In the House, the Tide Is Turning on Impeachment

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has come under significant fire for her reluctance to move on the impeachment of Donald Trump. But something shifted on Monday, with headlines like this one at the Washington Post: “Pelosi quietly sounding out House Democrats about whether to impeach Trump, officials say.”

In order to understand Pelosi’s position, it is important to know what changed. One of the arguments that has been raised against impeachment is that Republicans in the Senate won’t convict. But that ignores the fact that there aren’t enough Democratic votes in the House for the initial stage of impeachment.

Speaker Pelosi is perhaps best known for her ability to count votes and refrain from bringing up bills that would fail. She has obviously been aware of the fact that, if she held a vote on impeachment, it would be unsuccessful. Beyond the vote count, she knows what individual members think about the issue and what it would take to change their minds.

It is true that the Speaker wields the kind of power that would be necessary to pressure members of her caucus. But Pelosi has consistently stated that, in the case of a vote as significant as the impeachment of a sitting president, she will leave it up to the individual members to decide.

Prior to Monday, about 134 congressional Democrats had made public statements in support of impeachment. That left Pelosi more than 80 votes short of passage, with about 100 members of her caucus either opposed or silent on the matter. Based on the news about Trump pressuring Ukraine to interfere in the 2020 election by digging up dirt on his potential opponent, all of that began to change. As of this writing, the number of House Democrats who support impeachment stands at 165. It was two representatives from my home state of Minnesota who led the charge.

Freshman Democratic Rep. Dean Phillips of Minnesota became the first centrist lawmaker to announce support for Trump’s ouster if the president did indeed encourage the Ukrainian government to investigate his political rival. Phillips was followed quickly by another swing-district Democrat — Rep. Angie Craig, also of Minnesota — delivering a shot of momentum to the caucus’ increasingly vocal pro-impeachment wing.

Phillips and Craig are two of the legislators elected in 2018 from suburban districts that have traditionally trended Republican. That is what makes their change of heart significant. Craig’s statement was particularly powerful.

We have a responsibility to ensure that no one is above the law — particularly our elected leaders. Yesterday, the President and his personal counsel confessed to asking the Ukrainian government to interfere with a political rival. Additionally, President Trump threatened to withhold military aid to our ally if they did not comply. It is clear that the sitting president of the United States placed his own personal interests above the national security of the United States. We must safeguard our electoral process and our very democracy from outside threats. For this reason, the current investigations into corruption must continue. And when there is an abuse of power of this magnitude, it is our responsibility to stand up for what is right. This is why I am calling to open impeachment proceedings — immediately, fairly, and impartially.

Then on Monday night, seven freshman Democrats with backgrounds in national security published a joint op-ed in the Washington Post titled, “These allegations are a threat to all we have sworn to protect.” The authors include Representatives Gil Cisneros of California, Jason Crow of Colorado, Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania, Elaine Luria of Virginia, Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, Elissa Slotkin of Michigan and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia. After stating the evidence, here is their conclusion.

If these allegations are true, we believe these actions represent an impeachable offense. We do not arrive at this conclusion lightly, and we call on our colleagues in Congress to consider the use of all congressional authorities available to us, including the power of “inherent contempt” and impeachment hearings, to address these new allegations, find the truth and protect our national security.

As members of Congress, we have prioritized delivering for our constituents — remaining steadfast in our focus on health care, infrastructure, economic policy and our communities’ priorities. Yet everything we do harks back to our oaths to defend the country. These new allegations are a threat to all we have sworn to protect. We must preserve the checks and balances envisioned by the Founders and restore the trust of the American people in our government. And that is what we intend to do.

The name on the list of authors that stuck out to me was Elissa Slotkin from Michigan’s 8th congressional district, which is rated R+4. Prior to running for congress, Slotkin worked for the CIA, the State Department, and the Defense Department, spanning a total of over 14 years. Similarly, Abigail Spanberger from Virginia’s 7th congressional district, (R+6) worked in law enforcement before becoming an operations officer for the CIA. What we’ve seen from these women, both in their campaigns and their work in congress, are career government employees who tend to see issues through the lens of their professionalism, rather than partisanship. Combined with their intelligence backgrounds, the fact that they are now calling for impeachment hearings is significant.

In the 2018 midterm elections, at least 40 Democrats flipped districts that had previously been held by Republicans. As of this writing, 23 of them have made public statements in favor of impeachment hearings (the number keeps rising, so that will likely be outdated soon). That is a veritable sea change for the group of Democrats that is most vulnerable in 2020. The speed with which this is happening, combined with the backgrounds of those who are changing their minds, indicates that more will follow.

The real turning point will come on Thursday, when Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire will testify publicly before the House Intelligence Committee. Speaker Pelosi has put him on notice in a letter addressed to her colleagues.

If the Administration persists in blocking this whistleblower from disclosing to Congress a serious possible breach of constitutional duties by the President, they will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation.

To put an exclamation point on what that “new stage of investigation” will entail, three long-time Pelosi allies—Representatives John Larson, Rosa DeLauro, and Debbie Dingell—have all stated that they would back impeachment proceedings if Trump does not comply with congressional oversight demands.

That poses a no-win situation for the president. Based on what the White House has done in the past, it is unlikely that he will comply—which will trigger impeachment hearings. On the extremely outside chance that he does comply, congress will obtain access to the whistleblower complaint—which will likely trigger impeachment hearings. Then, because Speaker Pelosi is the master of vote-counting, we’re off to the races.

UPDATE at 1:05 p.m: An announcement could be coming soon.

UPDATE at 2:30 p.m.: Speaker Pelosi statement is scheduled for 5:00 p.m. and here’s more news from Fineman.

UPDATE at 2:48 p.m.: Major news from House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff.

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Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60.