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House Democrats Debate Impeachment | The New Yorker

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For two years now, Democratic leaders have urged those demanding President Donald Trump’s impeachment to wait for the findings of the special counsel, Robert Mueller. Then, last month, the report arrived, with a list of ten separate actions by Trump that might constitute obstruction of justice and clear indications that Mueller believes it’s now up to Congress to decide what to make of them. “With respect to whether the President can be found to have obstructed justice by exercising his powers under Article II of the Constitution,” the report reads, “we concluded that Congress has authority to prohibit a President’s corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice.”

Predictably, a number of progressives urged the rest of the party to pursue impeachment. Even before the report’s release, Representative Rashida Tlaib introduced a resolution to begin investigations into whether Trump committed impeachable offenses. It has six co-sponsors so far, including high-profile freshmen representatives Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Ayanna Pressley. On the campaign trail, Elizabeth Warren, Kamala Harris, and Julián Castro have backed impeachment. Warren, who called for impeachment first and has used the strongest language, said, of Trump, at a CNN town hall, in April, “If any other human being in the country had done what’s documented in the Mueller report, they would be arrested and put in jail.”

In recent days, however, even more moderate Democrats have begun speaking about impeachment, in response to Trump’s stonewalling of House investigations. “We’re fighting all the subpoenas,” he told reporters last week. “Look, these aren’t like impartial people. The Democrats are trying to win in 2020.” In response, Representative Jamie Raskin, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, told the Times that he is open to a limited impeachment inquiry, adding, “President Trump’s defiance of Congress is far more comprehensive and sweeping than anything Congress experienced during the Watergate period.”

After Attorney General William Barr refused to testify before the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday, rejecting the committee’s condition that staff attorneys question him, other House members echoed Raskin’s warning. That morning, on CNN, Representative Ted Lieu said, “If the Trump Administration wants impeachment, they’re doing a good job of pushing Democrats there, because we want to first gather facts to decide if we should impeach. If we can’t gather facts, then we’re going to launch an impeachment.” Of the three articles of impeachment presented against Richard Nixon after Watergate, Lieu noted, the third was contempt of Congress.

For now, Democrats are pursuing a strategy that, in practice, could easily turn out to be the first, informal phase of an impeachment inquiry. They’re investigating, but without formally signalling that they believe Trump committed impeachable offenses. When I spoke to several members of the House Judiciary Committee last week, none ruled out the possibility of impeachment. “That’s another possible reasonable course,” Representative Madeleine Dean said. “I happen to like the course we’re on better, and here’s why. I have several key takeaways from the Mueller report that, for me, demand answers to questions. So I’d rather not pre-frame it with ‘We’re doing it in order to impeach or with the hope of impeaching.’ ”

Representative Zoe Lofgren, also on the committee, said, of the progressives advocating for impeachment, “People are trying to do what they think is right, and I respect that.” But, she went on, “This is a serious matter—there have only been three Presidential impeachments in the history of the country, and there have been no removals or convictions under impeachment authority, so this is a rare procedure and should only be done under the most serious of circumstances.” She added, “I personally think we need to have additional hearings.”

To what end? So far, the Democrats’ investigations into the Trump Administration and Trump’s personal finances have been less successful in obtaining information than in drawing new cases of Presidential obstruction. But the current course of investigations will continue as long as Democrats remain divided on the issue. Lofgren recounted a recent conversation with a grocery-store clerk in her district who strongly disapproved of Trump but feared that “if Congress impeaches, nothing else will get done.”

Another member of the House Judiciary Committee, Representative Sylvia Garcia, told me, “My district is a heavily—seventy, seventy-five per cent—Latino district. They’re concerned about the bread-and-butter issues here. They’re more concerned about some of the things we have on the [Democratic] agenda—high prescription-drug prices, health care, good jobs, immigration reform.”

“But,” she continued, “they do want to know what happened. They do want answers. And they’re not asking specifically about impeachment, because, you know, that’s not an everyday word. But they do want to know, ‘What did he have to hide?’ ”



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