WASHINGTON - Fresh cracks over impeachment emerged in the Democratic Party on Tuesday as another 2020 presidential candidate and a top Democratic chairman called for the House to initiate proceedings — even as Speaker Nancy Pelosi pushed back on the idea.
In the aftermath of special counsel Robert Mueller's report, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., became the latest White House hopeful to call for the party to impeach President Donald Trump during a CNN town hall Monday night, joining candidates Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Julian Castro in backing the effort to oust the president.
Hours later, on Tuesday afternoon, Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., chairwoman of the House Financial Services Committee, doubled down on her push for impeachment in a lengthy Twitter storm, even calling out a fellow Democratic chairman with impeachment jurisdiction to, essentially, get moving.
"Ninety percent of the calls and mail I'm receiving in my office support impeachment of Trump and so do I," wrote Waters, a longtime Trump-impeachment supporter who has teetered between vocal cheerleader of the idea and deferring to Pelosi, D-Calif. "The impeachment resolution must start with & be taken up by the Judiciary Committee. Rep. (Jerrold) Nadler is the Chairman of the Judiciary Committee."
The developments come less than 24 hours after Pelosi sought to quell those calls for impeachment in her own caucus, arguing in a letter to her members and on a rare conference call Monday night that Democrats can hold Trump accountable through aggressive investigations.
Mueller's report identified 10 instances of potential obstruction of justice by Trump but concluded that the Trump campaign did not conspire with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election.
Pelosi has long taken a cautious approach, viewing impeachment as divisive and politically precarious for Democrats. The party is torn between wanting to hold Trump to account for his actions, and a fear of blowback that could upend their shot at ousting him in 2020.
Asked about impeachment during a Tuesday interview for the Time 100 Summit in New York, Pelosi said that if "fact-finding takes us there, we have no choice. But we're not there yet."
"Impeachment is a step that you have to take bringing the American people with you," said Pelosi, who often refers to public sentiment as critical for Democrats' legislative agenda on health care, gun control and campaign finance. "Again, without prejudice, without passion, without partisanship, but with a presentation of the facts."
According to a recent Washington Post-Schar School poll conducted after the top findings of the special counsel were released, but before the report became public, roughly 6 in 10 Democrats supported impeachment. About 41% of voters said the same.
Notably, the divide in the party - reflected both in the House and throughout the 2020 presidential field - doesn't fall along ideological lines. While many on the far left are clamoring for impeachment, perhaps the most liberal of the White House candidates, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., offered a word of caution.
If the House initiates impeachment proceedings, he argued during a CNN town hall Monday, "all that the Congress is talking about is impeaching Trump and Trump, Trump, Trump, and Mueller, Mueller, Mueller, and we're not talking about health care, we're not talking about raising the minimum wage to a living wage, we're not talking about combating climate change, we're not talking about sexism and racism and homophobia, and all of the issues that concern ordinary Americans - what I worry about is that works to Trump's advantage."
Pelosi pushed back on the notion of more Democrats endorsing impeachment. "You would think so, as far as how it is amplified, but I don't think it's a growing number," she said. Pelosi, meanwhile, has argued that politics shouldn't dictate a decision on impeachment. But some in her party think she's too heavily gauging the political reaction and the fear that the party will look complacent if it allows Trump's actions to go unaddressed.
At the same time, lawmakers expressed frustration with the Trump administration and its response to multiple requests from the investigative panels. The Treasury Department missed a deadline to provide the Ways and Means Committee a copy of Trump's tax returns; White House lawyers blocked a former top security-clearance official from appearing for a subpoenaed deposition; and The Washington Post reported that the Trump administration would seek to prohibit former White House counsel Donald McGahn from complying with a House subpoena.
McGahn was a central witness in one of 10 potential instances of obstruction of justice laid out in Mueller's report.
Pelosi accused the Trump administration of “stonewalling” on Tuesday — even as she announced plans to meet with Trump next week to discuss infrastructure legislation. She said the findings of the Mueller report, the investigations by congressional committees and the White House response had created a “moment in our history” and cast it as a constitutional issue of whether the legislative branch has a right to know.
But amid the legal battle that's about to erupt in Washington as House Democrats challenge the White House's refusal to comply with their investigations and oversight, questions of impeachment continue to confront Democrats.
On Monday, during a CNN town hall, Harris argued that there was enough evidence that Trump obstructed justice, saying: "I believe Congress should take the steps towards impeachment." Calling herself a "realist" who knew that Senate Republicans would never vote to remove Trump from office, Harris said "that doesn't mean the process shouldn't take place" in the House.
Pelosi, however, has argued the opposite, demanding before the Mueller report was released that any impeachment of the president receive bipartisan support. Republican reaction, however, has been muted if not celebratory as Trump allies say the president did no wrong.
Waters' pro-impeachment tweets Tuesday were particularly striking because she appeared to defer to Pelosi in the Monday evening caucus call with House members scattered across their districts for the two-week congressional recess. While the chairwoman investigating Trump's business dealings told her fellow colleagues she supported impeachment, she made a point of saying she is not pushing for it or asking others to lobby the leadership with her.