WASHINGTON — They’re known as “The Fab Four,” a group of freshman Democratic women who broke into Pennsylvania’s all-male delegation together and forged a quick bond.
But when it comes to the most consequential debate now confronting Democrats, the four are split.
Two, from deep-blue districts, have called for an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. Two from swing districts say that they’re not ready and that the party is better off focusing on kitchen-table issues, like health care.
The different stands within the group of friends mirror the wider party split among House Democrats as they wrestle with Trump’s stonewalling of Congress.
The debate gained new energy this week as Reps. Mary Gay Scanlon, of Delaware County, and Madeleine Dean, of Montgomery County, joined a growing chorus of more than two dozen Democrats urging their party to launch an impeachment inquiry, arguing that Trump and his administration have defied Congress’ constitutional authority with his blanket refusals to answer subpoenas.
Their close colleagues, Reps. Chrissy Houlahan, of Chester County, and Susan Wild, of Lehigh County, said it was too soon. So did New Jersey Reps. Jeff Van Drew, of Cape May County, and Andy Kim, of Burlington County. All four Democrats won moderate House districts that had been held by Republicans for decades, and three of them are prime targets in 2020.
"I’m not at that place at this point in time,” Houlahan said. "I don’t think we’ve exhausted all of the abilities that we have as a Congress through subpoena, through the courts, through the pressures of our leadership. When I look at the list of things that our constituents have called us about … sixth or seventh on the list is issues of impeachment, and it’s equal on both sides.”
Constituents are much more focused on concerns such as gun laws and women’s reproductive rights, she said. Wild said she would rather focus on lowering community college costs.
“I have tremendous respect for my Pennsylvania colleagues who have come out and said that it’s time to proceed,” Wild said. “I’m not there yet.”
Supporting an Impeachment Inquiry
The debate has left Democrats weighing what they see as their constitutional oversight duty against fears of political backlash.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) has urged her caucus to focus on the issues that brought them the House majority, and has worried that an impeachment inquiry will give Trump exactly the political cudgel he wants.
She argues the normal investigative process can work, if given time, noting that federal courts twice sided with Democrats this week over subpoenas seeking Trump financial documents and tax records.
And with the GOP-controlled Senate all but certain to block an attempt to remove the president, some Democrats worry that impeachment would damage their chance to oust Trump in next year’s election. A national poll released by Monmouth University this week found that only 37 percent of registered voters said Trump should be reelected, but 56 percent oppose impeachment.
Yet a growing chorus of Democrats is raising the pressure on Pelosi to relent.
Trump has issued a blanket refusal to comply with congressional subpoenas as Democrats attempt to investigate his finances, evidence that he tried to derail the Russia investigation, and his administration’s policies.
The final straw for many came on Tuesday, when former White House counsel Don McGahn defied a subpoena to testify.
“It’s really highlighting the fact that this is a rogue presidency,” Scanlon said, pointing to the court rulings against Trump.
She dismissed concerns about fallout.
“I don’t think everyday Americans in our community who can’t ignore a subpoena for a parking ticket are going to look favorably upon an administration that ignores subpoenas from Congress or defies court orders," Scanlon said.
Democrats believe special counsel Robert Mueller left it to Congress to act when he declined to either recommend charges or clear Trump of obstruction. They want to air the evidence showing interactions between Trump associates and Russia and Trump’s attempt to have Mueller fired.
“This president has tried to obstruct justice. Any other person on this planet, in this country, would have been charged,” Dean said.
She also stressed the difference between support for an impeachment inquiry — an investigation of the president’s conduct — and impeachment charges, which would attempt to remove him from office.
Trump has derided the investigation as “a witch hunt” and an attempted “do-over.”
For some Democrats, the last two elections show how to combat Trump.
When Hillary Clinton focused on Trump’s character in 2016, the thinking goes, she lost. When candidates talked about health care, guns, or the environment in 2018, they won the House.
Lots of those who flipped swing seats, including Kim, Van Drew, and Wild, are urging their party to stick to the second approach.
Kim has tried to turn attention to his bipartisan bill to help states establish health insurance exchanges. It passed the House last week.
“I don’t support opening impeachment proceedings right now,” Kim said in a statement, adding that Trump’s intransigence "has brought the business of lowering health-care costs and creating jobs to a grinding halt.”
Van Drew, who put out a news release on rural broadband access while colleagues were talking impeachment, told Fox Business “the point now is we want to get some work done.”
Not every Democrat from a moderate district is resisting. Rep. Tom Malinowski, who won a central New Jersey district long held by Republicans, said he “is prepared to support” an inquiry.
“We are seeing an all-out across-the-board challenge to the rule of law on the part of the president,” Malinowski said. “I want it to be said that we met the test in the right way.”
Wild hinted that she may eventually join him.