WASHINGTON — Democrats are unified in opposition to President Trump’s racist attacks on four female members of Congress. But what they decide to do about it could tear them apart.
The four Congresswomen attacked by Trump held a press conference Monday to show they are done with trivial rebuttals. They want to impeach and they want to do it now.
“This is the agenda of white nationalists, whether it is happening in chat rooms, happening on national TV, and now, reaching the White House garden,” Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) said. “It is time for us to stop allowing this president to make a mockery out of our Constitution. It's time for us to impeach this president.”
After a week of sparring between Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the four Congresswomen, Trump’s comments were cast as a unifying moment for Democrats. Instead, they have the potential to reopen one of the biggest rifts among House Democrats: Whether or not to impeach the president.
The fiery response by Omar and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) stands in contrast to a response announced by Pelosi earlier in the day.
Pelosi announced in a letter to her caucus that the House will vote this week on a resolution to rebuke for his tweets about the U.S. Congresswomen over the weekend that they should "go back" to their country of origin (though three of four were born in the U.S.) and continued Monday.
“If you’re not happy here you can leave, as far as I’m concerned,” Trump said on the South Lawn. “These are people that in my opinion hate our country.”
Pelosi has not yet released the text of the resolution but described it as one that would obliquely criticize Trump by laying out a parallel, aspirational view of U.S. immigration policy. It is also expected to quote President Ronald Reagan’s farewell speech in which he said, “If we ever closed the door to new Americans, our leadership in the world would soon be lost.”
It’s a classic Washington, D.C., inside baseball play on the House floor: Introduce a resolution that goes just far enough so everyone knows what it’s referencing, but not far enough to scare the other party away from supporting it. Then, essentially shame the opposing party into voting for it, thereby criticizing their party’s own president. The vote can later be used as political fodder to attack anyone who votes against it.
“The House cannot allow the President’s characterization of immigrants to our country to stand. Our Republican colleagues must join us in condemning the President’s xenophobic tweets,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to members.
The resolution is short of a formal censure, which, although toothless, would carry the institutional weight of a chamber of Congress rebuking a president.
But the increasing number of rank-and-file Democrats are growing weary of these kinds of tactics. For some, Trump’s xenophobic comments only reinforce what they have long believed: Trump must be impeached, even if that path does not have the support of the majority of the caucus.
Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), who said he has “lived through the era of, ‘Go Back to Africa,’” held an impromptu press conference on Monday to say he will force a vote on the House floor this month on articles of impeachment aimed at Trump’s bigotry.
“To tolerate bigotry is to perpetuate bigotry, especially when you can do something about it,” Green said. “What we are doing in the House of Representatives is allowing the president to understand that there are no sanctions that will be imposed, there are no guardrails, we upset the balance of power, we are surrendering the power of the House of Representatives.”
This will be the third time Green will have forced an impeachment vote, and the vote is likely to fail absent support from Pelosi. But it may post a record number of supporters, as frustration simmers that Pelosi is not adequately checking Trump.
The resolution is reminiscent of another pulled punch: Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) and a group of members had a censure resolution teed up after Trump referred to a number of developing nations as “shithole countries.” That never came to a vote.
Impeach or go home
The counterargument from leadership is that impeachment would distract from House Democrats’ policy agenda and potentially strengthen Trump’s hand with voters wary of Congressional overreach. Omar said she disagrees.
“I do not agree. I think it is past time for us to bring forth impeachment,” Omar told VICE News, when asked about leadership’s assertion that impeachment could be a distraction.
The House’s posture is also increasingly out of step with the urgent tone many Democratic presidential primary candidates are striking around the country. At primary cattle call in Iowa, Rep. Seth Moulton, one of the candidates who will actually get a chance to vote on the resolution, said he had planned a different speech — until he saw the president’s tweets “seething with racist white nationalism.” Instead, he gave an impassioned speech calling for House leaders to begin impeaching Trump immediately.
“Failing to hold him accountable would be a failure of our own, a mistake that could define the history of our party and our country in this moment,” he said at the Progress Iowa Corn Feed in Cedar Rapids. “It’s not a decision, it’s a duty. It’s our job and it’s high time we do it.”
Major candidates, such as Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Kamala Harris (D-Calif.), have long supported moving ahead with impeachment, as well.
The proposed House resolution also begs the question of whether it will actually shame Republican members who do not seem to be at all ashamed of supporting Trump.
“Montanans are sick and tired of listening to anti-American, anti-Semite, radical Democrats trash our country and our ideals. This is America. We’re the greatest country in the world,” tweeted Montana Republican Sen. Steve Daines. “I stand with @realDonaldTrump.”
Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) explained away the comment during a Fox News appearance by noting that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and her cohorts are “a bunch of communists, they hate Israel, they hate our own country.” Rep. Andy Harris (R-Md.) suggested in a local news interview that Trump merely meant the women go back to their own districts.
Asked on the South Lawn whether he is concerned that many people believe his comments are racist, Trump said he could care less.
“It doesn’t concern me because many people agree with me,” he said.
Cover: From left, Reps. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., conduct a news conference in the Capitol Visitor Center responding to negative comments by President Trump that were directed at the freshman House Democrats on Monday, July 15, 2019. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP Images)