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Pelosi clashes with fellow Dems in closed-door debate on impeachment

POLITICO logo POLITICO 5/21/2019 By Heather Caygle, Sarah Ferris and John Bresnahan

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House Democratic leaders sparred internally on Monday over whether to begin an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump, with Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her allies rejecting the call to move forward for now, according to multiple sources.

Reps. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), and Joe Neguse (D-Colo.) — all members of the Democratic leadership — pushed to begin impeachment proceedings during a leadership meeting in Pelosi's office, said the sources. Pelosi and Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) — one of her key allies and a member of leadership herself — rejected their calls, saying Democrats' message is being drowned out by the fight over possibly impeaching Trump.

And in a Democratic Steering and Policy Committee meeting, Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) stood up and demanded Trump's impeachment. Pelosi then countered, "This is not about politics, it's about what's best for the American people," said a member who attended the meeting.

While Pelosi and her top Democrats argue that a majority of Democrats don't want to impeach, she is under heavy pressure from some of her most hardline members to move more forcefully against Trump.

Several members and aides said an impeachment inquiry resolution could be introduced in the House Judiciary Committee in the next several days, spurring more Democratic debate over how to respond to Trump.

During the Steering and Policy Committee meeting, Cohen said President Bill Clinton faced impeachment proceedings “over sex” while Trump is “raping the country,” according to two sources in the room. Cohen later confirmed his remarks.

Nancy Pelosi et al. looking at her cell phone: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rebuffed calls for impeachment, reportedly telling fellow Democrats, "This is not about politics. It's about what's best for the American people." © J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo House Speaker Nancy Pelosi rebuffed calls for impeachment, reportedly telling fellow Democrats, "This is not about politics. It's about what's best for the American people." Pelosi pushed back on Cohen during the meeting and his assertion that she was simply afraid impeachment would cost her the House majority.

“This isn’t about politics at all. It’s about patriotism. It’s about the strength we need to have to see things through,” Pelosi said, according to an aide in the room.

The speaker mentioned that Democrats have not exhausted all options to hold the administration accountable, including levying fines via a process known as inherent contempt.

Pelosi also tried to calm restive tank-and -file members by pointing to the legal victory Democrats won Monday against Trump, who tried to block his accounting firm from turning over his financial documents.

“What we said when we started is that these [investigations] will yield information to us. Today, we won our first case,” Pelosi said. “We’ve been in this thing for almost five months and now we’re getting some results.“

The latest Democratic battle over impeachment began after the White House formally declared that former White House Counsel Don McGahn — a key figure in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation — would not attend a Tuesday hearing before the Judiciary Committee.

The White House decision to block McGahn's appearance infuriated some Democrats, who said it was the last straw following Trump's refusal to honor other Democratic subpoenas.

Cicilline said he supports an impeachment inquiry if McGahn doesn't show tomorrow.

"I think if this pattern by the president continues, where he's going to impede and prevent and undermine our ability to gather evidence to do our job, we're going to be left with no choice," Cicilline said about initiating an impeachment inquiry. The Rhode Island Democrat insisted that simply beginning an inquiry doesn't mean that there will be a formal vote to impeach Trump.

"It's a means where we can collect that information... We need to have the ability to gather the evidence," Cicilline added.

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), another member of the Judiciary Committee, is also in favor of an impeachment inquiry if McGahn doesn't appear on Tuesday.

"If McGahn doesn't show tomorrow, I think we're at an inflection point," Lieu said. "If we can't get information, I think we have to start proceeding down this path."

Pelosi, however, countered that Democats "have invested this much time. I don’t know why we would say McGahn, that’s it.”

Judiciary Committee Democrats are scheduled to meet later Monday night to decide how to handle their response to McGahn's non-appearance.

“We have a Judiciary Committee discussion later on today, I don’t want to prejudge that," said Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.). "But the situation is becoming more serious by the minute.”

Trump and White House officials have blocked Democrats' attempts to obtain the president's taxes and a record of his personal finances; an unredacted version of the Mueller report, as well as testimony from Mueller directly; more information on Russian interference in the 2016 election; and internal documents on Trump's immigration and environmental policies, among other issues.

The Trump administration has refused to honor the Democratic subpoenas, with Attorney General William Barr failing to even show up for a House Judiciary Committee hearing on the Mueller report. The Judiciary Committee then voted to hold Barr in contempt.

Democrats won a legal victory on Monday when a federal judge ruled against Trump's attempt to prevent the House Oversight and Reform Committee from obtaining Trump's financial records from his accounting firm. Trump's lawyers had argued that the committee was not entitled to the records and would immediately appeal.

Yet impeaching Trump, or even beginning an impeachment inquiry against Trump, is a huge risk for Democrats. Pelosi and her allies complain the anti-Trump fervor is overwhelming Democratic messaging on their agenda, and claim that most of the rank-and-file is against the move.

Democratic leaders also fear that impeaching Trump in the House, only to see him acquitted by the Senate, would strengthen his hand in 2020.

But there is a growing chorus of pro-impeachment Democrats, and they're being egged on by outside groups that argue Trump needs to be removed from office.

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