Democrats in the House of Representatives have begun to openly discuss impeaching President Donald Trump. This is a new development in that after the November 6 elections most of them said they would focus on hearings and legislation instead.
But the new criminal allegations made against Trump by federal prosecutors last week have changed the environment on Capitol Hill. And this means legislators are no longer reluctant to mention the “I” word even if they say that the time is not right (yet) to move forward on impeachment.
All the top House Democrats agree that they must wait for Robert Mueller’s final report. They also know that Mueller, and the New York federal prosecutors, may soon come out with more indictments against the president, and even his children and his business.
So it makes sense to “wait and see” but the political dynamic has changed. Democrats in Congress are getting pressure from the people who voted them into power — the left wing of the party. And these people are not that patient. They want Trump impeached, and they want it now — or at least some time soon.
Here are some recent comments about impeachment from leading House Democrats:
- Rep. Jerrold Nadler of New York will be chairman of the powerful House Judiciary Committee. He called the criminal allegations from New York prosecutors an “impeachable offense.” But he also said it probably was not worth removing a president from office for just that.
- Rep. David Cicilline of Rhode Island who leads the Democratic policy and messaging group, said, “Friday’s revelations give you a sense that we might ultimately head that way (toward impeachment) but we just don’t know yet.”
- Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, the vice-chairman of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, said “the mountain of evidence is building against Trump.” But she also agreed that Democrats must wait for the report from Mueller before making any final decisions, and she hoped it would be a bipartisan process. “I think impeachment is a political process,” she added. “That means that the American people as well have to feel that the integrity of the White House has been damaged.”
- Rep. Steny Hoyer of Maryland, the newly elected House majority leader, told reporters Tuesday he wants a cautious approach:
“Our position has been, is now, and I think will be: Until the Mueller investigation is over, it’s premature to discuss what action ought to be taken as a result of it. We want to see what he’s found out.”
But other top Democrats seem to agree with Nadler’s statement that the possible criminal allegations against Trump constitute an “impeachable offense.”
- Sen. Chris Van Hollen of Maryland, a former House leader, said:
“Clearly, if the president orchestrated and ordered Michael Cohen to break the law, to act in a criminal manner, and did so knowingly … that would be an impeachable offense, potentially.”
“However, there is a difference between something being an impeachable offense and something reaching the threshold where the House should decide to take on that issue.”
- Rep. Jamie Raskin of Maryland said Democrats can’t be totally focused on removing Trump from the White House, but must use their new oversight powers when called for.
“Impeachment is the end of a long process, not the beginning of a process. It should be neither a fetish nor a taboo with us. Nobody should be obsessed with it,” Raskin said. “Impeachment is part of the Constitution and nobody should be afraid of it. But it’s a very heavy constitutional remedy.”
- Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida called the criminal allegations against the president “shocking” and the most “serious criminal issue facing a president since Watergate.”
“The president is now under enormous pressure, because as he looks at this, he knows that he’s in great potential legal jeopardy and very serious political jeopardy,” Deutch, a member of the Judiciary Committee, said.
- Rep. Adam Schiff of California, the incoming chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said that Trump may face the “real prospect of jail time” when he leaves the White House. Schiff seems to think that impeachment by Congress will not be necessary.
There is no doubt that even if Congress does not take any action to impeach, Trump will still be in legal trouble. Democrats know that when they take power they will have other tools at their disposal to hold the president accountable. They will be able to hold hearings, launch investigations and subpoena documents from the Trump administration. This may have a greater political impact that holding impeachment hearings.
- Rep. Al Green of Texas, the sponsor of two House impeachment articles, forced two floor votes on the issue over the past year. He said he will decide next week whether he wants to begin another impeachment effort over the last week’s criminal allegations.
“I will make an announcement sometime next week, more than likely, as to whether or not we will have additional articles of impeachment brought before the House,” Green said on the House floor Tuesday.
Given what Green has done in the past, and given the public statements now being made by more House Democrats, there is a real possibility that President Donald Trump may be facing impeachment hearings in the U.S. House of Representatives over the next 12 months. In the halls of Congress, 2019 promises to be a very exciting year.