At least 205 House Democrats are now on board with an impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, and that number's sure to grow throughout the day Wednesday, as more members fall in line behind party leadership.
But as most House Democrats barrel toward impeachment, some of the holdouts are still warning party leaders that the effort could backfire at the polls next year.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, of California, isn’t just imperiling the party’s chances in 2020, some of those moderate members say. She’s also unwittingly aiding Trump and his rabble-rousing base in further dividing an already weary, angry, and politically disillusioned electorate.
“I want to do what’s right. I don’t want to tear the country apart,” Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-N.J.) told reporters after leaving the closed-door meeting with his fellow Democrats, where Pelosi made her earth-moving impeachment announcement. “I don’t know that everybody realizes how strongly people are on both sides of the issue.”
After Trump promised, via tweet, that he would release the transcript of his conversation with the Ukrainian president on Wednesday—a promise he lived up to around 9:30 a.m. with a "memorandum" of the July 25 call —Van Drew questioned why his party leaders were rushing to launch an impeachment investigation the day before they have the facts. Facts that he says could even lead him to support impeachment.
“If that transcript shows that there was a quid pro quo, then I certainly would want to look into that very deeply,” Van Drew said. “I want to see what the transcript shows.” (The transcript doesn't show a connection between the military aid and a Biden investigation, though the whistleblower's complaint is expected to cover more than just that phone call.)
Van Drew also fears that just launching an impeachment inquiry could further diminish America on the international stage, where foreign leaders have already felt emboldened to openly dismiss and challenge the United States.
“People look at you as weaker when you go through this type of internal process,” Van Drew said.
Other moderate Democrats worry their party’s leaders are too tuned into the progressive voices on MSNBC and the 2020 campaign trail than they are to voters in the swing districts who, they say, were pivotal in winning back the house.
“It’s not a topic that comes up often except by activists, and that alarms me,” Rep. Kurt Shrader (D-Ore.) told VICE News upon leaving the meeting. “The American people are not living and breathing national news cycles. I worry very much this will take a lot of Americans by surprise.”
Shrader says he’s sympathetic to those activists. He’s still weighing the information, he says, and he may hop on board the impeachment train soon. Just not yet.
“I’m trying to figure that out,” Shrader said. “I, too, am worried, like every member—I don’t care if you’re Democrat or Republican—worried about the president’s continually stretching, maybe breaking the law.”
Like Van Drew of New Jersey, Shrader says launching an impeachment will have negative consequences—whether Democrats oust Trump or not.
“It’s not a decision you do excitedly, and I’m not one of those guys who wants to see the country torn apart. Impeachment is serious,” Shrader said, before discussing the potential reverberations coming for many of his moderate Democratic colleagues. “Oh – terribly risky. You hope they’re in touch with their constituents and able to speak well to their constituents about why they came to this decision. That’s up them. You better ask them.”
Other Democrats seem afraid to weigh in at all. Freshman Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.) ran away from two of her local Atlanta reporters while being blocked by four staffers.
“We’re on a way to an event right now, so we’d love to chat at another time,” a young male staffer chimed in, cutting off the reporters.
“Is there a reason you don’t want to talk about it?” VICE News asked.
“I’m just saying we’re on our way to an event,” the staffer. They came back within 20 minutes and she still refused to answer questions from the press corps.
It’s not just the press corps who will be hounding lawmakers like McBath in the coming. Senior Democrats will be reminding them of their oath of office too.
“There are these times when we have to do what’s right for the country and protect the country, even if there is or isn’t a political benefit to it,” Rep. Dan Kildee (D-Mich.), a top Pelosi lieutenant, told reporters. “Here’s the point: It’s the president who is putting his politics above everything else. At long last someone has to contradict that, and we’re willing to do that. We have to.”
Still, this shrinking handful of moderate Democrats remain.
“As an attorney, I’m not going to jump in just because people are saying, ‘Jump in; impeach him,’” Rep. Henry Cuellar (D-Texas) told VICE News at the Capitol. “There are concerns. Everybody has to move forward according to their own district and their own politics. For some of my members, I am a little apprehensive.”
Cover: Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas, doesn't think his south Texas district wants him focused on impeachment. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)