VANITY FAIR: “IT’S NOT OFF THE TABLE”: DEMOCRATS BEGIN DRAWING A RED LINE FOR IMPEACHMENT
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Source: Vanity Fair – Confluence Daily is your daily news source for women in the know.
The impeachment caucus is in the minority—but that could change quickly. Right now it’s “constitutional hardball,” says Congressman Ro Khanna. But if Trump violates a court order, “it is a full-blown crisis.”
With former White House counsel Don McGahn openly defying a congressional subpoena at the urging of Donald Trump, pro-impeachment Democrats have redoubled their insistence that party leadership forget the politics, fulfill its patriotic duty, and, in the immortal words of Rep. Rashida Tlaib, “impeach the motherfucker.”
“This is an assault on the legislative branch,” explained Congressman Gerry Connolly, who sits on the House Oversight Committee. “It’s an assault on our constitutional framework by a president who clearly has no respect for his own office, his own oath, or our constitutional form of government.”
Yet House Speaker Nancy Pelosi remains unmoved in her stoic opposition to impeachment. “Nothing has changed from her perspective,” a source familiar with Pelosi’s thinking told me Wednesday morning, shortly before the congresswoman convened a closed-door meeting of the House Democratic Caucus in the basement of the Capitol building. In a press conference afterward, Pelosi tried to tamp down the rebellion in her ranks with a pointed accusation that Trump is engaging in a “cover-up” operation. “We do believe that it’s important to follow the facts,” she said. “We believe that no one is above the law, including of the president of the United States.” But she stopped short of endorsing impeachment proceedings.
Pelosi and her allies have repeatedly stressed that it is a minority—albeit a vocal one—of Democrats that actually supports impeaching the president. “There is a growing number of members who have publicly articulated a desire to move toward an impeachment inquiry, but as far as I can tell, the number is somewhere between 20 and 25,” Hakeem Jeffries, the chairman of the Democratic Caucus, told reporters Wednesday. “There are 239 members of the House Democratic Caucus, which means the overwhelming majority continue to believe that we should proceed along the course that we’re on right now.”
Even advocates of impeachment concede this is the case. “I would say, honestly, most Democrats, while emotionally wanting to hold this president to account, including with impeachment from a political point of view, see the perils potentially of going down that road, and would prefer not to,” Connolly told me. But outright opposition to the idea is eroding. “I would say, increasingly, the Democratic Caucus is re-examining previous positions on impeachment,” he said. “It is no longer a handful of people wanting to do it. I would say that the broad middle in the conference has growing doubts about not proceeding.”
The fault line running through the Democratic Caucus is largely a question of framing. “Do you frame the issue as a political one?” said Connolly. “Or do you frame the issue as a constitutional one,” in which Democrats have a duty to impeach? “As a political question, then, I guarantee you Democrats will not impeach this president,” he continued. “That’s the irony of what some in the media and some critics have talked about. It’s the opposite. If this is being politicized, then we don’t do it.”
Congressman Jamie Raskin, a member of Democratic leadership who sits on both the House Judiciary and Oversight Committees, echoed the sentiment. “Everybody is dealing with the same mixture of constitutional, legal, political, and moral dilemmas; I mean, it’s a very complicated thing,” he told me. “Those of us on the Judiciary Committee have just been much more intensely exposed to the president’s daily obstruction of justice and contemptuous conduct towards Congress.”
There is also some confusion over what Democrats are advocating. “The media has framed it as ‘whether to impeach or not to impeach’ —that is not the question. The question is whether or not to launch an inquiry. What we are not talking about is writing articles of impeachment; we’re talking about launching an inquiry that would give a specific intellectual structure and focus to our work,” he explained, noting that an impeachment inquiry “is a valid and perhaps essential tool” Democrats could deploy in the face of White House stonewalling. The question, Raskin continued, “is whether high crimes and misdemeanors, which are offenses akin to bribery and treason, have been committed against the Constitution and the people.”
But the message from the top of the party is: patience. In meetings with House Democratic leadership and the broader caucus, Pelosi has urged her colleagues to let the various oversight inquiries in the House play out. Democrats also have yet to exhaust other options, including levying fines against administration officials who fail to appear, holding contempt hearings, and exercising an antiquated “inherent contempt” power, whereby the congressional sergeant at arms can arrest individuals in defiance of subpoenas.
According to a source familiar with the Capitol basement meeting on Wednesday, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler stressed the importance of enforcing subpoenas and expressed his interest in holding no-shows in contempt. But, this person added, “He’s always said [impeachment] is not off the table.”
While the impeachment debate unfolds among House Democrats, many are looking to the courts to force transparency and compliance on the Trump White House. “I think so much is going to depend on the courts. What I have described is that we are at a constitutional impasse or a constitutional hardball,” Congressman Ro Khanna told me. “What happens next is dependent on the courts. If the courts rule against the administration and the administration defies a court order, then I think it is a full-blown crisis.”
ABIGAIL TRACY Abigail Tracy is a staff news writer for the Hive covering foreign policy and national security.
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