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Democrats have a Mueller dilemma: hearings or impeachment?

Mueller made the division over impeachment deeper than ever. But some Democrats hope hearings will unite the public.

by Matt Laslo
Apr 19 2019, 3:45pm

WASHINGTON — To impeach or not to impeach? That question got more complicated for Democrats after the report from special counsel Robert Mueller laid out a damning case for obstruction of justice, even if Attorney General William Barr decided not to charge President Trump.

But if the Mueller report divided Democrats more deeply into impeachment and non-impeachment camps, the report is also unifying Democrats in their hopes that Mueller’s testimony before Congress — expected in May — will unite the public with an unvarnished and dispassionate telling of the facts.

“When people hear Mueller go through the details of what Russia was trying to do to interfere in that election, it will make every American’s blood boil,” said Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who serves on the House Oversight Committee.

Many Democratic pundits accused House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) of putting his foot in his mouth Thursday when he told CNN: “Going forward on impeachment is not worthwhile at this point.”

Hoyer doesn’t seem to have made a misstatement, though. His boss of sorts, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), had earlier this year dismissed impeachment as “just not worth it.”

Not to impeach

That sentiment is echoed among other Democrats who say that even though the evidence is strong, there is no chance of a two-thirds majority in the Senate, which would be required to convict.

“I think it would be foolhardy for the Democrats who have just taken power after eight years to embark on that course,” said Eleanor Holmes Norton, D.C.’s non-voting representative to Congress, told VICE News. “Congress has a lot more to do, particularly the Democrats who are in control. And if all they can show for it is an impeachment process that didn’t take, we will be held accountable.”

Democrats in suburban districts who just thrust their party back into power last fall say their constituents aren't really interested in impeaching the president.

“I think what voters are least interested in, quite frankly, is all of the investigations and all that stuff. What they’re most interested in is what’s happening to their Social Security, their Medicare, their veteran [benefits],” Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-N.J.) told VICE News. “Almost nobody other than real partisans on the Republican and Democrat side ever talks to me about the investigations.”

Let's impeach

But that view is not universally held among House Democrats, and the left wing of the party — particularly the freshmen — are doubling down on their calls for impeachment.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) found two new co-sponsors for her impeachment resolution in Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), in addition to Rep. Al Green (D-Texas).

“Mueller’s report is clear in pointing to Congress’ responsibility in investigating obstruction of justice by the President,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted Thursday. “It is our job as outlined in Article 1, Sec 2, Clause 5 of the U.S. Constitution. As such, I’ll be signing on to @RashidaTlaib’s impeachment resolution.”

Senior Democrats desperate to tamp down that discord in their party’s ranks are again looking to Mueller as their last hope. That’s partly why House Democrats are calling on Mueller to appear before Congress by May 23 in hopes he’ll be a unifying force in American politics.

“Right now people have Bill Barr’s version of ‘the facts,’” Khanna said. “The only one who can refute that and reset the narrative to the truth is Bob Mueller. When he speaks, the country will listen.”

But Mueller doesn’t just unify the disparate ranks of today’s Democratic Party; he’s also brought most sitting Republicans together — for opposite reasons.

Mueller, the uniter

“How could justice possibly be advanced with Congress continuing this investigation when Mueller’s team acknowledges there is a reasonable doubt as to the obstruction charges?” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.), who is a top Trump ally, texted VICE News while on a flight Thursday. “Bottom line is: the special prosecutor finished the investigation and reached a conclusion not to indict. They finished unimpeded [by] the administration. What crime was the alleged obstruction trying to cover up: collusion/conspiracy?”

Meadows is a card-carrying Fox News conservative, but there are still a few anti-Fox conservatives out there, like former Rep. David Jolly (R-Fla.), a #NeverTrump conservative who seems to have a permanent stool at MSNBC to speak his mind.

While he agrees impeachment would be politically risky, he hopes Democratic leaders will use all the tools they have to investigate Trump.

“Politically it’s very dangerous for Democrats, right? We know that history shows that. There’s little political benefit at the ballot for Democrats,” Jolly told VICE News Thursday. “But I would make the case, if that is their calculus, then they’re as bad as Republicans were the last two years, because they’re ignoring corruption right in front of them for the sake of their own re-election.”

Rep. Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight Committee, has been noncommittal on impeachment, but he told MSNBC Friday that Democrats simply have to do something. “I often say that people are going to look back at this time 200 years from now and ask the question ‘What did you do to reverse this?’” he said.

Cover: Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is joined by House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) and other House Democrats for a news conference on the Privileged Resolution to Terminate President Donald Trump's emergency declaration Feb. 25, 2019, in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)