House Democrats Finding Little Enthusiasm For Impeachment Back Home

Democratic House members are finding that their constituents aren't quite as eager for impeachment as some party activists are.

While the Democratic base, and especially the progressive wing of the party.. appears to be putting increased pressure on Democrats in Congress and those Democrats running for President to move forward with efforts to impeach the President, The New York Times reports that Democrats are seeing little pressure on that front from constituents and voters in general:

IRVINE, Calif. — The hundred-odd students who gathered on the hilltop campus of Concordia University here on a sunny Thursday morning had a lot of questions for Representative Katie Porter on abortion, immigration, voting rights and the 2020 primary races.

But as their fluorescent question cards were plucked one by one from a raffle drum, not one mentioned the topic burning up Washington: the report of Robert S. Mueller III.

The voters in Miami who came out early Wednesday to see a freshman Democrat, Representative Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, at Flava’s restaurant lobbed only a single question about it amid queries about clean drinking water and fresh produce. When Representative Mike Levin, another freshman Democrat, faced his constituents in the beach town of Carlsbad, Calif., he found himself politely disagreeing with those who worried that a possible impeachment could jeopardize Democrats’ chances in 2020.

And in South Philadelphia, “Medicare for all,” not President Trump, was the hot topic Wednesday night when four House Democrats answered constituents’ questions at Tindley Temple United Methodist Church.

“I believe that Congress should not pursue impeachment, and I say this as someone who deeply loathes the president and absolutely believes he has committed high crimes and misdemeanors,” Joshua Thaler, 45, said as he ducked out of the forum. “It keeps the conversation on Trump rather than on our agenda.”

As House Democrats return this week to Washington after a two-week recess, they will find a Capitol consumed by the report of Mr. Mueller, the special counsel. A private meeting of the House Democratic caucus on Tuesday promises to be heated, as do Senate and House hearings on Wednesday and Thursday with Attorney General William P. Barr.

But rank-and-file Democrats are not being propelled by their constituents into a headlong confrontation over impeaching the president. In town hall-style meetings and meet-and-greets across the country last week, constituents bemoaned Mr. Trump’s policies, groaned at his refusal to heed congressional subpoenas and fretted over what they saw as an erosion of the rule of law.

There were few signs of an uprising to demand a quick judgment that the misdeeds laid out in the special counsel’s report constituted the kinds of “high crimes and misdemeanors” worthy of trying to remove the president from office.

“It’s not a top half-dozen. It may be down at the No. 12 spot” in terms of priorities, said Ms. Porter, a freshman Democrat of California, who hears far more from her Orange County constituents that dissatisfaction with Mr. Trump should be channeled into voting him out of office in 2020.

A Washington Post-ABC News poll released on Friday appeared to underscore Democrats’ dilemma. It found that roughly six in 10 Democrats supported beginning impeachment proceedings against Mr. Trump, most of them strongly. But almost nine in 10 Republicans and six in 10 independents, whom Democrats need to defeat Mr. Trump, opposed the idea.

Democratic leaders in the House have pledged a series of hearings intended to ferret out the details of Mr. Mueller’s investigation and air the testimony of key witnesses. Rather than jump to conclusions — and there are some liberal lawmakers arguing in favor of prompt impeachment — party leaders say they want to build a case on live television before the public and see where that leads.

“We are going to do our work, but we’re not going to do it haphazardly,” Representative James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, the No. 3 Democrat in the House, said Sunday on the ABC program “This Week.”

He added, “Timing is everything in this business, and it’s one thing to run out a route, down a route toward impeachment; it’s something else to lay a foundation, gather the facts, educate the American people so that we can see exactly what needs to be done and when we should do it.”

For now, at least, the lack of pressure in districts that helped deliver Democrats their majority and united Republican support for Mr. Trump could help shape the road forward. Impeachment, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said last week at a Time magazine event, is “one of the most divisive paths we could go down in our country, but if the path of fact-finding takes us there, we have no choice.”

The report goes on to note the comments made to reporters by people attending town halls by Democratic Members of Congress across the country. In each case, while there are certainly people who think that Congress should pursue impeachment and most people seem to at least support the investigations that various House Committees are beginning in response to the Mueller Report and other matters, the eagerness for impeachment is far from obvious, Many Democratic voters, for example. cite the fear that impeachment proceedings could end up energizing the President’s base and the GOP generally in advance of the 2020 election. This is especially a concern given the fact that it is essentially foreordained that while impeachment in the House is likely given the Democratic majority there, it is unlikely that there would be a two-thirds majority in the Senate to convict and remove the President in the Senate. Such a ruling would require at least 20 Republican Senators to vote with a united Democratic caucus to convict after a trial and absent substantial evidence that would make it hard to acquit that would be unlikely to happen. This means that the end result of impeachment would be a victory for the President and defeat for Democrats that would likely happen mere months before the 2020 election.

Related to all of this, of course, are the recent comments by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that it isn’t worth pursuing impeachment due largely to the facts cited above as well as the poll released last week showing most Americans did not support impeachment. While Congres does have a responsibility to investigate the Administration and. potentially to act if the evidence becomes overwhelming, these political factors make clear that doing so would pose real political risks and that Democrats should not proceed down this road unless they are largely assured of the outcome. According to these reports, Democrats seem to recognize this fact and therefore don’t seem to be putting much pressure on their representatives to proceed down this road. If nothing else, this should give Democrats some breathing room on the issue.

As I’ve noted, this doesn’t mean that Democrats should let up the pressure on the Trump Administration:

[T]he better strategy for Democrats right now is to proceed forward with investigations into the matters discussed above and to do so in as public a manner as possible. Let all the information that can come out be made public unless it is classified. Let the American people decide at the next election what they want to do with that information. This seems like an even wiser strategy given the fact that it is unlikely that any investigations in the House will be completed until we’re nearly on the eve of the 2020 election. At that point, the question will be whether to proceed with impeachment or take the strategy I have laid out here and let the people decide. Unless the evidence against the President is overwhelming, it seems to me that the decision should lean heavily in favor of putting this matter to the test at the ballot box rather than attempting an impeachment and removal that will not succeed and which could end up energizing Trump and his base when the President is ultimately acquitted in the Senate.

Perhaps these investigations will result in a sea change that will cause voters to rise up and demand Congressional action. but until that happens Democrats would be wise to bide their time and build up the case against Trump to play a central role in the 2020 campaign as it inevitably will. At that point, the voters can decide how they wish to proceed.

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Doug Mataconis
About Doug Mataconis
Doug Mataconis held a B.A. in Political Science from Rutgers University and J.D. from George Mason University School of Law. He joined the staff of OTB in May 2010 and contributed a staggering 16,483 posts before his retirement in January 2020. He passed far too young in July 2021.


  1. Console says:

    The dems have to stop trusting the media to do its job for it. They have to lay out their case and prosecute it. If they can’t swing public opinion during a trial then they never had hope of beating Trump in the first place.

    This is like when the Dems wanted to beat Bush up over the war in Iraq, then refused to commit to any sort of withdrawal. What’s the stance now? Trump is corrupt, but he’s not corrupt corrupt?

  2. Gustopher says:

    Sometimes you have to do the right thing because it is the right thing. And usually, that turns out better in the long run.

    If Trump gets voted out in 2020, it solves the problem of Trump, but it does nothing for the hangers on and the enablers, and it leaves the white nationalists and the light treason folks as a major part of the Republican coalition, with the rest of the party willing to give it as pass. And, when someone more competent rides that coalition into the White House, we are well and goodly fucked.

    Impeachment has the chance of not just defeating Trump himself, but of discrediting the things that brought Trump to power, and the people who looked the other way, and abandoned the checks and balances. And it shouldn’t just be the high crimes and misdemeanors of the Mueller Report either, we need to add the child separation policy.

    Yes, some people don’t want to go through it. These people are either complicit or wrong.

    Yes, it could result in blowback, and move up the date when we are well and goodly fucked.

    If there’s a better way to restore the rule of law and bury the rising fascism, I’m all ears.

  3. An Interested Party says:

    Yes, it could result in blowback, and move up the date when we are well and goodly fucked.

    That’s the most dangerous outcome of all, eh? If they do impeach him and he uses that for fuel to get reelected, oh boy…perhaps it might be better to investigate, investigate, investigate…but, as another post points out, there’s already so much dirt on this trash in the White House that many people are becoming numb about all of it…

  4. James Pearce says:

    Many Democratic voters, for example. cite the fear that impeachment proceedings could end up energizing the President’s base and the GOP generally in advance of the 2020 election.

    It seems like demand for impeachment is there, but confidence in the Dems’s ability to prosecute one is low.

  5. Kathy says:

    I think impeachment is plan B.

    The House can’t really impeach based on Mueller’s report, due largely to the ambiguity concerning the obstruction findings, and Barr’s spin on it. so they have to conduct their own investigation. This will take time. If the matter drags into the 2020 campaign, as it’s all but certain to do, then that might help Dennison, and no one in their right minds wants that.

    Therefore plan A is to win the election in 2020. If that doesn’t work, then we go to plan B.

    The great risk is obvious: what if the Democrats lose the House in 2020. It’s too early to forecast that race.