WASHINGTON — About 40 House Democrats now support impeachment, including about 90 percent of those on the House Judiciary Committee, according to a key Democrat on the judiciary panel who is one of the more aggressive advocates for impeachment.
In an interview with the Yahoo News podcast "Skullduggery," Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., also pointed to a “a little bit of tension” this week during a closed-door meeting in which he told House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., that President Trump was “raping the country” and should be impeached.
“Speaking truth to power is one of the things that a good congressperson should do,” Cohen said. He acknowledged that Pelosi — with whom he remains close — stuck to her guns and continues to oppose the move, effectively blocking the Judiciary Committee from opening up an impeachment inquiry despite the sentiment of the 23 Democrats who make up the panel’s majority.
Cohen’s estimate that more than 40 Democrats now favor impeachment is higher than most other estimates. Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., No. 5 in the House leadership, estimated earlier this week that pro-impeachment members numbered at only about 20 to 25.
But even though Cohen’s higher estimate is still far short of a majority, he hasn’t given up hope that Pelosi may come around — and has redrafted his own resolution to impeach that he may introduce shortly. “I guess she's persuadable,” Cohen said about Pelosi. “You know, she's a smart woman and ... I just disagree with her perspective."
The tensions between Democrats like Cohen and Pelosi boiled over this week during closed-door meetings in which impeachment advocates argued that the House could no longer stand idly by while Trump stonewalls and refuses to allow key witnesses in the Russia investigation — such as former White House counsel Don McGahn — to testify. Those views are held most passionately by members who, like Cohen, are on the House Judiciary Committee.
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“People who get on the judiciary committees care passionately about the Constitution,” Cohen said. “Not to say that others don't, but not as passionately as we do to make it our first choice. And we are charged with the responsibility of defending the Constitution. It probably is about 90 percent [of Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee] in favor of impeachment.”
Pelosi, for her part, this week charged that Trump is engaged in a “cover-up” and even suggested that family members and the Cabinet should stage “an intervention” after the president cut short a White House meeting about infrastructure because Democratic leaders have pursued investigations of him.
Still, Pelosi so far has strongly resisted opening an impeachment inquiry, arguing that the current strategy of investigating Trump and challenging his refusal to comply with subpoenas through the courts was paying dividends. (Two federal judges this week ruled against Trump over his efforts to block subpoenas to turn over his banking and accounting records.)
But Pelosi also believes an actual vote to impeach is bad politics in part because it appears ultimately doomed in a Senate that is solidly controlled by Republicans — none of whom have signaled willingness to break with the president. In the House, Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., is the only GOP lawmaker who supports impeachment.
Pelosi even argued in the closed-door meeting Thursday that Trump is goading the House into impeaching him, knowing he will be acquitted in the Senate and can then claim exoneration, according to the Washington Post. “He wants to be impeached so he can be exonerated,” Pelosi reportedly said.
But Cohen said that political calculus could change if the House as the 2020 elections get closer, especially if the House Judiciary Committee could hold televised hearings to educate the country about the contents of special counsel Robert Mueller's report. That could turn up the heat on several GOP senators who are up for reelection next year and are considered vulnerable.
“You’ve got Corey Gardner [of Colorado,] and you’ve got [Martha] McSally [of Arizona,] and you’ve got [Susan] Collins [of Maine,] and you’ve got a couple of others that could get beat because of this,” he said. “And that’s not the reason to bring [impeachment,] but it's reality. Instead of saying, ‘Well, the Senate's not going to convict him,’ let the senators do what they do and let them deal with it at the polls.
He continued: “And I think the American public, after seeing the proof, ... we'll see that this is the most corrupt administration ever, and that they will not support a senator who didn't support convicting him or impeaching him.”
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