RNA - Reports that Trump in a July call pressured Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden are raising howls from Democrats, who are casting it as Trump’s most egregious act in a long string of controversies, The Hill reported.
But the startling new developments have not appeared to change Pelosi’s strategy on impeachment, a path she’s warned could be politically perilous for her party in 2020.
Sources close to Pelosi say, barring some earth-shattering development, the Speaker is unlikely to make a dramatic 180-degree turn on her impeachment position.
“This is chess, not checkers,” stated one Democratic source, describing the Speaker’s big-picture approach to the impeachment question.
In both public and private, Pelosi, a 32-year House veteran who did not make any public remarks on Monday, has argued that Democrats should aggressively investigate Trump but shouldn’t move on impeachment without overwhelming support from the public and buy-in from Republicans, who control the Senate.
Some moderate House Democrats fear that impeachment could spark a backlash from voters and cost them Trump-district seats that helped propel the party to the majority in 2018.
Freshman Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.), who represents a district Trump won in 2016, called out the president in a statement Monday without mentioning the “I-word”.
“We cannot allow even the possibility to exist that our President used the immense power of that office to protect his own selfish interests, rather than to protect the American people. The safety and security of all Americans is at stake in Ukraine and anywhere that our adversaries threaten the cause of freedom,” Lamb said, adding, “As lawmakers, we swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution. We will get the truth.”
But in a sign of the growing pressure on Pelosi — and how the politics within her caucus are evolving — another moderate freshman Democrat, Dean Phillips of Minnesota, noted that he would back impeachment if the reports turn out to be true.
“This continues a pattern of behavior that is corrupt at best, treasonous at worst, and puts our rule of law at risk,” Phillips said in a statement Monday, adding, “If the reports are corroborated, we must pursue articles of impeachment and report them to the full House of Representatives for immediate consideration.”
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, a fellow California Democrat and Pelosi ally, appeared to break with the Speaker on Sunday, telling CNN that impeachment may be the “only remedy” if it turns out Trump threatened to withhold $250 million in foreign aid unless Ukraine investigated Biden.
Trump confirmed he discussed Biden with Ukraine’s leader, but on Monday he said he never mentioned or threatened to withhold military aid.
“I did not make a statement that you have to do this or I’m not going to give you aid,” Trump told reporters on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly.
“I wouldn’t do that. With that being said, what I want is, I want — you know, we’re giving a lot of money away to Ukraine and other places. You want to see a country that’s going to be not corrupt,” Trump continued.
Schiff made clear that he was not rushing headlong into the impeachment push, which he called an “extraordinary remedy” in an interview with CNN’s Jake Tapper.
And it’s safe to assume Pelosi wasn’t caught off guard by Schiff’s “remedy” line. The Speaker spoke to Schiff several times over the weekend to coordinate their messaging on the Ukraine story, a source familiar with the conversations told The Hill.
Pelosi, Schiff and other top Democrats will be closely watching what happens on Thursday. That’s when Joseph Maguire, Trump’s acting director of national intelligence, will publicly testify before Schiff’s Intelligence panel. Maguire is refusing to turn over to Congress a whistleblower complaint about Trump’s alleged “promise” to Ukraine, even though the intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson, has reviewed the complaint and called it an “urgent concern”.
Democrats also are demanding that the White House release the transcript of the call between Trump and Zelensky, which would clarify what exactly was said about the foreign aid, Biden and Biden’s son, who had business interests in Ukraine.
In a Sunday letter to rank-and-file Democrats, Pelosi has warned that such stonewalling from the Trump administration would propel Democrats “into a whole new stage of investigation.” But she stopped short of saying it would directly lead to impeachment.
“I don’t see movement yet” on impeachment, said one House Democrat who has opposed impeachment.
Pelosi’s reticence — especially after the bombshell Trump-Ukraine reports — has infuriated progressives who see it as their constitutional duty to impeach the president. They say she refused to advance impeachment after the April release of the Mueller report, which raised serious questions about whether Trump obstructed the Russia investigation. She refused to budge after Mueller testified before Congress that his investigation did not exonerate the president.
And Pelosi has stayed the course as the Trump administration has stonewalled Democratic investigators at every turn.
“Her position at this point makes no sense. Who knows what will move her, honestly,” stated one senior Democratic source on Capitol Hill, adding, “The fair election is the foundation of our democracy. Trump used his position to pressure a foreign government into subjugating our most sacred process.”
Other veteran Democrats in Washington predicted that Pelosi would not be able to stem the rising tide of support for impeachment from rank-and-file Democrats, some members of her own leadership team, and 2020 presidential candidates including Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Sen. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro.
“I appreciate what the Speaker’s done so far, but I’m not so sure she can delay any longer. I’d be surprised if she doesn’t make some sort of significant move by the end of the week, sooner rather than later,” stated Jim Manley, a former top aide to former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.).
“It’s just become an untenable position; just doing nothing is no longer sustainable. Whether the moderates get on board or not remains to be seen. But if they don’t, I think they’ll get run over,” Manley added.
A slow but steady trickle of House Democrats are lining up to support the impeachment of Trump if the White House refuses to cooperate in the investigation of Trump's dealings with Ukraine.
Connecticut Reps. John Larson (D) and Rosa DeLauro (D) announced Monday evening that they'll back the impeachment effort if the administration stonewalls the Democrats' probe into reports that Trump pressured Zelensky to examine corruption accusations against Biden, the Democratic frontrunner in the primary race to challenge Trump in 2020.
"As with many of my colleagues, I have been reluctant to call for an impeachment inquiry because it would further divide the country, be perceived as overturning the 2016 election, and go to the United States Senate where Republicans would acquit President Trump regardless of the evidence," DeLauro said in a statement, adding, "But these actions regarding the 2020 election are a turning point.”
Both DeLauro, a close ally of Pelosi, and Larson, the former head of the Democratic Caucus, have previously rejected impeachment in favor of the investigative strategy favored by Pelosi and other top Democratic leaders. By sounding a warning that they're on the cusp of supporting the liberal impeachment push, they've sent a signal that the allegations of Trump recruiting a foreign power to help his 2020 bid could be a tipping point in the impeachment debate.
Neither lawmaker endorsed impeachment outright, but stressed that they'll do so if Joseph Maguire, the acting director of National Intelligence, refuses to release a whistleblower report detailing Trump's July conversation with Zelensky when Maguire appears before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday.
"This is a defining moment," Larson said in a statement, adding, "If the Director refuses to comply at Thursday’s hearing, the Trump Administration has left Congress with no alternative but for the House to begin impeachment proceedings, which I will support.”
"An impeachment inquiry may be the only recourse Congress has if the President is enlisting foreign assistance in the 2020 election," DeLauro said, adding, "Congress must meet this pivotal moment in our nation’s history with decisive action.”
Yet two Minnesota Democrats in battleground districts — Phillips and Angie Craig — announced Monday that they, too, would endorse impeachment if further investigations reveal that Trump coordinated with a foreign leader to harm his foremost political rival.
Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), who had previously said impeachment would be playing into Russia's hands, on Monday said she supported an inquiry "after recent revelations".
"This country is divided. We cannot be divided on the rule of law. As an elected official my oath is to protect national security and the Constitution. After recent revelations, I support an impeachment inquiry because we must follow the facts and hold the President accountable," she wrote on Twitter.
Also on Monday a group of seven freshmen House Democrats penned an op-ed in The Washington Post in which they said the allegations against Trump, if true, would be an impeachable offense.
"He allegedly sought to use the very security assistance dollars appropriated by Congress to create stability in the world, to help root out corruption and to protect our national security interests, for his own personal gain," the lawmakers wrote, adding, "These allegations are stunning, both in the national security threat they pose and the potential corruption they represent."
Democrats, already critical of the Trump campaign's interactions with Russian operatives during the 2016 cycle, are skeptical of the president's claims. They want full transparency surrounding Trump's conversation with Zelensky — waving the impeachment threat as perhaps their only response if the White House fails to comply.
Pelosi has scheduled a meeting Tuesday afternoon with the chairs of the six committees conducting investigations into Trump, according to a source familiar with the plan. House Democrats have also scheduled an unusual caucus meeting on Tuesday in the Capitol. The topic remains unclear, but aides speculated it would focus on a path forward on impeachment.