There is a split in the 2020 Democratic field over whether or not to openly support or call for President Trump’s impeachment. The basis for the impeachment would lie in the Mueller report on the question of whether the President is guilty of obstruction of justice. The Mueller report itself drew no conclusions on the obstruction charge but basically left it open to the Justice Department or Congress to make a determination.
Many Congressional Democrats have taken up the mantle that the President is not only guilty of obstruction, but that the obstruction he may have committed during the Mueller investigation is grounds for impeachment. Since this topic became relevant, many of the 2020 Democrats have been put on the spot or have volunteered their opinion on whether they would support such a move.
The “Impeachment NOW!” Camp
USAToday reports on the Democratic candidates actively calling for impeachment proceedings to begin immediately:
Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., was the first major candidate to call for impeachment, announcing in a tweet after the release of the Mueller report that “the House should initiate impeachment proceedings against the President of the United States.”
In a Monday night CNN town hall, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., said that “Congress should take the steps towards impeachment.”
Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., told NPR on Tuesday morning that the House should “begin the formal process [of impeachment], just like what happened with Nixon.”
Miramar, Florida Mayor Wayne Messam also calls for President Trump’s impeachment, telling The Hill on Monday, “based on what is available I believe the President should be placed under impeachment proceedings”
Former HUD Secretary Julian Castro announced his support for impeachment in an interview yesterday with Buzzfeed News’ AM to DM that President Trump “should be held accountable” for his attempts to obstruct justice during the special counsel investigation.
Out of those five mentioned, only Warren, Harris, and maybe Castro are actually candidates serious enough to vie for the Democratic nomination or a Vice Presidential slot. The rest are taking the extreme position to try and capture a headline.
The “Let Congress Decide” Camp
What about the rest of the field? They split down a few more ways with some calling for Congress to be able to do its job, while some want more investigations, and some saying the entire impeachment effort is futile:
Former. Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, said at a campaign stop in New Hampshire that “I wouldn’t blame any member of the House for voting for this.”
Also while campaigning in New Hampshire, South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg stated that “Congress will have to figure procedurally what to do.”
Buttigieg and O’Rourke are taking a more tempered approach by sort of support the effort of impeachment against Trump, but stopping short of actively calling for it.
The “Further Investigation” Camp
Some candidates aren’t ready to use the big “I” word yet until Congress does more of the little “I” word – investigations:
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., said the day after the report’s release that “There’s a lot more investigation that should go on before Congress comes to any conclusions like that.”
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., said on April 19 that public and closed-door meetings needed to be held with Mueller before a decision could be made on impeachment.
“I want the American people to get to hear [Mueller’s] words and hear what he says,” Gillibrand said.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., for example, has said that impeachment might distract from other issues important to voters in a way that “works to Trump’s advantage” and took the position that a “thorough investigation” needed to happen.
The safer position is probably a mix of the “let Congress decide” and “let’s investigate further.” Calling for immediate impeachment as a Presidential candidate can sound somewhat like asking the referee to declare the match in your favor by disqualifying the other team before the game starts.
Trump’s obvious response to people like Warren, Harris, and the others calling for impeachment, is to ask why they’re so afraid to face him in the general election? If he’s so flawed and/or a criminal, he’ll say, then let the voters decide to toss him out.
Bernie’s taking the approach that impeachment is another messy distraction and one that could backfire and spill all over the 2020 Democratic candidates. If Congress goes ahead with it, and the American people don’t want Trump impeached or don’t want the sideshow, Democrats could pay the price for trying to oust him next year.
The impeachment talk will continue, however, since a good part of the Democratic primary voting base wants it on the table since they see Donald Trump as having ascended to the Presidency illegitimately, and see him so abhorrent as to qualify for removal from office. According to a recent poll, as much as 36% of Democrats want impeachment proceedings to commence.
Whether the Democratic candidates believe it’s pointless or not, they will have to walk a line of leaving the option open or risk being sidelined as “weak” in their fight against Trump.