmen are making and there has been no discussion of any such proposal,” referring to Nadler and other panel leaders overseeing the various Trump-related probes.

Still, Raskin, Cicilline, Neguse and Jayapal have become some of the go-to lawmakers for apprehensive colleagues looking for guidance as they prepare to publicly back opening an impeachment inquiry.

Lawmakers and aides with knowledge of the effort all stressed that the group is in no way pressuring members to come out in favor of an inquiry or coordinating timing of the announcements. But they are offering tips on how to approach leadership about the topic, what steps to take in the interim and the best way to make their announcement. A video now seems to be the popular choice, according to one source, as Schakowsky, Velázquez and Rep. Katie Porter of California all announced their support that way.

And sometimes appreciation for their pro-impeachment stance spills out into the public. Jayapal briefly paused an interview with a reporter on Thursday to offer an emphatic “thank you” to Schakowsky as she passed her in a basement hallway in the Capitol. And earlier in the week, Raskin gave Porter a quick pat on the back as he walked by her outside the House chamber, adding “Katie, well done, well done.”

“There’s a group of us who are on judiciary who are deeply ensconced in everything,” said one of the lawmakers involved in the discussions, who requested anonymity. “We’re not whipping, but we’re just talking to people about what we’re seeing and why it’s important. People who are on committees of jurisdiction have a lot more information, so people are coming to us to ask us what’s going on and we’re sharing our views.”

“I think it’s just helping members to understand what the stakes are, think about how they can do this,” the lawmaker added.

Yet allies of the speaker reject the notion that she’s facing more pressure to begin impeachment proceedings as the trickle of Democrats coming out in favor remains steady.

Pelosi still has the firm support of her senior leadership team — including Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, Majority Whip Jim Clyburn and Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries, though Clyburn publicly walked back comments earlier this month that impeaching Trump was only a matter of time. And roughly 70 percent of the caucus doesn’t support impeachment or hasn’t publicly weighed in.

“Over 160 members are supportive of staying the course and making sure that we continue to follow the facts, apply the law and be guided by the Constitution,” Jeffries said in an interview.

“This is a family conversation. We expect that we’ll continue to have an ongoing discussion. But we all want to get to the same place — which is figure out the truth of what happened and make sure we enforce the principle that no single individual is above the law.”

However, the numbers and makeup of impeachment backers is noteworthy. Six of Pelosi’s committee chairs have come out publicly for opening an impeachment inquiry. And Nadler has twice pressed the idea privately with Pelosi, only to be rebuffed.

Three Democratic freshmen who represent Republican-leaning districts have also endorsed the idea with lawmakers saying privately they expect more of these “frontliners” to support an impeachment inquiry soon.

Andrew Desiderio and Kyle Cheney contributed to this report.