House Speaker Nancy Pelosi stirred the hornet's nest of her party’s progressive wing this week when she set a new, seemingly higher bar for impeachment than many Democrats thought they’d voted for in November.
“Impeachment is so divisive to the country that unless there’s something so compelling and overwhelming and bipartisan, I don’t think we should go down that path, because it divides the country,” Pelosi told the Washington Post. “And he’s just not worth it.”
But many voters coast to coast thought they were voting for impeachment when they supported Democrats’ historic gains in the midterms, especially after many sitting lawmakers and first-time candidates alike labeled Trump a criminal on the campaign trail.
Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), for his part, has twice forced the whole House to vote on his impeachment resolution — it garnered 58 votes in 2017 and 66 last year. And Green isn’t letting Democratic leaders derail his mission to boot Trump for being “unfit.” He contends Pelosi and other party leaders risk unleashing a flood of hate if they don’t aggressively stand up to Trump.
That’s why he’s promising to force another impeachment vote at some point in this Congress.
“Bigotry knows no bounds when it is left unchecked. And if we send a message to the bigots that we are not going to take them on, you are saying to them: ‘Do what you may. We will talk about you, but we won’t do anything that we should do to challenge you,’” Green told VICE News.
Full tilt impeachment
But Green isn’t the only rabble-rouser in this Congress. Prominent members of the young, progressive freshman class are going full-tilt on impeachment, in part because that’s what they believe their constituents sent them to Washington to do.
“Speaker Pelosi and all members of leadership have always encouraged us to represent our district, and this is something that was very important to my residents – still continues to be,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) told a gaggle of reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday. “So I’m going to move forward, obviously.”
Tlaib says her own resolution, yet to be released, is merely focused on setting up a formal process to investigate the president’s alleged wrongdoings, something she says all her fellow Democrats want.
“This is to hold him accountable to the rule of law to the Constitution that I took an oath to uphold”
“It’s important that there’s a transparent process. No one – not even the president – should be above the law,” Tlaib said. “This is to hold him accountable to the rule of law to the Constitution that I took an oath to uphold.”
Prominent freshman members appear comfortable giving their senior leaders a shove on impeachment, even if it isn’t bipartisan.
“I don’t think there’s division,” Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.) told VICE News. “It’s the tension that comes with the growing pains of a class of this size — a class that is this representative of the public – so there’s just new muscle that we’re building.”
But times have drastically changed since the last time Democrats held the reigns of power, and many who’d championed impeachment when Republicans controlled the levers are now calling for a more pragmatic approach.
That includes Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.), a leading progressive proponent of impeachment in the past.
“Last year when I introduced it, I believed it — I believe he’s violated the Constitution,” Cohen told VICE News. “I believe that he puts a blight on the presidency, but we were in the minority, and all you can do to express your anger is to make a statement and introduce a proposal. When you’re in the majority, you can have hearings.”
And Cohen’s willing to reserve judgement until the hearings play out. “It’s kind of anti-productive to have hearings and to basically tell everybody your minds made up. And so I’m going to listen, see what we get and see what the proof is,” he said.
Wary of backlash
That reality of being in the majority isn’t lost on many Democrats, and they’re wary of backlash when it matters in 2020.
“If the House of Representatives was able to pass impeachment, it’s really dead when when it gets to the Senate and is likely to divide the nation in a way that could probably raise the polling numbers for Donald Trump,” Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) told VICE News.
Democrats also have to keep in mind that not all freshmen campaigned on impeachment, and a great many flipped more conservative, suburban districts where the issue isn’t red meat to voters.
“There’s a certain part of the activist community, particularly outside of my district, that wants to see us move faster,” Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.) told VICE News. “And I don’t think that they’re wrong, necessarily, but I think there’s a lot of evidence of wrongdoing already.”
Hill is a co-representative of this year’s historic freshman class who never endorsed outright impeachment on the trail. And just as Democratic leaders never dreamed of having a freshman class that tops 60 members (including so many women), neither did Hill ever envision getting seated on the high-profile Oversight Committee, which will run the Democratic investigation of Trump.
Hill says she’s now balancing a tad between her district and the national party — a dynamic that neither she nor other party leaders think will quietly go away any time soon.
“I didn’t want to come in here to impeach the president,” she said. “This was nowhere near the list of my priorities, but it’s our job.”
Cover image: Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) listens to Michael Cohen, former attorney and fixer for President Donald Trump, testify before the House Oversight Committee on Capitol Hill February 27, 2019 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)