WASHINGTON — As President Trump vows to fight all subpoenas from Congress, the impeachment debate is heating up among Democrats who are looking for ways to rein in what they increasingly see as a “lawless president.”
This week presidential candidates Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Kamala Harris of California joined the chorus of Democrats calling for impeachment proceedings to get underway in the House, and in the wake of the Mueller report, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is getting an earful from rank-and-file Democrats who are demanding the party flex more muscle against the administration.
Freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) says the Mueller report only bolstered her argument to pass a resolution starting a formal impeachment investigation. She says some of her colleagues are more receptive to her legislation now, because the slow-moving strategy of party leaders just isn’t cutting it.
“I know there’s been more of an increase in interest in, ‘How do we do our jobs and take this responsibility of checks and balances more seriously?’” Tlaib told VICE News over the phone Wednesday from her Detroit district. “You don’t just issue subpoenas. Let’s call it investigation into impeachable offenses. If we do that, it puts, at least, the president on notice.”
The president and his top advisers are now dismissing Democratic subpoenas on numerous fronts, including requests to view six years of his tax returns, to view the unredacted Mueller report, to compel former White House counsel Donald McGahn to testify, and attempts to investigate reports that White House officials gave security clearances to advisers deemed security risks.
“We’re fighting all the subpoenas,” Trump told reporters Wednesday before boarding Marine One on the White House lawn. “These aren’t, like, impartial people. The Democrats are trying to win 2020.”
But for Democrats, it’s about a president who thinks he’s above the law, particularly as the details of the obstruction of justice case laid out in the second half of Mueller's report sink in.
“He does not feel a sense of responsibility to abide by the United States Constitution”
“The issue is, and so much of it is interconnected, with not only obstruction of justice but the fact that he is a lawless president,” Tlaib said. “He does not feel a sense of responsibility to abide by the United States Constitution.”
Even with the stonewalling from the White House, Pelosi is cautioning her members to stick to formal investigative routes so that Democrats don’t come across as hyperpartisan, even as those routes are increasingly promising protracted, bitter court battles that could drag on for years.
“We have to save our democracy. This isn’t about Democrats or Republicans. It’s about saving our democracy,” Pelosi told House Democrats, who are still on a two-week recess, on a conference call Monday. “We don’t have to go to articles of impeachment to obtain the facts, the presentation of facts.”
None of this is new to the top Democrats who have been demanding information from Trump for months already.
“It certainly shows a pattern of obstructionism in the administration, stonewalling any request by Congress, the unwillingness to recognize any oversight role of the political branch of government,” House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) told VICE News at the Capitol earlier this month after the White House blew through a deadline to produce Trump’s tax returns. “I think they intend to draw this out as long as they can. But in the end, they’re going to lose.”
But rank-and-file congressional Republicans are fighting Trump’s battles for him as they continue to argue that Democrats are on a partisan witch hunt purely because they lack the information they’re looking for.
“Before proceeding, they would have to lay out all the facts why they think there’s something – not just fishing for something,” Rep. Peter King (R-N.Y.) told VICE News about Democratic subpoenas earlier this month.
Tlaib says the argument to move forward with the impeachment investigation is about more than just the troubling Mueller findings or a sense of morality. She points to the proposed T Mobile-Sprint merger that she thinks would negatively harm her constituents. After the merger was before the administration, T-Mobile chief executive John Legere was spotted at Trump Hotel D.C. and eventually sent a letter to Democrats admitting that he and other top executives had dropped $195,000 at the Trump property that sits just blocks from the White House.
“This is the first time in history that the president of the United States has not divested in his businesses. And what does that mean? That means now a corporation is running our country,” Tlaib said. “I am really taken aback by this upgraded version of pay to play. This access to the corridor of power.”
While Mueller largely looked at Trump’s actions before he took the oath of office, Tlaib says it’s Congress’s duty to be a check on the president now.
“After he became president of the United States — that changes everything: the standards, the kind of rule of law that we apply to that office, the kind of responsibility that we have as members of Congress,” Tlaib said. “That changes things. That puts a lot of authority and responsibility on us as Congress members to push back against any direct violation and make sure that we are really holding him accountable.”
Cover: Representative Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan, listens during a House Financial Services Committee hearing on March 7. 2019. (Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images)