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Democrats Are Vowing to Impeach Trump "As Fast As Possible." But at What Cost?

Top House Democrats want to vote before primary season. But not everyone's on board.

by Matt Laslo
Oct 5 2019, 10:58am

With Congress on a two-week break, Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff kept his members in town last week, to take testimony, collect evidence, and keep the cable-news chyrons spinning in his favor. It all served as a reminder of how fast Democratic leaders want this impeachment probe to go.

"We're not fooling around here," Schiff told reporters. "We don't want this to drag on for months and months, which appears to be the administration's strategy."

The goal, Democrats say, is to vote by the Iowa caucuses, if not before Thanksgiving. But the short timeline is yet another example of the party’s anxiety around the politics of impeachment. Go too fast and force on-the-fence moderates to vote with less evidence. Go too slow and risk muddling the party's election-year messaging.

With 2020 fast approaching, the go-fast gang appears to be winning out.

“There’s a desire to finish as fast as possible – there’s no question about that,” Rep. Karen Bass (D-Calif.), a member of both the Judiciary and Foreign Affairs Committees, told reporters this week. “My sense of it is, obviously, it gets much more difficult when you get into the primary season. ... because then it would be easy for Trump and the Republicans to just say that this is a political effort.”

But like everything with impeachment, it’s complicated. More than 218 Democrats—enough to impeach in the House—have come out in favor of the probe. But moderates from purple-to-red districts remain reluctant. They’re urging the party leadership to slow down.

“I’m going to wait it out,” Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-N.J.) told reporters at the Capitol last week. “I’m going to always encourage us to be as methodical and careful and slow as possible.”

Van Drew's an anomaly: He still hasn't spoken out in favor of the inquiry. But even moderates who do support the probe have said they’re not ready to vote to impeach Trump, despite a steady stream of evidence—and his own admission—that he pressed Ukraine to investigate his political rival. That means Democrats could face a less decisive vote if they move too fast, a fear that has some dismissing the idea of pressing to finish before primary season.

The election “is not a concern,” Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) told VICE News at the Capitol. “Look, we have a constitutional responsibility to hold a president accountable, to demonstrate no one is above the law, and we’re going to work as expeditiously as possible. But I think it’s something we do separate and apart from any political calendar.”

Then there’s the fact that Democrats only have so much control of the timeline. They've subpoenaed the White House for records related to Ukraine, and they’ve pressed State Department officials to testify. But the White House is reportedly planning to send Pelosi a letter demanding an impeachment vote before they cooperate. And Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has already successfully delayed those State officials’ testimony. It's all in keeping with its record of stonewalling Democrats’ requests.

Those moderates pleading for more evidence, and more patience, might want to let those things play out before they vote. But Schiff says any slow-walking may just warrant a new article of impeachment, for impeding his investigation.

"Any action like that that forces us to litigate or have to consider litigation will be considered further evidence of obstruction of justice," Schiff said. "We'll have to decide whether to litigate or how to litigate."

Cover: House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-CA) speaks during a weekly news conference held by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) on Wednesday. (Photo by Tom Brenner/Getty Images)