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Pelosi's hard line on impeachment splits House Dems

POLITICO logo POLITICO 3/12/2019 By Andrew Desiderio and Sarah Ferris

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Video by The Washington Post

Speaker Nancy Pelosi's pronouncement that she is opposed to impeaching President Donald Trump without “overwhelming” public support divided Democrats Monday — receiving a strong endorsement from her top deputies even as it rankled some who said they don’t want to be boxed in.

Pelosi told the Washington Post that she’s “not for impeachment” and is wary of such proceedings “because it divides the country. And [Trump’s] just not worth it” — her strongest comments to date on the subject, as she attempts to tamp down speculation surrounding Democrats’ ever-expanding investigations.

But some members of her caucus pushed back on her comments, arguing that impeachment should be based solely on facts and evidence — not political considerations.

“If the facts require us to initiate removing the president, we are obligated to do it. If the facts don't support it, we won't,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), a member of leadership who also sits on the Judiciary Committee, who stressed that the decision should be based entirely on the evidence. “This determination will be driven solely by the facts.”

Still he acknowledged, “there's no question it would be divisive.”

Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who sits on the House Oversight and Judiciary committees, said impeaching the president isn’t about “whether or not the president is worth it. The question is, whether the republic is worth it, and whether the public interest commands it, and whether there are high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Nancy Pelosi et al. looking at the camera: Previous comments from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler already made clear that Democrats have set a high bar for impeachment proceedings. © J. Scott Applewhite/AP Photo Previous comments from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler already made clear that Democrats have set a high bar for impeachment proceedings. We can’t get so frustrated with Donald Trump that we impeach him just for being Donald Trump, but we can’t get so frustrated with Donald Trump that we don’t impeach him because he’s Donald Trump,” Raskin said.

Pelosi appeared to be further distancing herself and House Democrats writ large from the prospect of impeaching the president, while not ruling it out entirely. It comes after a difficult week for her speakership, when last week’s intraparty spat over anti-Israel comments largely buried the party’s legislative win on ethics reform.

Pelosi’s comments have already set off a firestorm among liberal activists, with billionaire Tom Steyer retorting in a statement: “Is doing what’s right ‘worth it?’ Or shall America just stop fighting for our principles and do what's politically convenient?”

Yet Pelosi’s top deputies said lawmakers need to proceed carefully and that the various House probes into multiple aspects of Trump’s presidency and business empire will expose the president’s alleged wrongdoing.

“I think there’s enough going on in the various committees for impeachment to take care of itself,” said House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.). “These committees have to build will in the American people for impeachment. Impeachment is a political question. I don’t care what we may feel — if the public isn’t there, we can’t go there. And I think the committee hearings and various things going on are what’s needed in order for the public to get where they need to be.”

House Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) stressed that Democrats would need support from Republicans to proceed with impeachment.

"Keep in mind, impeachment is a political process ... what does that mean? You've got to have bipartisanship," he said. "Right now when you've got 40 something percent of the country pleased, I guess, with what the president's doing. I think Pelosi realizes this."

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Monday he agrees with Pelosi that Democrats “should proceed with caution.”

“We have to take our time with respect to our oversight function, and wait for the Mueller report to be completed before we decide what’s the appropriate road to go down,” Jeffries said after walking out of a meeting with Pelosi.

Pelosi’s previous comments — along with those of Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) — had already made clear that Democrats have set a high bar for impeachment proceedings.

Nadler told POLITICO last week that evidence would have to be “so stark, the deed so terrible, that you believe that once it’s all laid out, then you will be able to get an appreciable fraction” of support from the general public.

Democratic leaders have long argued that impeachment should only be an option when public opinion turns against the president such that it’s no longer politically advantageous for Republicans to stick with Trump.

But Pelosi’s left flank has called for immediate impeachment proceedings, arguing there is already evidence that the president has abused the powers of his office. Steyer, who leads the “Need to Impeach” campaign, has been targeting Nadler and other House Democratic committee chairs in their home districts, running television ads and holding town halls to push them toward beginning the impeachment process.

Last week, the Judiciary Committee kicked off a sweeping new investigation into Trump over allegations of obstruction of justice, corruption and abuses of power. The panel requested documents from 81 individuals and entities tied to the president as part of its probe, which Democrats have said could draw out enough evidence to impeach Trump.

Pelosi’s comments to the Post are reasserting her party’s policy agenda as leadership moves ahead with other signature policy priorities, such as reducing the gender gap, protecting “Dreamers” and lowering drug costs — which some of her own members fear is being overshadowed Trump investigations.

“We are currently having hearings on bringing down the cost of health care but that gets no attention because you’ve got [former Trump lawyer] Michael Cohen testifying. All of that just sucks up all of the energy,” Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), the chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told reporters Monday.

“I want us to focus on what the people back home and asking us to get done,” Bustos said, adding that the issue of impeachment is far from the top concern in her district, where Trump won in 2016. “When I go home, I don’t have people asking me about impeaching him.”

John Bresnahan and Heather Caygle contributed to this story.

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