WASHINGTON – A year and a half before the presidential election, Democratic leaders have been saying President Donald Trump should be voted out of office, not depart through impeachment.
But “damning” details found in special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election rekindled the impeachment talk.
"May get to that, may not," Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., who chairs the Judiciary Committee that would start impeachment proceedings, said Sunday on NBC's "Meet the Press."
Republicans, who control the Senate, remained adamantly opposed to impeachment. Even if the House voted to impeach, the Senate would need a two-thirds majority to convict.
Mueller's 448-page report detailed multiple contacts between Russian operatives and Trump associates during the 2016 campaign but said the investigation did not find evidence of a criminal conspiracy. The report documented a series of actions by Trump to derail the special counsel's investigation, although it did not reach a conclusion on whether he illegally sought to obstruct justice.
"The president's efforts to influence the investigation were mostly unsuccessful, but that is largely because the persons who surrounded the president declined to carry out orders or accede to his requests," the report says.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., was the first major presidential candidate to call for impeachment proceedings Friday afternoon.
"The severity of this misconduct demands that elected officials in both parties set aside political considerations and do their constitutional duty. That means the House should initiate impeachment proceedings against the President of the United States," she said on Twitter.
House Democratic leaders grappled with how to proceed.
“Based on what we have seen to date, going forward on impeachment is not worthwhile at this point," House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said on CNN hours after the report’s release. Hours later, he tweeted that “all options ought to remain on the table.”
Congress must have the full report & all underlying evidence in order to determine what actions may be necessary to ensure that the Congress & the American people have all the info they need to know the truth & all options ought to remain on the table to achieve that objective.— Steny Hoyer (@LeaderHoyer) April 19, 2019
Here's the dilemma for top Democrats: Do they push to impeach a president many say committed crimes? Or do they let it go and instead focus on policies they campaigned on, which helped them pick up a net 40 seats in the 2018 midterm elections?
Paul Beck, political science professor emeritus at Ohio State University, said “there’s plenty of ammunition in it (Mueller report) for an impeachment inquiry," but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s a smart political move to go through with it.
“Democrats need to be very, very careful about pounding the impeachment drum too much,” he said. An impeachment process could divide the party between members who come from deep blue districts and wanted the president out from day one and others who will have tough reelections in districts that voted for Trump in 2016.
Political reality means there just aren’t the votes to convict in the Senate, at least not now, he said.
In an indication of how the details of the Mueller report changed the conversation in Washington, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney said he was "sickened" by details of the report.
I have now read the redacted Mueller report and offer my personal reaction: pic.twitter.com/ACnExskqXJ— Senator Mitt Romney (@SenatorRomney) April 19, 2019
Romney – one of the few Republicans who publicly criticizes the president – was the only GOP senator as of Friday afternoon to be critical of Trump's actions in the report. Republicans who weighed in after the release backed Trump's view that he was cleared of wrongdoing.
GOP Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., said the report delivered “a death blow” to Democrats' “conspiracy theories” about the president and Democrats owed an apology to the public.
Democrats respond: 'A damning document'
Trump responds: 'It’s called no collusion, no obstruction'
Last month, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez resisted signing onto her friend Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s resolution of impeachment, despite being clear about her desire to see Trump gone from office. After Thursday’s report came out, the New York Democrat announced via Twitter she was signing on.
"Many know I take no pleasure in discussions of impeachment. I didn’t campaign on it, & rarely discuss it unprompted. We all prefer working on our priorities: pushing Medicare for All, tackling student loans, & a Green New Deal," she tweeted Thursday.
"But the report squarely puts this on our doorstep," she said
Tlaib's office said Reps. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., also supported the resolution.
Mueller’s report is clear in pointing to Congress’ responsibility in investigating obstruction of justice by the President.— Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (@AOC) April 18, 2019
It is our job as outlined in Article 1, Sec 2, Clause 5 of the US Constitution.
As such, I’ll be signing onto @RashidaTlaib’s impeachment resolution. https://t.co/CgPZJiULOL
Other Democrats started to float impeachment, though they were quick to say it could come only if congressional investigations led them there.
Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., said Sunday on ABC's "This Week" that impeachment was a possibility.
"I think what we are going to have to decide as a caucus is, 'What is the best thing for the country?' " Schiff said.
"But right now, let's make sure we understand what Mueller was doing, understand what (Attorney General William Barr) was doing and see the report in an unredacted form and all of the underlying documents," he said.
A Quinnipiac University poll last month found 64% of American voters said Trump committed crimes before assuming office. Only 35% said Congress should begin impeachment proceedings; 59% were against it. A majority of Democrats supported impeachment, 66% compared with 6% of Republicans.
Nadler subpoenaed the Department of Justice for the full report, and he and Schiff requested that Mueller testify before their committees.
Impeachment is "one possibility," but there are others, Nadler said Thursday.
"We obviously have to get to the bottom of what happened and take whatever actions seem necessary at that time," he said.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., a veteran of the Judiciary Committee, told USA TODAY on Thursday that Democrats are not ready to impeach "and we may never be."
Lofgren worked as a staff member on President Richard Nixon’s impeachment proceedings and was a member of the Judiciary Committee when President Bill Clinton was impeached.
She said Congress will go through all the information it can, then decide how to proceed. There’s another factor that will probably play a role: proximity to the upcoming election.
"Impeachment undoes an election, and that is an extraordinary remedy that is used when there is no other choice," she said.
Before the report’s release, in repeated interviews, including with USA TODAY, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was clear that she did not see impeachment as a strategic political move. When she was asked Friday during a news conference in Ireland whether she would support prosecuting the president, she was more vague.
"The legislative branch has a responsibility of oversight of our democracy, and we will exercise that," she said.
Contributing: Todd Spangler, Detroit Free Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Mueller report revives Trump impeachment talk, even as Democratic leaders try to tamp it down