WASHINGTON ― Democrats ended their first day of impeachment hearings in the Judiciary Committee Wednesday by stressing that they haven’t made up their minds on the matter.
“We haven’t even decided whether to impeach or not,” committee member Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) told HuffPost, despite repeatedly arguing for impeachment over the last year.
Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) also said this week he hadn’t decided on impeachment, as did fellow California Democrat Eric Swalwell.
Democrats are trying mightily to avoid the perception that they’re simply playing out the string on impeachment and that the current proceedings before the Judiciary Committee are just a show before they inevitably vote.
During a closed-door meeting Wednesday morning ― one in which staff was barred from entering and members couldn’t bring in their phones ― Democrats gave Schiff a standing ovation after he presented his committee’s report on the president’s efforts to pervert U.S. foreign policy for his own personal benefit. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) then spoke about the seriousness of the moment, and she asked members a question: “Are you ready?”
The answer from Democrats seems to be a resounding yes, but they carried forth the message to reporters that this was a “somber” process.
“The majority wants to be as comprehensive and as careful as possible in this process, where we have a pretty solemn sense about what we’re doing right now,” Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.) said.
As solemn as Democrats want the process to be, their minds are, largely ― understandably ― made up. President Donald Trump acted improperly in withholding security aid to Ukraine in order to compel a political investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden.
The real question in the House Democratic Caucus is whether impeachment advocates would be better served by slowing down the process, perhaps punting an impeachment vote into the new year, and trying to build greater support for their position with even more hearings and maybe even more articles of impeachment.
Polling on impeachment hasn’t really moved since Democrats began the process in October, and there doesn’t appear to be a single House Republican who’s been convinced to impeach the president.
Even the once-impeachment-curious Francis Rooney (R-Fla.) told HuffPost Wednesday that it would take a lot more than the current facts for him to vote with Democrats ― like White House officials (who have so far refused to testify) admitting firsthand knowledge of a quid pro quo.
That sort of testimony would take months to compel, and there’s no guarantee it would ever happen or provide a critical smoking gun to a case that already has, in the minds of many Democrats, multiple smoking guns.
The current thinking among Democrats seems to be that they should just vote before they leave for Christmas, avoiding the GOP talking point that they impeached the president in an election year.
“We made the factual case,” Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) told HuffPost, mentioning the Intelligence Committee hearings and the 300-page report on the Ukraine scandal. “Now we should accept those facts and vote, and not allow for the Republicans to engage in antics or distracted tactics, and for the committee hearings to turn into a partisan circus.”
Khanna said the White House just wanted to “run out the clock” on impeachment. “One day, history will record that the actions and abuse was even much worse than what the Schiff report uncovered,” Khanna said. “But the Schiff report has more than cleared that hurdle for impeachment.”
Democrats believe they risk giving the impression that the case for impeachment is not overwhelming, that not acting swiftly and decisively invites the sense that this was a close call.
Democratic Chief Deputy Whip Dan Kildee (D-Mich.) said Wednesday that an impeachment vote before the end of the year was “within the realm of possibility,” and that it would be a “mistake” to wait for courts to rule on their outstanding subpoenas. And while Democratic leadership has been careful to not provide a firm timeline, Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said Wednesday there was still time before the end of the year to vote on impeachment.
Yet Democrats are trying to balance the impression that they’ve pre-judged the case before it is even made in the Judiciary Committee. That’s why members are now insisting that their minds aren’t made up ― even when they are.
One aspect that’s not decided is how many impeachment articles Democrats should draft. In addition to Ukraine, many Democrats have talked about including the president’s obstruction of justice during special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into his 2016 campaign.
Democrats seem less enthused about including an article detailing the president’s violation of the Constitution’s “emoluments clause,” which prohibits officers of the U.S. government from accepting gifts from foreign governments. Since Trump refused to divest from his business when he became president, foreign dignitaries can line his pockets by staying at the Trump Hotel when they visit Washington.
“We’re just not there yet to discuss all of those things,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said Wednesday. “But obviously, we’re focusing on the evidence that’s in front of us, and so far that has been around the Mueller report and and mostly around Ukraine.”
Some Democrats have asked leadership to make the articles more comprehensive so that more vulnerable members could performatively vote against certain articles, like an “emoluments clause” violation and obstruction of justice while advancing the Ukraine issues to the Senate.
But Democrats are also wary of “clearing” Trump on any grounds, or in splitting their caucus on impeachment.
Republicans are almost certain to vote unanimously against impeachment, passing the case off to the Republican-held Senate where Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) can tightly control the process.
McConnell hasn’t said definitively how he’ll handle impeachment, but he’s suggested he could drag on a trial for months, pushing the case as close to Election Day as possible in a gambit to pressure moderate Democratic senators to vote no.
Either way, there doesn’t appear to be any fact Democrats could uncover that would move Republicans to support impeachment.
When HuffPost asked former Republican Justin Amash, who is now an Independent and supports impeachment, the Michigan congressman said his former GOP colleagues had made up their minds.
Democrats, Amash said, were in a “no-win situation,” because the longer they wait, the closer they get to the election.