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House Democrats inch toward majority support for impeachment

The Hill logo The Hill 7/29/2019 Mike Lillis and Scott Wong
Donald Trump wearing a suit and tie: House Democrats inch toward majority support for impeachment © Getty Images House Democrats inch toward majority support for impeachment

Just days into the long summer recess, a number of House Democrats have endorsed the drive to impeach President Trump, inching the number of supporters closer to a majority of the House Democratic Caucus in what could pose new challengers for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and her bid to defuse the effort.

Supporters of the impeachment strategy had predicted support would only grow as lawmakers traveled home for the six-week break to gauge the temperature of voters. And they haven't been disappointed.

On Monday, Reps. Emanuel Cleaver (Mo.) and Dina Titus (Nev.) endorsed the push, joining at least a dozen other Democrats who have signed on since last Wednesday, when former special counsel Robert Mueller testified before Congress on his investigation into Russia's election interference and whether Trump obstructed the probe.

That list includes a pair of freshmen - Reps. Mike Levin (Calif.) and Kim Schrier (Wash.) - who flipped Republican-held seats in last year's midterms; Rep. Derek Kilmer (Wash.), who heads the centrist group of New Democrats; and a member of leadership, Rep. Katherine Clark (Mass.), the vice chairwoman of the caucus.

Other lawmakers signing on in recent days are Democratic Reps. Lori Trahan (Mass.), John Garamendi (Calif.), Peter DeFazio (Ore.), Lisa Blunt Rochester (R.I.), Ann Kuster (N.H.), Chris Pappas (N.H.), Suzan DelBene (Wash.) and Denny Heck (Wash.).

The additions have pushed the number of Democrats seeking impeachment to 106, according to a tally being kept by The Hill. Rep. Justin Amash (I-Mich.), who left the Republican Party earlier this month, is also backing the effort.

That means pro-impeachment Democrats are just a dozen votes shy of 118 - a "majority of the majority," or more than half of the 235 Democrats in the lower chamber.

It's likely impeachment backers will reach that symbolic mark in the coming days or weeks. Heck, for instance, said there are "at least" 20 to 30 on-the-fence Democrats seriously considering their endorsement heading into the long break.

Before leaving for the six-week summer recess, Pelosi told reporters that she had "no complaint" about Democrats who are pushing for an impeachment inquiry and criticizing her for resisting one. In a shift of tone, she told rank-and-file members in a closed-door meeting that's it's up to them to decide how best to represent their districts and constituents.

But Pelosi, who's wary of protecting moderate Democrats heading into 2020, reiterated that she was in no rush to launch an impeachment investigation - "We will proceed when we have what we need to proceed" - and 118 pro-impeachment votes aren't likely to move the entrenched Speaker off her position.

Even some supporters of an impeachment inquiry cautioned against reading too much into the 118-vote milestone; 218, the number of votes needed to formally launch the inquiry, is the only number that matters, they said.

"There's not much difference between 100 and 118. I don't think half the caucus represents a magic number," said Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.), a House Judiciary Committee member who backs an impeachment inquiry, told The Hill on Monday.

Asked what number is significant, Richmond, a co-chairman of the Joe Biden campaign, replied, "Two hundred eighteen. That's the majority of the House. That's the number it takes to pass the bill and to get articles of impeachment out of the House and to the Senate.

"We still have steps to go," he said.

For individual members, the reasons behind their support for impeachment are as diverse as the caucus itself. Many have been moved by the testimony of Mueller, who told a pair of committees last week that members of Trump's campaign team were eager to accept help from Russian operatives during the 2016 campaign and that Trump had lied about that support and attempted to curtail the investigation in ways that may have been criminal.

"When looking at the evidence presented, there is obviously enough smoke to investigate the potential fire of corruption," Cleaver said Monday.

Others are furious with Trump's attacks on minorities, including his recent tweets targeting Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), a prominent member of the Congressional Black Caucus and head of the House Oversight and Reform Committee. Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) has said he's keeping close tabs on such racially charged incidents and intends to introduce articles of impeachment compiling them later in the year.

Democrats have also been up in arms over Trump's stonewalling of their investigations, and even those resisting impeachment in the near term are warning that their patience is wearing thin.

"There will be a deadline because we will either get the answers that we need or the president's obstruction will be so complete that that itself is a grounds for his impeachment," Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, told NBC's "Meet the Press" on Sunday.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) is going a long step further. On Friday, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee announced an effort to secure grand jury information underlying Mueller's investigation by specifically referencing impeachment as the basis for the court request.

Nadler has reportedly been at odds with Pelosi over whether to launch an impeachment inquiry in his committee. His latest strategy keeps impeachment near at hand without launching the formal process - or forcing uncomfortable votes on vulnerable colleagues before there's more public support for ousting the president.

"My personal view is that he richly deserves impeachment. He has done many impeachable offenses. He's violated the law six ways from Sundays," Nadler said on CNN's "State of the Union" program Sunday.

"But that's not the question," he added. "The question is, can we develop enough evidence to put before the American people?"

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