(Bloomberg) -- Speaker Nancy Pelosi used a closed-door meeting Wednesday with House Democrats to push back on growing pressure to open impeachment proceedings for President Donald Trump, relying on some of her closest allies to bolster her position to let the investigation play out.
Senior Democratic committee chairmen were split on how to respond to Trump’s complete defiance of congressional subpoenas. Richard Neal of Ways and Means and Elijah Cummings of Oversight and Reform urged calm, backing Pelosi’s fact-finding mission. Maxine Waters of Financial Services and John Yarmuth of the Budget Committee are among those saying Trump has already committed impeachable offenses.
“I think the speaker is right on this,” Cummings said of impeachment. “We have to bring the American people along on this and it has to be bipartisan.”
Dealing with Trump -- and with the Democrats who vehemently oppose him -- has been the biggest challenge of Pelosi’s speakership, and no question is more urgent than whether his actions could merit his removal from office. As she brought her members together Wednesday for an update on the House’s investigations, Pelosi said they had a “respectful sharing of ideas,” and that is is important to “follow the facts.”
Yet some Democrats, including Representative Steve Cohen of Tennessee, said they were left unsatisfied by this “orchestrated” display of unity.
“She had her leaders come up, which is what you’d expect -- all very orchestrated,” Cohen said, referring to presentations by Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler and Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff. Cohen said he and other stood up to say House Democrats have a constitutional responsibility to open an impeachment inquiry.
Pelosi, who is also scheduled to meet with Trump and other Democrats on Wednesday to discuss infrastructure proposals, has warned that impeachment is an incredibly divisive process that could backfire on her party and motivate Trump’s base ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
A vocal minority, including Waters and freshmen like Rashida Tlaib and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, has long been calling for Trump’s impeachment, with even more urgency since Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report was released. But until this week, that talk had been relatively isolated.
Some Democrats are arguing that beginning the impeachment process would serve to inform the American people about Trump’s questionable behavior as described in the Mueller report. California Democrats Jackie Speier, a Pelosi ally and a member of the Intelligence Committee, said the House should conduct an impeachment inquiry but not send the findings to the Republican-led Senate.
"How many people have read the Mueller report?" Speier asked, suggesting not many. "This would be about laying it all out for the American public."
Yarmuth also backed this strategy to use an impeachment inquiry to shed light on Trump’s actions.
“We need in this Congress not necessarily to expel the president but to call attention to the threat he poses to our way of life,” Yarmuth told CNN Wednesday.
The Wednesday meeting was called after McGahn said he wouldn’t testify at the House Judiciary panel on Tuesday, and Democrats appeared to be split over the next steps. On Tuesday, Judiciary members scrapped a post-hearing press conference when they couldn’t agree on what to say, according to a person familiar with the matter.
"I think that we are probably going to wind up there,” at impeachment, Karen Bass, a Democrat on the Judiciary panel and chairwoman of the Congressional Black Caucus, told reporters after the hearing. "I don’t know if that is today; I don’t know if we might be forced to act very soon." She added that the House needs to speed up its investigation of Trump to counter the legal obstacles the administration is staging.
Democrats aren’t keeping a formal whip count, and one Judiciary Committee Democrat, Jamie Raskin of Maryland, said this isn’t an issue where the most votes should win.
“I would say that there are arguments for doing it, but we have to agree collectively," said Raskin, who said he recently changed his mind in favor of launching an inquiry.
Representative Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas, a senior Judiciary panel member, offered a more cautious approach. She told reporters Tuesday that in the next two days she will introduce a resolution to authorize the Judiciary Committee to investigate whether there are sufficient grounds to launch an impeachment inquiry -- in other words, an investigation into whether there should be an impeachment investigation.
“We believe and continue to believe that we are doing the right thing by investigating, and that our task is to educate before we activate, and that is what we will do,” Jackson Lee said.
Pelosi has complained that the drip-drip-drip of legal battles with the administration over investigations underway in six committees was overtaking the party’s legislative agenda.
The House won the opening round of one court battle on Monday, when a federal judge ruled that Trump’s longtime accounting firm should comply with a subpoena from the House Oversight and Reform Committee and hand over his financial records. Trump is appealing the ruling.
On Wednesday, a different federal judge is set to hear a similar case in which Trump is seeking to block subpoenas of Deutsche Bank AG and Capital One Financial Corp. for documents related to Trump, his companies and his family.
Raskin and other Democrats have told Pelosi that an impeachment inquiry would be a more streamlined, centralized route to obtain the documents and witness information related to Trump.
While Pelosi’s tone has recently shifted slightly towards impeachment as part of the investigative process, she continues to point to the probes led by multiple House committees that are beginning to yield some results and court victories.
The speaker also appeared to be defending the turf of some committee chairman -- many of them longtime Pelosi allies -- when Cohen on Monday pressed for an impeachment inquiry.
She responded to Cohen by asking if he was advocating for shutting down the five other committees -- aside from Judiciary -- that are working on Trump-related issues. She even noted that Oversight and Reform Chairman Cummings had just won a court victory Monday.
Still, most of the new converts to impeachment this week suggested they were tired of Trump’s stonewalling on House committee requests for witness testimony and documents, and that an impeachment inquiry will provide those efforts with greater legal heft.
“More of my colleagues are coming around, reluctantly, to the reality that impeachment is necessary, unavoidable, and urgent,” California Democrat Jared Huffman said on Twitter. “This week feels like the tipping point.”
--With assistance from Erik Wasson.
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