In all likelihood, the impeachment train will continue limping along as an undercurrent during the entirety of the Democratic primary. However, does it really have any teeth as some candidates begin to hop on and start pushing the narrative forward? We wrote previously about Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s warning to her fellow Democrats that attempting to impeach President Trump could lead them down a destructive path for 2020.
Some 2020 Democratic contenders seem to agree with Pelosi, while others, such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Beto O’Rourke, have thrown that caution to the wind and decided to go all-in on the impeachment push.
As Politico now reports, Warren took to the Senate floor on Tuesday to make the case for impeachment:
“I felt a responsibility to go to the floor to say: ‘Case not closed, buddy,’” Warren said in an interview, referring to Mitch McConnell’s “case closed” declaration that it was time for Congress to move on from the Russia investigation.
Warren has been making the case for impeachment more forcefully in the past few weeks than any of her 2020 Democratic rivals the past few weeks — a move that could help the Massachusetts senator rally party activists itching to take on Trump. The push, along with Warren’s rollout of a menu of policy proposals, has coincided with an uptick in her poll figures and a spate of positive news coverage.
Yet most Democrats in Congress — and even some of her primary opponents — think Warren’s play is polarizing and risky. They’re wary of undercutting House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who opposes a rush to impeach, or allowing their campaigns to be defined by a potential spectacle that a relatively small slice of the electorate is demanding.
As Politico notes, and we chronicled here some days back, Warren’s forceful impeachment talk and a new round of policy proposals have helped buoy her campaign with an uptick in her poll numbers. Maybe the impeachment talk is working for Warren since she’s catering to a part of the Democratic base that is being told to “sit down, and shut up,” while the rest of the party selects a 2020 nominee.
Other 2020 contenders, such as Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, are much more equivocal on the matter:
“Impeachment should be left on the table. But I do believe what Speaker Pelosi is doing is smart,” said Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), who also is competing for the Democratic nomination. Voters aren’t tuned in to all “the facts and the details,” she added, “so I think if you want to bring the American people along with you, you really need to have these hearings” before initiating impeachment proceedings.
Gillibrand is playing it safe, and her poll numbers seem to reflect that strategy as well since they haven’t moved for many weeks now. The “safe” route on impeachment is to defer and take a laid-back approach by saying that Congress should be allowed to complete any number of investigations before we pull out the “I” word.
Beto Joins Impeachment Train
Warren does have one ally in the 2020 field who recently changed his tune on impeachment. Beto O’Rourke now says that the circumstances are such that Congress mustn’t avoid the move any longer:
Beto O’Rourke now explicitly supports impeaching Donald Trump — a stance he had avoided since launching his own campaign for president.
“We’re finally learning the truth about this president. And yes, there has to be consequences. Yes, there has to be accountability. Yes, I think there’s enough evidence now for the House of Representatives to move forward with impeachment,” he said in an interview with The Dallas Morning News. “This is our country, and this is the one chance that we get to ensure that it remains a democracy and that no man, regardless of his position, is above the law.”
Perhaps Beto has been watching the response Warren has been receiving and decided that a change was needed to shake up his stalling campaign. Whatever the case may be, watching Beto and Warren make the shift toward openly calling for impeachment illustrates the divide among the Democratic field over whether to fight President Trump on the campaign trail, the House floor, or both.
Other Dems Stay Cautious
Several other Democrats continue to avoid calling for impeachment, including Joe Biden, Kamala Harris, and Bernie Sanders:
Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) has been more cautious than Warren has been on the subject of impeachment — she has called for the House to “take the steps toward impeachment” — and doesn’t plan to make a similar speech on the Senate floor. Harris said in an interview that impeaching Trump is on the minds of Democratic voters, but “not an immediate priority,” when compared with health care and the economy.
Joe Biden has said impeachment is best left as a recourse if the administration continues to block House investigations. And Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said he worries that impeachment talk “works to Trump’s advantage.”
Bernie is in line with Pelosi in believing that Trump is actively daring Democrats to go down the impeachment road. Biden put in the disclaimer that impeachment should only be considered if the White House continues to block investigations, but that’s a pretty broad and open-ended position. What actions by the White House does Biden believe constitute “blocking” an investigation?
Pelosi Holds the Line
Regardless of how many 2020 Democratic candidates come out in favor of impeachment, Speaker Pelosi has decided to dig in on this front and now accuses President Trump of attempting to goad Democrats to an impeachment battle:
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi argued Tuesday that President Donald Trump is trying to provoke Democrats into proceeding with impeachment, using some of her strongest language yet on the issue.
“Trump is goading us to impeach him,” she said at an event in New York City hosted by the Cornell University Institute of Politics and Global Affairs. “That’s what he’s doing. Every single day, he’s just like taunting, taunting, taunting because he knows that it would be very divisive in the country, but he doesn’t really care. He just wants to solidify his base.”
Pelosi seems to be hinting at something we reported on before the 2018 midterm election. The theory, back then, said that while the President wanted his party to win in the midterms, even if they lost it would still be a political win in 2020 since Trump could run against Congress.
Pelosi is suggesting that Trump would enjoy impeachment and is almost actively working every day to annoy Democrats to the point where they inadvisedly pull the trigger and send the country into a divisive period arguing over whether the President should or should not be removed from office.
Pelosi also said this week that the President is becoming “self-impeachable,” which seems to indicate that she would much rather allow the voters to render the verdict rather than Congress.
If you look at the last time a Congress carried out impeachment proceedings, it seems that public opinion wound up on President Bill Clinton’s side. Trump may have advisors around him telling him the same thing. His base is already with him, but nothing would solidify a fight against Democrats more than impeachment proceedings since it would be framed by Trump as another coup which is attempting to remove a duly-elected President over a “witch hunt.”
Democrats need the impeachment talk to fire up their base while Donald Trump is using it the same way, only for his base instead. The end result is that the smoke will continue to emanate, but the question of whether it will be accompanied by fire remains in doubt.