(Bloomberg) -- Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report threatens to drive a wedge between a vocal faction of progressive Democrats who want President Donald Trump impeached and party leaders who have repeatedly warned about the political risks.
Mueller identified at least 10 instances of potential obstruction of justice by the president, fanning calls for Trump’s impeachment from progressives such as 2020 presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren and freshman Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. That’s testing the party unity House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been battling to preserve in order to move on her agenda.
The severity of the misconduct by Trump identified by Mueller “demands that elected officials in both parties set aside political considerations and do their constitutional duty,” Warren, a Massachusetts senator, wrote on Twitter. “That means the House should initiate impeachment proceedings against the President of the United States.”
Ocasio-Cortez, of New York, said she would sign on to an impeachment resolution already introduced by another first-term Democrat she’s closely aligned with, Representative Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
"Many know I take no pleasure in discussions of impeachment. I didn’t campaign on it, & rarely discuss it unprompted," Ocasio-Cortez, a first-term lawmaker from New York, tweeted after the release of the Mueller report Thursday. "But the report squarely puts this on our doorstep."
Pelosi and other Democratic leaders have been trying to tamp down impeachment talk for months, arguing that voters are growing weary of Trump investigations and that most Senate Republicans wouldn’t vote to remove the president from office. Impeachment proceedings also would overshadow Democrats’ legislative agenda on gun control, violence against women and health care that they want to use to shape the 2020 campaign debate.
But Pelosi and other members of her leadership team are having to tread carefully between progressives like Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib, who represent safe Democratic areas, and the more moderate representatives from swing districts who were key to the party regaining control of the House in 2018 and are concerned about backlash from their constituents. The same dynamic has been playing out among the party’s presidential candidates.
Pelosi on Friday deflected questions about impeachment while on a congressional trip in Ireland. She told reporters in Belfast she wouldn’t criticize the president of the United States while she was outside of the country, but that Congress will meet its responsibilities for oversight.
“As the Speaker has said repeatedly, one step at a time. We’re focused on getting the full unredacted version of the report and its underlying documents – as well as hearing from Mueller,” Pelosi spokeswoman Ashley Etienne said in an email.
On Monday, Pelosi is scheduled to hold a private conference call with Democratic House members, in which the topic of impeachment could be raised.
Her top lieutenants were trying to put the brakes on impeachment talk without completely dismissing the idea.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler told a New York radio station that his panel, which would have jurisdiction over any action on impeachment, plans to hold hearings on the investigation, including having Mueller testify.
When asked whether the endgame is impeachment, Nadler said, "Where it’s moving toward, I don’t know," adding, "the idea is not to decide whether to debate articles of impeachment; we may get to that point."
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer flatly declared on Thursday that impeachment as "not worthwhile at this point." He took a different tack on Friday, suggesting that congressional committees have a lot of work to do so that Congress and the American people “have the opportunity to see, analyze and decide the implications of the complete and unredacted report" from Mueller.
In his report, released Thursday, Mueller found evidence of multiple instances of possible obstruction of justice -- including discouraging others from cooperating with the Russia probe and dangling possible pardons -- but declined to make a "traditional" prosecutorial decision, leaving it to Congress.
"Everything outlined in the #MuellerReport is further proof of what I’ve been saying for a long time: it’s #TimetoImpeach,” Tlaib tweeted after the report’s release. “The first step? The House Judiciary Committee launching an investigation into whether Trump committed impeachable offenses."
Another freshman progressive, Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota,tweeted that lawmakers "have an obligation to investigate whether the President committed impeachable offenses, including obstruction of justice, violating the Emoluments Clause, collusion, abuse of power."
Even before Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Omar took office, eight-term Representative Al Green of Texas was trying to force impeachment votes. Reacting to the Mueller report, Green said he would try it again, regardless of what party leaders say.
“I will bring it to the floor for a vote if the committees do not act," said Green, who twice previously forced procedural votes on articles of impeachment when Republicans held the House majority. Those efforts in December 2017 and January 2016 both failed to advance the measure, but drew the support of more than 50 fellow Democrats.
Pressure is also coming from outside Congress. Tom Steyer, the billionaire hedge-fund manager turned liberal activist, is among those who have been sustaining a campaign to rally public support for Trump’s impeachment. He applauded Warren’s “moral courage” in a statement.
Representative Mike Quigley of Illinois said Pelosi should stand firm. Pelosi’s argument is one he’s been using with constituents calling for Trump’s impeachment: that a case for impeachment first must be carefully built out of a complete record.
“Maybe we get one shot at it. Why not wait to get all of the information we can?” he said. “It doesn’t help to just keep talking about impeachment. It makes it look like you are obsessed with it.”
But Green said it is time for the House to act -- and he is not impressed by the arguments from Pelosi, Hoyer and other leaders that Senate Republicans aren’t likely to follow up with an impeachment conviction. He said the House must do its job, regardless.
"If we don’t step up and do our job, if we engage in some sort of analysis and debate and refuse to say the word, ‘impeachment,’ we will engage in what Dr. King called the paralysis of analysis," Green said. "We will do this until such time someone will say it’s too late to get into impeachment, it will appear to be political, and as a result we will then decide that this must be taken to the polls on election day."
"Which means that we will have allowed the president to be above the law," he said.
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