Democratic leaders are ramping up the pressure on Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.) and other lawmakers to abandon efforts to force an impeachment vote on President Trump.
The leaders are worried that an aggressive push for impeachment could both undercut the ongoing investigations into the Trump campaign’s Russian ties and politicize those probes in ways that might damage Democrats in their districts.
Still, Sherman’s push is forcing Democrats to toe a delicate line, with the party’s liberal base demanding that they oppose Trump at every turn.
Tensions spilled over in a House Democratic Caucus meeting on Tuesday, when Rep. Michael Capuano (Mass.), a leadership ally, warned that forcing lawmakers to go on the record about impeachment could hurt Democrats’ chances at the polls.
There must be “a discussion within the caucus — in a public forum — before we do something that would position our colleagues or our future colleagues,” Capuano said, according to a source in the closed-door meeting.
“Emotions are high. These issues have political implications and government ones.”
A pair of Democratic leaders — Reps. Nancy Pelosi (Calif.) and Joseph Crowley (N.Y.) — backed Capuano during the meeting, saying the party should focus its energy on issues like defending ObamaCare and creating jobs.
“There is a need for a family discussion before any issue of this magnitude is brought forward,” Crowley said, according to the source. “It’s of a courtesy to our colleagues.”
The message was directed at Sherman, who on Monday unveiled a draft article of impeachment against Trump, saying the president obstructed justice by allegedly pressuring former FBI Director James Comey to drop an investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Trump later fired Comey, who was leading the bureau’s investigation into Russian election inference.
Sherman, the source said, was in the room for the entirety of the criticism. He declined to speak.
Sherman told The Hill after the meeting that he has assured Democratic leaders that he won’t try to force a floor vote without their input first.
He made that clear to Capuano in a conversation afterward. “I said, ‘I couldn’t agree with you more. I’m not doing anything until I consult with colleagues and leadership.’ ”
Sherman plans to formally introduce the article of impeachment later this week or next, and then will give GOP leaders at least a few weeks to decide how the House Judiciary Committee should respond.
He predicted that any floor vote, if it happens, likely wouldn’t be until after the August recess.
Under House rules, any member can offer a “privileged” resolution that must get floor consideration within two legislative days. If the majority party rejects it, the lawmaker offering the resolution can still force a procedural vote to serve as a referendum.
Members of the House Judiciary Committee, which would handle articles of impeachment, say the investigations into Russia need to be completed before they consider any form of action.
“Let honest investigations run their course, and then we will be able to determine who, if anyone, should be held accountable,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.), a member of both the Judiciary and the Intelligence committees, the latter of which is also investigating Russia’s role in the presidential election.
Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), a Judiciary Committee member, said lawmakers need to make sure they have enough of a factual case to convince the public before moving articles of impeachment.
“To me, impeachment is the gravest thing we can do other than declare war. It should never be our first option,” said Lieu, who is one of the most aggressive Democratic critics of Trump.
But when pressed, Lieu acknowledged that he thinks Trump has committed an impeachable offense with obstruction of justice.
“I would like for the investigation to be completed. But it is pretty clear to me that he committed obstruction of justice. And so if I was going to be forced to take a vote on it, I would vote for the article of impeachment,” Lieu said.
And Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), a third Judiciary Committee member, didn’t rule out panel Democrats pursuing impeachment down the road.
“I believe the consensus of Democrats on Judiciary is that it may be too early to introduce articles of impeachment. But that could change,” Johnson said.
Sherman, a senior member of the Foreign Affairs Committee who’s been known to buck leadership, is not alone in amplifying the impeachment calls.
Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), who has also accused Trump of obstructing justice in firing Comey, is weighing whether to introduce his own article of impeachment. He told The Hill on Tuesday that he will force a vote on impeachment if Trump fires Robert Mueller, the special counsel appointed to oversee the FBI’s Russia probe in the wake of Comey’s firing.
And Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.), who floated the possibility of impeaching Trump even before the president was sworn in, said she might endorse Sherman’s resolution.
“We determine what is ‘high crimes and misdemeanors,’ ” she said.
So far, the impeachment push has been limited to a tiny number of House Democrats. But some lawmakers said they would jump quickly on board if Trump were to fire Mueller.
“You want a speed-rail car to impeachment? Fire Mueller,” said Rep. Luis Gutiérrez (D-Ill.). “I dare you to do it.”
Gutiérrez, a member of the Judiciary Committee, is urging GOP leaders on the panel to start investigating the Russia saga — something they’ve resisted.
“With all due respect to the Intelligence and the Oversight [committees] … they cannot impeach the president of the United States,” he said. “When is the Judiciary Committee going to call the hearings?”
If Sherman or any other lawmaker forces a floor vote on articles of impeachment, it wouldn’t just put Republicans on the record defending the president. When asked if it was fair to impose the vote on fellow Democrats who don’t want to rush to impeachment at this point, Sherman insisted that it was ultimately about the “national interest.”
“I think being fair to my colleagues is important. I think acting in the national interest is important,” he said.