WASHINGTON ― House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and other Democratic leaders assembled a closed-door, caucus-wide meeting Wednesday to attempt to convince Democrats that they don’t need to open an impeachment inquiry, and that their current approach to handling the Trump administration is already working.
“It was pretty orchestrated, which is what you’d expect,” Rep. Steve Cohen (D-Tenn.) said of the presentation meant to pump the brakes on an impeachment inquiry.
“She made her argument ― and it’s an argument ― that we can ‘continue, continue, continue,’” Cohen said of Pelosi.
“And the other argument, which I think made a lot of sense, is that time is on their side,” Cohen continued, referring to the Trump administration. “And it’s not just a song.”
Pelosi didn’t say anything against starting impeachment proceedings, according to several members. But with more Democrats ― and even one Republican ― calling for starting an impeachment inquiry, and Pelosi championing the status quo approach, the implication was clear: Don’t do it.
Speakers argued that Democrats don’t need to resort to impeachment proceedings because they’re already winning court cases seeking information. Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-N.J.) told his colleagues that U.S. District Court Judge Amit Mehta’s ruling on Monday, which slapped down a Trump effort to block a subpoena, showed that courts will be favorable to Democratic oversight efforts.
“We don’t need impeachment procedures to get the information that we need,” Pascrell said he told his fellow Democrats.
Mehta upheld a House Oversight Committee subpoena that asked a private accounting firm for some of President Donald Trump’s personal financial records ― thereby rejecting the Trump administration’s argument that the subpoena served no legitimate legislative purpose. The administration has made the same argument in other cases, though most of those involve efforts to obtain testimony or information from government officials, rather than a private organization.
“The expectation is there will be more to follow,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.) said of the ruling, which he called “comprehensive and sweeping.”
Connolly added that the message of the meeting Wednesday was to “be a little patient,” because “things are breaking our way.”
One problem with that approach is that previous administrations have been able to stretch court proceedings beyond the political lifespan of the underlying requests. And the Trump administration has indicated it will appeal the Mehta ruling to a higher court.
The special meeting Wednesday comes after a flood of new calls from Democratic members to open an impeachment inquiry. Trump administration officials continue to ignore subpoenas demanding testimony and certain documents related to oversight investigations, and Democrats have been left with little recourse. There are a number of lawsuits working their way through the courts, and Democrats have flirted with ideas like “inherent contempt,” which would allow Congress to fine or even jail uncooperative administration officials. But resolving those cases could take months or even years.
Pelosi said after the meeting that she believed Trump was “engaged in a cover-up.”
“We do believe it’s important to follow the facts. We believe that no one is above the law, including the president of the United States,” the California Democrat added.
Pelosi then went to a meeting at the White House on infrastructure that quickly blew up when Trump insisted he wouldn’t work on the issue until Democrats ended all of their investigations. The president then called a Rose Garden press conference where he slammed Democrats, and Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) called their own to slam the president.
Pelosi then went to a Center for American Progress event where she reiterated that it was in “plain sight” that Trump “is obstructing justice and he’s engaged in a cover-up.”
“And that could be an impeachable offense,” she said.
But the tough talk appears to be more misdirection from Pelosi, who has said in the past that Trump’s behavior is “self-impeaching” and that “impeachment’s too good for him.” Those words are functionally meaningless when the speaker then works to prevent impeachment from moving forward.
Many Democrats are hesitant to move forward with impeachment, and the ones who do want to open an inquiry are being thwarted by Pelosi and her allies at every turn.
That didn’t stop House Financial Services Committee chair Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) from arguing for impeachment Wednesday, nor did it stop leadership member Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) from speaking twice about the need to hold the president accountable and to elevate the seriousness of their investigations through opening an inquiry. And it didn’t stop Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.) from saying that betting everything on the 2020 election would be a “historic mistake.”
Pelosi’s response to those arguing for impeachment was to implore them not to raise money off their stance.
Still, House Ways and Means Committee chair Richard Neal (D-Mass.), who is leading the effort to obtain the president’s tax returns, described the meeting as a calm family conversation.
“I don’t think the speaker said anything other than we should continue the work of the individual committees based upon their responsibilities,” Neal said.
Democratic leadership also believes opening impeachment proceedings would stymie all other legislative goals for this Congress.
In a statement Tuesday night, ahead of their meeting at the White House on Wednesday, Pelosi and Schumer said they looked forward to Trump presenting “ideas for pay-fors” to offset the cost of a $2 trillion infrastructure plan. It’s difficult to work with a president on legislation when impeachment proceedings are working their way through Congress, though with Trump now insisting that all investigations end before he works on things like an infrastructure package, Democrats also have reason to doubt whether they can accomplish anything with a Republican Senate and Trump as president.
But Democratic leaders continue to see it differently.
“We were elected to get things done on behalf of the American people with a focus on driving down the high-cost of life-saving prescription drugs, and act on a real infrastructure plan,” Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) told reporters Wednesday. “We’re proceeding in that regard.”
This story has been updated throughout.