House Dems debate whether to impeach Trump over Ukraine allegations
Bart Jansen and Christal Hayes
Published 1:33 PM EDT Sep 24, 2019
WASHINGTON – House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will huddle Tuesday with her Democratic Caucus to decide how to turn up the investigative heat on President Donald Trump, including whether to pursue impeachment, after revelations he urged Ukraine to investigate his political rival, Joe Biden.
The 4 p.m. meeting comes after a weekend when the trickle of lawmakers joining the caucus majority that favors impeachment became a flood, seeming to unite most Democrats after months of division on the subject. Seven Democrats who served in the military or with intelligence agencies wrote a Washington Post op-ed arguing that if the “stunning” Ukraine allegations are true, they merit impeachment. Other lawmakers – including Democrats representing majority-Republican districts – stepped forward individually.
Trump told reporters Tuesday before his speech at the United Nations that the effort is “ridiculous.”
“It’s a witch hunt,” Trump said. “They have no idea how they stop me. The only way they can try is through impeachment.”
Trump had called Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, July 25 to urge him to fight corruption and investigate Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, who served on the board of an energy company. Trump also withheld military aid for Ukraine, which Democrats said made the demand to investigate Biden sound like extortion. And a whistleblower filed a former complaint Aug. 12 about a national-security matter, which appears to overlap with the Ukraine call, and the administration refuses to describe the allegations.
The House Intelligence Committee scheduled a public hearing Thursday with the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, to ask why he prevented the intelligence community’s inspector general from detailing the whistleblower complaint to Congress. Maguire has said the complaint didn’t qualify for disclosure because it didn’t involve allegations of conduct by a member of the intelligence community.
Many House Democrats say Thursday could be a tipping point if there hadn’t been one already, noting that if Congress was stonewalled on getting these documents it would force their hand on impeachment.
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., proposed a resolution Tuesday urging the release of the complaint to the Senate and House intelligence communities.
Trump said Tuesday that people would understand the call better when the administration releases a summary of it.
“That call was perfect,” Trump said. “There was no pressure put on them whatsoever. But there was pressure put on with respect to Joe Biden. What Joe Biden did for his son that’s something they should be looking at.”
Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement that if the administration persists in blocking the whistleblower, “they will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation.”
That marked an escalation for Pelosi, who had said for months that the American public must be persuaded that impeachment is warranted, as committees pursue wide-ranging investigations of Trump and his administration. Polls have shown a majority of the country opposed to impeaching Trump.
Pelosi is considering several options in response to the controversy, including forming a special committee and introducing a resolution denouncing Trump’s actions, according to a senior Democratic source. “This is a moment,” the source said, adding Pelosi could modify her long-held stance opposing impeachment.
Pelosi is facing a caucus that has increasingly grown supportive of impeachment. Well more than half of all House Democrats support impeachment in some manner. “You don’t want a mutiny on your hands,” the source said.
Other possibilities on the table include shifting impeachment responsibility to Rep. Adam Schiff, who heads the House Intelligence Committee.
Impeachment hearings in the House Judiciary Committee have increasingly become a frenzy. The Democratic source said Nadler was in “over his head” and this could “save the ship” but noted Nadler has tried to please Pelosi’s resistance to impeachment while also attempting to reign in progressive members of his committee, leading to a “free for all” during some hearings.
The Ukraine allegations changed the political equation. Seven first-term Democrats who served in the military or in intelligence agencies – Reps. Gil Cisneros of California, Jason Crow of Colorado, Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania, Elaine Luria of Virginia, Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, Elissa Slotkin of Michigan and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia – wrote a Washington Post op-ed Monday called the Ukraine allegations stunning and said they must be investigated.
“The president of the United States may have used his position to pressure a foreign country into investigating a political opponent, and he sought to use U.S. taxpayer dollars as leverage to do it,” the seven lawmakers said. “If these allegations are true, we believe these actions represent an impeachable offense.”
Others stepped forward one by one. Rep. Antonio Delgado, D-N.Y., tweeted Tuesday that the president’s first responsibility is to keep the country safe, “but it has become clear that our president has placed his personal interests above the national security of our nation. I believe articles of impeachment are warranted.”
Rep. Haley Stevens, D-Mich., said in a statement she was “deeply alarmed” by the reports of Trump’s abuse of power. “President Trump may have used the power of his office to pressure a foreign head of state for his own political gain. If true, these actions represent an impeachable offense.”
A House majority of at least 218 votes would be needed to approve articles of impeachment. That means Pelosi would need all but 18 members of her caucus of 235 Democrats and independent Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, a former Republican who supports impeachment, to support the effort, if all 199 Republicans are opposed.
House Democrats are already conducting wide-ranging investigations of Trump to determine whether he obstructed justice in the Russia inquiry, violated campaign-finance laws for paying off a porn star before the election, fell under the influence of foreign governments or profits unconstitutionally from his namesake business while in office.
But Republicans have argued that Democrats are grasping at straws after special counsel Robert Mueller established no conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and Russians who sought repeatedly to influence the outcome. Even if the House votes to impeach Trump, the Republican-controlled Senate is unlikely to remove him from office. Trump himself vowed to fight all subpoenas from congressional investigators, under what he called partisan harassment of his administration.
“What I really see happening is that Democrats are winding up the outrage machine again,” said Sen. John Barrasso of Wyoming, the third highest-ranking Republican in the Senate.
More on Congress investigating President Donald Trump:
What’s going on with Trump and Ukraine? And how does it involve Biden and a whistleblower complaint?
‘Was this hearing a hot mess? Sure.’ Democrats weighing Trump’s impeachment face roadblocks at every turn
Impeach Trump? House Democrats face delicate choice as lawmakers, but not public, push for action
‘Beating the impeachment drum’: Republicans dodge latest Trump-Ukraine controversy