The discussions boiled over in a series of tense meetings Monday night, with Nadler ultimately siding with Pelosi, a California Democrat. But Nadler told Democrats on his panel he was sympathetic to their calls to open up a formal impeachment investigation, something that Pelosi rejected in the private meetings.
Still Democrats say Nadler will not buck Pelosi, and would only move forward with an impeachment inquiry if she were on board.
“He’s in a very difficult position,” said Rep. Steve Cohen, a Tennessee Democrat on the committee who has pressed for opening an impeachment inquiry.
For many Democrats, Pelosi’s urging of her caucus to take a deliberative approach became harder Tuesday when members of the House Judiciary Committee gaveled in to yet another hearing with an empty witness chair. This time, former White House counsel Don McGahn had ignored his subpoena under the orders of President Donald Trump because of the White House’s position that former top aides cannot be compelled to testify about their interactions with the President. Earlier this month it was Attorney General William Barr who refused to show.
“I believe we are going to be left with — and probably right now are left with — nothing but that we must open an inquiry,” said Democratic Rep. Madeleine Dean of Pennsylvania, another Judiciary Committee member.
Behind the scenes, the calls for begin an official impeachment inquiry are louder than ever, with members arguing that the pitch from the speaker to focus on congressional investigations has grown almost impossible in the wake of the Trump administration’s blanket blockade on their oversight.
So far, Nadler has resisted calls to begin impeachment proceedings, arguing that the committee has to first conduct its broad investigation into the President and his administration before determining whether such a step is necessary. But the tide among rank-and-file committee members has shifted in recent days, as more and more Democrats on the panel are publicly declaring that beginning an impeachment inquiry is a necessary response to the President’s stonewalling.
“After so many accommodations that we’ve made, accommodation after accommodation, I don’t think that we should wait any longer,” said Rep. Veronica Escobar, a Democrat from Texas who’s a member of the Judiciary Committee.
“I am,” Escobar added when asked whether she was concerned about Pelosi’s and Nadler’s more cautious approach. “I understand why they’re not there yet, and I understand that there are still paths we have not gone down that are areas of opportunity. But I’m there.”
“No one is prejudging the outcome, but a number of us are convinced that an impeachment inquiry would make sense,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, a Maryland Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, told CNN. “It’s not the only way to go and obviously we want to proceed with the rest of the caucus in a way that makes sense for Congress.”
‘We’ll have to consider that and all alternatives’
Asked by CNN’s Chris Cuomo on Monday if the White House’s resistance made him more likely to turn to impeachment, Nadler said the stonewalling was making it “more and more difficult to ignore all alternatives, including impeachment.”
“And we’ll have to consider that and all alternatives,” Nadler said.
Democratic leaders have at times been candid about the political realities they are weighing between Democrats wanting to move on impeachment and the political cost of such action.
“I don’t, probably, think there’s any Democrat who probably wouldn’t in their gut say, ‘You know, he’s done some things that probably justify impeachment,’ ” said House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, a Maryland Democrat, on Tuesday. “Having said that — this is the important point — I think the majority of Democrats continue to believe that we need to continue to pursue the avenue that we’ve been on in trying to elicit information, testimony, review the Mueller report, review other items. … If the facts lead us to a broader action, so be it.”
Republicans on the committee have accused Democrats of trying to make it appear as though they are conducting impeachment proceedings without actually taking that step. And Pelosi has suggested that the President is trying to goad Democrats into beginning impeachment proceedings — which could be a boost to his re-election chances by rallying his base against impeachment.
The White House’s posture has been one of resistance in the face of an onslaught of Democratic probes. Democrats have been forced to take their fight to the courts as they struggle to get information. At the beginning of the month, the House Judiciary Committee voted to hold Barr in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over the full, unredacted Mueller report and underlying evidence. Last week, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin defied a House Ways and Means Committee subpoena for Trump’s tax information and numerous committees are still awaiting documents they requested months ago on everything from the administration’s handling of immigration to the security clearance process at the White House.
House Democrats will use their Thursday caucus meeting to discuss the status of the committee investigations into the Trump administration.
On Monday night, Nadler — facing questions from members of his committee about opening an impeachment inquiry — talked with Pelosi about the advantages of impeachment in terms of adding weight to the court fights, according to a source familiar with the conversation. Pelosi pointed out to Nadler that they had just won a key court case — a federal district judge told the accounting firm Mazars on Monday that it will need to turn over Trump’s accounting records — and their approach is getting results. She made that same case at another private meeting in which some Democrats pushed her to move ahead with impeachment.
“I asked basically, ‘Why not?'” Cohen recalled of the meeting with Pelosi. “For whatever reason, she doesn’t want to do it. And I think it’s our duty to do it.”
‘I’m getting there’
But some are taking impeachment into their own hands.
Texas Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, a member of the House Judiciary Committee, told reporters Tuesday that in the “next 48 hours” she would be introducing “a resolution of investigation” that will call on the committee to investigate whether there is “sufficient grounds” to move forward with impeachment.
It’s unclear whether the chairman would move on it. So far, he’s resisted similar efforts. But even members who were once reluctant to forge the path of impeachment are now suggesting that the administration’s defiance of their demands could change their approach.
House Oversight Chairman Elijah Cummings told CNN on Tuesday that “I’m getting there” when it comes to supporting an impeachment inquiry. The Maryland Democrat said the White House strategy is making Democrats “powerless” and is basically “tying their hands.”
House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff, a California Democrat who had been skeptical of impeachment and is closely aligned with leadership, told CNN Tuesday that the “case gets stronger the more they stonewall.”
Cummings also, however, touted the court decision Monday that Mazars must turn over the Trump financial records and said he believes it will propel other courts to comply with their demands.
“They want to see our democracy survive,” he said of the courts. He added it is a “long-shot remedy” as Trump continues to appeal the decision.
Others who are not on the Judiciary Committee are also beginning to see impeachment as a logical next step.
“I was not in favor of some of the earlier efforts around impeachment,” said Rep. Dan Kildee, a Michigan Democrat. “I thought they were not only premature but counterproductive so we should be reluctant, but that doesn’t mean under no circumstance should we ever consider this. The President is creating the circumstances and we have to consider it. I personally am much more open to it now then I was a couple of months ago.”