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Democrats reach cusp of impeachment

Democrats reach cusp of impeachment

by MIKE LILLIS AND OLIVIA BEAVERS | The Hill  |  Published on December 11, 2019

Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) unveiled two articles of impeachment Tuesday focused solely on President Trump’s conduct regarding Ukraine, a move that appears to have united Democrats of all ideological stripes ahead of an expected floor vote next week.

The historic step caps months of internal party debate over whether to make Trump only the third president to be impeached, and poses a test for Pelosi and fellow Democrats heading into a divisive election year.

Democratic leaders have faced a daunting task with pitfalls galore: how to keep their large and diverse caucus united amid the inherently divisive exercise of removing a sitting president from office.

From the left, party leaders faced pressure to batter Trump with a laundry list of impeachment charges. From the center, they confronted moderates wary that even mentioning the word could harm their political prospects in battleground districts next year.

On Tuesday, Pelosi landed somewhere in the middle by introducing articles of impeachment designed to balance those concerns heading into 2020.

It was a delicate dance — and it seems to have worked.

Liberals, who would have thrown the kitchen sink at Trump, have accepted the slimmed-down roster of impeachment charges.

“I think this is the common denominator. And if this is what holds our caucus together and gets us across the finish line, let’s do it,” said Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.).

Centrists, meanwhile, are also at peace with the notion of voting to remove Trump, even as they acknowledge the risk that their decision may affect reelection battles.

“Virtually every member from a tough district made the tough choice that his conduct was serious enough to merit an impeachment inquiry,” said Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.), a freshman facing a competitive reelection contest. “We all wanted to give the president a chance to defend himself; he chose not to try. I don’t think anybody is going to have a hard time doing the right thing.”

Some Democrats described the two articles as the most straightforward way to make their case while solving the Goldilocks dilemma facing party leaders seeking to keep their troops together.

“On one hand, I can see the argument for having a lot more counts. On the other hand, I can see the methodology of ‘KISS’ being used — Keep It Simple, Stupid — and in some ways that probably makes sense,” freshman Rep. Harley Rouda (D-Calif.) told The Hill. “It is just easier to explain … what occurred for the American people.”

Unveiled in a somber press briefing Tuesday morning in the Capitol, both impeachment articles are related to the unfolding controversy surrounding Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine’s government to conduct a pair of investigations that might have helped him politically: one into Trump’s rivals — including former Vice President Joe Biden — and another into the debunked theory that Ukraine, and not Russia, meddled in the 2016 U.S. elections.

Pelosi and other party leaders, who had resisted impeachment for much of the year, framed the charges as an obligatory response to a lawless president.

“We stand here today because the president’s continuing abuse of his power has left us no choice,” said Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, which led the weeks-long investigation into the Ukraine affair. “To do nothing would make ourselves complicit in the president’s abuse of his high office, the public trust and our national security.”

Still, in the lead-up to the articles’ unveiling, Democrats were at odds over whether to cast a wider net in targeting allegations of Trump’s misconduct.

A number of liberal lawmakers had advocated for the inclusion of some reference to former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Trump’s role in Moscow’s 2016 election interference, which uncovered 10 episodes of potential obstruction of justice.

That mention was excluded, but progressive members nonetheless hailed the decision of leaders to move forward at all.

“Of course, I am in the camp where I feel there should have been more articles. I think obstruction of justice absolutely should’ve been an article. I am also supportive of emoluments being part of the articles,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) told reporters Tuesday, while noting she needs to further review the articles that were introduced. “But I understand the caucus is where it is at and it took a long time for us to get to this point that I’m glad that we have two.”

Still, other early impeachment supporters suggested this won’t necessarily be their last push to remove the 45th U.S. president, should he be acquitted in the GOP-controlled Senate.

“This does not mean others cannot be considered if the Senate does not convict,” said Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), who has previously introduced resolutions to impeach Trump.

“A president can be impeached more than once,” he added.

A number of conservative-leaning Blue Dog Democrats are also endorsing the articles, arguing that Trump’s conduct gave them no alternative.

“The issue isn’t the Blue Dogs, it’s upholding our Constitution,” said Rep. Lou Correa (D-Calif.). “If I was to go home and ask the Mexican president, [Andrés Manuel López] Obrador, for help in my campaign … I’d probably go to jail. So, we either uphold the laws or we don’t.”

Democrats allege that Trump withheld nearly $400 million in U.S. security aid to Ukraine and dangled a White House meeting with Ukraine’s president to pressure the country’s president to publicly announce an investigation into Biden and his son Hunter Biden, who worked on the board of the Ukrainian energy firm Burisma Holdings.

This, they warned, makes clear that Trump believes he is above the law, and will continue this pattern of misconduct if he is allowed to remain in office.

But Republicans, who have been near-unanimous in their defense of Trump’s conduct, maintain Democrats have failed to provide the evidence to support their allegations of wrongdoing, let alone their case for impeachment. Republicans have hammered the process as a political “sham” designed to remove a president Democrats couldn’t defeat at the ballot box.

Trump mounted his own defense on Tuesday, taking to Twitter to deny all claims that he pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for political favors. He also blasted the inquiry as a “WITCH HUNT” and attacked Schiff as “a totally corrupt politician” who he said will “eventually have to answer for this!”

“Both the President & Foreign Minister of Ukraine said, many times, that there ‘WAS NO PRESSURE.’ Nadler and the Dems know this, but refuse to acknowledge!’” the president tweeted.

The House Judiciary Committee late Tuesday announced a two-day markup of the articles, to start Wednesday night and resume Thursday, when it could last all day. The panel is expected to pass the articles along party lines Thursday, sending the measures to the full House, which could vote as early as next week.

This would set up a trial in the GOP-controlled Senate, where Trump would almost certainly be acquitted.

With that in mind, Democrats are also eyeing other strategies — both legislative and investigative — to rein in a president they feel has no legal boundaries.

“Those of us that care about the other areas of misconduct are going to have to push for accountability on other fronts, whether it’s ongoing investigations or even the criminal justice system after this president leaves office,” said Huffman. “But he doesn’t get a free pass from all of his misconduct and crimes, and that’s the main point.”

“I hope this narrow set of articles will not be read as that.”

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