WASHINGTON ― With President Donald Trump’s approval rating sinking and congressional Republicans pushing a deeply unpopular agenda, Democrats have a real chance to take back the House. But that opportunity is being complicated by one word that is coming up with increasing regularity on the midterm campaign trail: “impeachment.”
That’s the conclusion House Democratic leaders have reached through internal polling, and it’s one that top Republicans, including allies of the Trump administration, shared in conversations with HuffPost.
“In focus groups in swing districts and in Georgia-06 (where a special election is being held this June) ― where we do think Trump is underwater ― people still very much respect the office of the presidency and don’t like the idea of Democrats jumping to any conclusions on such a serious thing,” said Meredith Kelly, communications director for the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, “even if they don’t necessarily like Trump or think he is doing a good job.”
The party in the minority always grapples with just how oppositional it should be in its effort to regain power. Rarely, however, has the concept of impeachment been so openly, and so early, discussed in the course of midterm elections. And that’s for a reason: Trump, with a seemingly daily appetite for controversy, has invited the focus. But, secondarily, some Democrats worry that by broaching the possibility, they risk ostracizing the swing voters they need to win seats.
“All this talk of impeachment does is it makes Republicans imagine Nancy Pelosi running the House,” said one close Trump ally, who said he and the administration welcomed the impeachment discussion. “You couldn’t ask for a bigger motivator for our base.”
For vulnerable House Republicans, impeachment chatter is the rare salve in a political season that’s devoid of it. Lawmakers say it helps turn the discussion away from their own foibles and allows them to paint Democrats as out of touch.
“It does make them look extreme,” swing-district Rep. Rod Blum (R-Iowa) told HuffPost last week. “It makes it look like it was all cooked in the books or cooked in the recipe before we even started the meal.”
“It certainly doesn’t help a person, or a party, or a movement or an organization when they appear to the average person as being extreme,” Blum added. “Doesn’t help their cause, whoever it might be.”
It makes it look like it was all cooked in the books or cooked in the recipe before we even started the meal. Republican Rep. Rod Blum of Iowa
Privately, Democratic leaders concede these points and have done their best to keep talk of impeaching Trump to the abstract. Minority Leader Pelosi, for one, has tried to slow down the push, saying she hoped some would “curb their enthusiasm” until Congress has all of the facts. And in recommended talking points to candidates, party leadership has encouraged lawmakers “not to jump to conclusions.”
But there also is a growing ― and sincere ― argument being made among members that the topic simply can’t be ignored amid continued revelations of Trump’s apparent attempts to obstruct an investigation into collusion between his campaign and Russia.
“If it were any other time,” one Democratic aide told HuffPost, “I’d say it would be premature to talk about impeachment without clear evidence, but this is all a fucking circus, and stuff breaks every hour. It’s probably wise to prepare for anything and everything.”
Democrats such as Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) and Al Green (D-Texas) are at the vanguard of impeachment talk, but there is a growing appetite among other members ― particularly inside the Congressional Black Caucus ― to amplify the calls. In a conversation with HuffPost last week, CBC Chairman Cedric Richmond (D-La.) stopped just short of calling for impeachment himself, detailing the growing list of questions surrounding the Trump campaign’s contacts with Russia and Trump’s decision to fire FBI Director James Comey.
“Those are serious questions,” Richmond said. “The logical conclusion with the wrong answers does lead to impeachment. And I think that for some people to be having that conversation right now is really a conversation whether we think this president is committing high crimes and misdemeanors. And if you honestly and objectively look at the facts, there’s reason to be concerned.”
As some Democrats begin to more openly flirt with elevating impeachment as a campaign issue, others are trying to temper expectations about the chances of success. As another senior Democratic aide pointed out, impeachment isn’t something Democrats can just jam through Congress even if they retake the House. It’s a process that requires them to build a case, one that will persuade enough Republicans in the Senate, where 67 votes are required.
“It’s a legal standard,” the aide said. “It’s not an emotion.”
Democrats insist they aren’t divided on impeachment, arguing instead that some lawmakers have reached conclusions before others are ready. “Some people want to just see, get those dots connected, and see where it goes,” Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) said. “So I don’t see any division in our ranks on the issue.”
But as talk of impeachment does gain steam, there is concern that a forceful push ― at least before any sustained investigation into Trump is conducted ― risks jeopardizing the very political and legal processes needed for it to be successful. And there does seem to be a real opportunity for that process to gain momentum. While Republicans say they welcome the impeachment talk as a way of portraying Democrats as a party of the fringe, others have hinted their own discomfort with their president.
When Mother Jones claimed Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) was the first Republican to suggest Trump may have committed an impeachable offense by firing Comey, for example, the office of Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Florida contacted the magazine to point out that he ― one of the most endangered Republicans in Congress ― had come out earlier.