Most Americans want Trump to comply with House subpoenas. But impeach him? Not so fast

Susan Page and Sarah Elbeshbishi

WASHINGTON – Most Americans say the White House should comply with subpoenas for witnesses and documents issued by congressional committees investigating President Donald Trump and his administration. By nearly 2-1, they want to hear former special counsel Robert Mueller testify publicly about his inquiry into the 2016 election.

A new USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll finds those views aren't simply partisan: Four in 10 Republicans say it's important to them that Mueller testify, and three in 10 Republicans say the White House should stop arguing that some officials and former officials should defy the congressional subpoenas. Democrats and independents overwhelmingly agree. 

"Everybody should be equal as far as things like that go," says Edna Wilcock, 72, a political independent and retired pediatric nurse from Sequim, Washington, who was called in the poll. "You should testify; you should have to, and you shouldn't be able to choose who testifies and who doesn't."

The White House and Congress are heading toward a showdown over Congress' subpoena powers. The House voted along party lines last week to authorize committees to go to court to enforce them. The Judiciary Committee has been poised to sue Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Don McGahn for refusing to comply with subpoenas involving allegations that Trump tried to obstruct Mueller's investigation into Russian election interference, among other issues.

Subpoena battle: Congress and White House fight over subpoenas for former aides

Since taking control of the House in January, Democrats have issued more than two dozen subpoenas targeting the Trump administration. Last week, a House panel voted to hold Barr and Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in contempt for defying subpoenas for documents about why a citizenship question was added to the 2020 census.

On this battle, Trump is at odds with public opinion. Fifty-five percent of those surveyed say the White House should comply with the congressional subpoenas. Thirty-seven percent say the White House should continue to argue the case that it's not necessary for officials and former officials to comply. 

"His response to everything seems to just be deny, distract and fight," Billy Mack, 33, a Democrat from Allentown, Pennsylvania, says. The stay-at-home father of 15-month-old twins calls it "the duty of the Congress to act."

Don Lindsey, 81, a retiree from Oklahoma City, says the president's critics in Congress are "just wasting their time." A Democrat who speaks highly of the president, Lindsey says, "There's more things that they can be doing up there to help this country get along."

Americans want to hear more from Mueller, another brewing issue. Last week, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said his panel was having "conversations" about Mueller's testimony, which he said would take place before the end of the summer.

In the survey, four in 10 say hearing Mueller testify is "very important" to them and two in 10 call it "somewhat important." Thirty-seven percent say it is not particularly important or not at all important.

The poll of 1,000 registered voters, taken Tuesday through Saturday, has a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.

Americans show broad support for investigating Trump but a more limited appetite for impeaching him.

By nearly 2-1, 61%-32%, those surveyed say they don't think the House of Representatives should seriously consider impeaching the president. Support for impeachment ticked up from the USA TODAY/Suffolk Poll taken in March, when 28% endorsed the idea.

That increase was most pronounced among Democrats. Fifty-nine percent of Democrats support impeachment, up 6 percentage points from the poll in March; 29 percent oppose it, down 5 points. Republicans oppose it by 9-1.

“You’ve got a voting public that values our system of checks and balances," says David Paleologos, director of the Suffolk University Political Research Center. "They don’t want Trump impeached, but they don’t want him and his administration to ignore congressional subpoenas either. It is important to a clear majority of voters that Bob Mueller testify publicly before Congress about his investigation into the 2016 election.”

In response to another question, 21% say the House should impeach Trump; 31% say it should investigate but not impeach him; 42% say  Congress should drop its investigations.

There is a more narrow divide over whether the House will seriously consider impeachment: 48% predict it won't; 43% predict it will.

"I'm just confused by it not being more straightforward when it seems like Robert Mueller handed Congress a document that said, 'It is your job now' to do this thing," says Amy Angel, 59, a Democrat from Fairfax, Virginia, in the D.C. suburbs. She says the House "probably should" impeach Trump, although she expresses faith in House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has counseled caution.

"I think Nancy Pelosi is very, very smart and assume she's very savvy," the stay-at-home mother of five says, "and I just would really like to know what she's doing."

More: Nancy Pelosi tries to tamp down impeachment pressure, calling it 'divisive'

Pelosi has expressed doubts about whether most Americans understand what an impeachment vote would do. "Do you know that most people think that impeachment means you're out of office?" she said this month. "They think that you get impeached, you're gone."

The poll doesn't bear out that assertion: Half of those surveyed say, accurately, that if the House voted to impeach the president, the Senate would then hold a trial and decide whether to remove him from office. Twenty-three percent say, incorrectly, that the matter would be referred to the Supreme Court. Nine percent say incorrectly that the House impeachment vote would remove Trump from office.

Seventeen percent aren't sure what would happen.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Most Americans want Trump to comply with House subpoenas. But impeach him? Not so fast