Moderate Dems eye impeachment as Ukraine furor builds
A growing number of freshman Democrats in swing districts are rethinking their stance against impeachment after President Donald Trump’s alleged attempt to pressure Ukrainian officials for his own political gain — a shift that could put real pressure on Speaker Nancy Pelosi to act after months of resistance.
Democratic leaders now view a House Intelligence Committee hearing on Thursday featuring Trump’s top intelligence official as crucial to determining consensus within the caucus, after leadership spent months successfully tamping down the push to oust the president, according to aides and lawmakers.
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“It is a deeply serious time, and I think we have a constitutional crisis and I think there is only one remedy at this point,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said in an interview Monday. “I think there are many people across the spectrum of the caucus who are feeling that way.”
“At the core of all of this is not the question of what happens if we move forward, it’s the question of what happens if we do not move forward,” Jayapal added.
Joseph McGuire, the acting director of national intelligence, will appear before the panel Thursday after blocking Congress’ effort to learn more details of a whistleblower complaint that Trump allegedly urged the newly elected Ukrainian president to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden’s son.
Pelosi — who fired her own warning shot at Trump about the issue on Sunday — has so far remained steadfastly against impeachment, buoyed by dozens of vulnerable Democrats who worry it could cost them reelection.
But multiple lawmakers — including freshman Democrats who have so far resisted calls for impeachment — held frantic calls over the weekend to discuss the reports, according to people familiar with the calls.
One freshman Democrat, who declined to speak publicly, described it as a “seismic change in mood.”
“This isn’t Mueller, it’s something else,” the lawmaker said.
At a weekly meeting with Democratic chiefs of staff on Monday, little was said about the Ukraine controversy, and Pelosi aides pointed to her letter from Sunday afternoon as their messaging guidance, according to multiple people in the room.
If a bloc of the party comes out for impeachment, it could change the dynamic within the caucus in an instant. A majority of the caucus already supports impeachment but many of the remaining holdouts are the “majority makers” — vulnerable Democrats who flipped Republican districts in 2018 to take back control of the House.
“There is overwhelming sentiment in our caucus and in our party that the situation with the president has grown intolerable,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee and vocal pro-impeachment advocate.
“That cuts across all political and geographic lines in the party right now. There’s just unity about it,” Raskin said.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Monday called for hearings into the whistleblower complaint, as well as a subpoena to bring the whistleblower complaint to Congress “as required by law.” Republicans have largely been silent on the allegations.
Trump has defiantly insisted he did nothing wrong in his conversation with Ukrainian officials and said he may release a transcript of the call. But the administration has come under fire for withholding military aid for Ukraine at the same time, a move Democrats said was designed to exert maximum pressure on Ukraine and force the country into pursuing the Biden allegations.
Trump himself further inflamed the controversy on Monday, as he appeared to confirm that he had tied U.S. aid to his demand that Ukraine investigate Biden’s son.
“We’re supporting a country. We want to make sure that country is honest. It’s very important to talk about corruption. If you don’t talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country that you think is corrupt?” Trump told reporters before heading into a United Nations event, when asked about what he told Ukrainian leaders.
A day before, the president acknowledged that he encouraged Ukrainian leaders to probe Hunter Biden’s past work in the country, a move he could potentially use to try to derail Biden’s presidential run and boost his own reelection campaign.
in a letter to colleagues Sunday, Pelosi warned that the Trump’s administration’s efforts to stonewall Congress from seeing the whistleblower complaint would mark “a grave new chapter of lawlessness.”
The California Democrat said Democrats would demand to see the full whistleblower complaint — as well as testimony from the whistleblower directly. She did not specifically warn of the consequences if the Trump administration blocked either from happening, but many of her Democratic colleagues see it as a potential tipping point to begin formal impeachment proceedings.
Several vocal impeachment backers, including those on the House Judiciary Committee, have felt stymied by how little progress they’ve made. Some, like Reps. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) and Joe Neguse (D-Col.), are calling on top Democrats to shift gears from their litigation-focused strategy and use inherent contempt — Congress’ rarely deployed power to detain or fine witnesses who refuse to testify.
Key court cases remain tied up, including attempts to secure Trump’s financial records, with no guarantee of resolving them before the 2020 election. High-profile hearings have yielded little, including last week’s circus-like testimony of former campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.
Progressives, who have for months pushed Democratic leaders to launch impeachment proceedings, have indicated they’re losing patience with Pelosi’s slow-going strategy.
“At this point, the bigger national scandal isn’t the president’s lawbreaking behavior – it is the Democratic Party’s refusal to impeach him for it,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) in a message to her millions of Twitter followers.
Andrew Desiderio contributed to this report.