Roll Call: Mueller increases pressure on some Democrats to move toward impeachment

By Simone Pathé @sfpathe

Special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s brief public remarks on Wednesday added fuel to the already growing fire among some Democrats calling for an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.  CLICK HERE for a direct link to Roll Call story.

But House Democratic leadership, as well as Democrats working on trying to hold the majority in the chamber in 2020, continued to dampen expectations.

Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Wednesday continued her call for Congress to move forward with investigations into the president, but held firm in not advocating impeachment.

“The Congress holds sacred its Constitutional responsibility to investigate and hold the President accountable for his abuse of power,” the California Democrat said in a statement. “The Congress will continue to investigate and legislate to protect our elections and secure our democracy.”

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler did not mention impeachment either.

In his first public remarks since leading the two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, Mueller said two things that seemed to be raising the pressure on Democrats — at least from the left — to begin an impeachment inquiry.

First, he said his report speaks for itself and that any congressional testimony would not include additional information. That could give congressional Democrats who had been waiting to hear more from him further cover to call for an impeachment inquiry as the only way to obtain additional information.

And second, he reiterated — on camera, before the American people — two key points from the lengthy report his office released in April: That the investigation did not turn up evidence exonerating Trump and that the Department of Justice cannot charge a sitting president with a crime.

That second point underscored the argument from some lawmakers that, in the words of Michigan GOP Rep. Justin Amash on Wednesday, “The ball is in our court, Congress.”

There was no sign that any of Amash’s Republican colleagues were preparing to join him, however.

“Special Counsel Robert Mueller made it very clear that his report is definitive and he has no intention to testify before Congress,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise tweeted. “It is well past time for Democrats to move on from this madness.”

New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, who had previously stopped short of calling for an impeachment inquiry, joined a handful of other 2020 presidential hopefuls on Wednesday afternoon who had already come out in support of taking that step.

“Robert Mueller’s statement makes it clear: Congress has a legal and moral obligation to begin impeachment proceedings immediately,” Booker tweeted Wednesday afternoon.

“This administration has continued to stonewall Congress’s oversight. Beginning impeachment proceedings is the only path forward,” he added.

Booker had previously said there should be more investigations before starting an impeachment inquiry.

Other 2020 presidential hopefuls reiterated calls they’d previously made for the House to start impeachment proceedings, including former San Antonio Mayor Julian Castro, California Sen. Kamala Harris, Massachusetts Rep. Seth Moultonand Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke and Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Mueller’s team and the House Intelligence and Judiciary committees have been in negotiations to potentially have him testify publicly about his finding, but the talks have stalled in recent weeks.

Nadler’s statement Wednesday thanked the special counsel for his service and said that Congress must take the lead going forward in responding to potential crimes committed by Trump and his campaign.

“Given that Special Counsel Mueller was unable to pursue criminal charges against the president, it falls to Congress to respond to the crimes, lies and other wrongdoing of President Trump — and we will do so. No one, not even the President of the United States, is above the law,” Nadler said in a statement after Mueller’s remarks.

Trump has said he would block compliance with subpoenas from Democrats, stymieing their oversight efforts on a variety of issues, including whether he obstructed justice.

Although Nadler did not include the term impeachment in his initial reaction Wednesday, some of his colleagues on the committee did not shy away from the word.

“The next step is for the House Judiciary Committee to open an impeachment inquiry to formally begin consideration of whether or not articles of impeachment should be filed,” Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline in a statement. He sits on the Judiciary Committee and also leads the Democratic Policy and Communications Committee.

But Democrats facing re-election in competitive districts next year have been more wary of calling for an impeachment inquiry. Most Democratic strategists who work on congressional races have maintained that such a move would hurt more than help efforts to hold onto control of the House in 2020.

In Iowa, where all four House races and the Senate race could be competitive next year, former state Democratic Chairwoman Sue Dvorsky said she did not believe Mueller’s comments changed the political conversation on the ground.

“It simply is not what voters are talking about. They have an opinion on it, they think about it. This is not the focus,” Dvorsky said in a phone interview.

“The questions on the road are health care, they’re income inequality, the middle class squeeze and the concern about student debt,” she said.

Dvorsky said she she was not concerned that any steps forward on impeachment could threaten the re-election prospects for first-term Democratic Reps. Abby Finkenauer and Cindy Axne, who were both elected in districts Trump carried in 2016.

“They are doing their jobs. That’s what they’ll run on,” Dvorsky said.

It remains to be seen whether Mueller’s reluctance to share any more information with Congress will change the calculus from Democrats who have been calling for more investigations and hearings before moving towards impeachment.

 

Asked about her support for opening an impeachment inquiry last week, for example, New Jersey Rep. Mikie Sherrill answered by saying she wanted Mueller to testify before Congress. She wasn’t alone. Nearly three-quarters of Americans said Mueller should appear before Congress, according to a Monmouth University Poll released last week.

Katherine Tully-McManus and Bridget Bowman contributed to this report. Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.

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