Michael Cohen’s guilty plea Thursday is bringing back among the progressive wing of the Democratic party a topic that its senior leaders would wish it would forget: impeachment.
While the Democratic leadership has largely stifled overt calls for impeachment, revelations that Donald Trump was working on a potential Moscow business deal while the Kremlin was actively trying to tilt the presidential election his way is bringing the calls back, once again revealing divisions between the progressive and centrist wings of the party.
“I’ve been supportive of impeachment for some time now, so I think it just adds to the case and I continue supporting the case,” Congresswoman-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) told VICE News while walking the Capitol grounds.
Earlier this year, over the protest of now Speaker-elect Nancy Pelosi, Rep. Al Green (D-TX) forced a vote on the House floor over articles of impeachment, and 66 Democrats supported it. That was roughly one-third of the party before voters sent 66 new, more progressive Democrats to Washington this fall.
Democrats were coached by Pelosi, veteran lawmakers and Washington political consultants to avoid discussing impeachment on the trail (in fact, Republicans largely raised its specter more than they did), but many signaled a willingness to go down that path and their base wants it. Exit polls revealed that 77 percent of Democratic voters support impeaching Trump.
Tamping down impeachment talk
So while Congresswoman-elect Ayanna Pressley (D-MA) has said she’s open to it, she also doesn’t want to focus on it. Though she says that’s getting harder to do, thanks to Trump himself.
“Our hand is being forced in the space of oversight and accountability every single day,” Pressley told VICE News at the Capitol. “There are so many things that bely and undermine not only moral authority and good judgement but that are not Constitutional.”
Still, she’s not focused on impeachment, though she’s fully prepared for it.
“But it’s nothing that I’m leaning in on or calling for – we have enough to do,” Pressley continued. “We are the only checks and balance here, and we intend to be it.”
Now that Democrats will soon control the gavels in the House, the calculus has changed for some members who already supported that impeachment resolution.
“That was a message that someone has to hold this administration accountable,” Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) told VICE News just off the House floor.
Grijalva’s a former chair of the House Progressive Caucus, and he’s trying to temper the incoming wave of progressives who are anxious to dislodge Trump.
“This is a delicate and serious thing that the Congress should undertake; ideally bipartisan,” Grijalva said.
Not a priority
That sentiment is also echoed by incoming chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY).
“Is impeachment premature? Yes”
“Is impeachment premature? Yes,” Nadler told VICE News after voting on the House floor. “We don’t have the case yet, and we may or may not [ever] have it.”
In January, Nadler’s committee will focus its attention first on protecting Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, and then it will turn its attention to going after Trump’s family members and advisers who are now being accused of lying to Congress.
But Nadler says the latest revelation does help his party build a case against the president.
“It’s just one more data point showing his personal involvement,” Nadler continued. “Pursuing a business deal with the Russian government while lying about it during a campaign, certainly gives us reason to suspect that he knew – not proof – but reason to suspect that he may very well have known about the collusion that we know was occurring between his campaign and the Russian government to rig the election.”
And Republicans are already beating the drum and echoing the president’s talking points on all things Russia.
“I think it’s totally political, and it’s a disservice to this country and a disservice to, certainly, this president,” Rep. Dana Rohrabacher (R-CA), who is also supposedly being investigated in the probe, told VICE News. “I think almost everything dealing with this Russian issue has been aimed at obstructing his ability to be president.”
That mind set extends to the top ranks of the GOP leadership on Capitol Hill, and the president and his allies seem to think it’s working in their favor.
“There seems to be a lot of a witch hunt mentality by some people in [the] Justice [Department], and I think that flushed itself out over the last few months,” Rep. Steve Scalise (R-LA), the Republican Whip, told VICE News while walking to a vote.
That’s why Democrats who are desperately trying to recapture the White House in 2020 want to quiet the progressive wing, because they fear many Trump supporters will be further alienated if they view the investigation as personal attacks on the president.
That’s why many veteran lawmakers are now preaching patience, because they say the facts, albeit slowly, are lining up in their favor. And many say this week’s bombshell is helping make their case for them.
“I think the walls are beginning to close in,” Nadler said. “This begins to show reasons for the president and his campaign colluding with the Russians.”
Cover: President-elect Donald Trump greets then-House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) as they arrive for Trump's inauguration ceremony at the Capitol on January 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by J. Scott Applewhite - Pool/Getty Images)