‘Are you ready?’: Pelosi preps Democrats for next steps on impeachment

By Sarah Ferris and Heather Caygle

Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday held a special closed-door huddle with her caucus to discuss impeachment, one day after Democrats unveiled a damning report on President Donald Trump's role in the Ukraine scandal that could lead to a vote to oust the president by year’s end.

In a sign of the moment’s gravity, Pelosi and her leadership team ensured that the members-only gathering was tightly controlled, even more so than Democrats’ weekly caucus meetings. Lawmakers were not allowed to bring phones and a sign on the door read “no entrance” to keep out all staff, even senior aides who regularly attend caucus meetings.

About halfway through the hour-long meeting, Pelosi addressed the caucus, asking whether they were prepared to proceed with the impeachment process.

"Are you ready?" the California Democrat asked her caucus, according to multiple lawmakers in the room. Several lawmakers in the room verbally responded “Yes.”

A senior Democratic aide said lawmakers "overwhelmingly" showed support for advancing the impeachment inquiry "one step at a time."

Asked about the caucus meeting as she left, Pelosi described it as “prayerful.”

Much of the discussion focused on the sweeping Intelligence Committee report released Tuesday, with Chairman Adam Schiff providing an overview of the trove of evidence that Democrats have uncovered against Trump in their two-month inquiry.

Pelosi urged her caucus to stick to the carefully crafted message on how Trump abused his office as he dangled military aid and a long-sought White House visit to convince Ukrainian officials to investigate his political rivals and aid his reelection.

The California Democrat also implored members — including those who haven’t been involved in the caucus’ investigative work thus far — to read the full 300-page Intelligence report. Some lawmakers had admitted they hadn't yet read the whole report, and Pelosi said members should at least read the 12-page executive summary.

“There is this somber almost resignation that yeah, this is something we’re compelled to do, and we have to do,” said Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) after leaving the meeting.

“We don’t really have a choice here,” he added. “We look at the facts, we read the Constitution and then we have to decide whether or not we’re going to do our job.”

Pelosi did not announce any decision on the next steps for the impeachment inquiry, according to multiple lawmakers. There were no details on when the Judiciary Committee might begin drafting articles, or when a final impeachment vote could happen on the floor.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) declined to say whether he believed the evidence compiled by the Intelligence panel warranted articles of impeachment.

"We’ll see, it depends on what the Judiciary Committee does,” Hoyer said. “We’re going to wait for them to consider additional facts.”

Hoyer later told reporters "if the Judiciary Committee comes forward with recommendations, I think there’s time do it" by the end of the year.

As the caucus meeting was wrapping up, the House Judiciary Committee was kicking off its first impeachment hearing, featuring a slate of constitutional lawyers delving into the details of impeachable offenses.

That hearing marks the start of a process meant to guide Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) as he and his committee decide whether to draft articles of impeachment against Trump.

Top Democrats have refused to say whether they plan to move ahead with articles of impeachment throughout the Intelligence panel’s months-long investigation, even as many lawmakers privately believe the House will vote on those articles before Christmas.

The Judiciary Committee is expected to hold at least three hearings, including a possible session next week at which lawmakers are expected to approve articles of impeachment.

"It's a serious day," said Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), the No. 4 House Democrat.