WASHINGTON — Some Pennsylvania Democrats are treading lightly on calls for impeaching President Donald Trump, even as some members of the caucus are anxious to get such proceedings under way.
“I think that we need to get to the bottom of the questions that we have” on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report, freshman U.S. Rep. Chrissy Houlahan, D-6th District, said.
“I think the report created more questions than answers and I think that we need to do our job, which is … to make sure that we can create — if there is a case for impeachment — that case. And if there isn’t, then there isn’t. And until we know the answers to a lot of the questions that we have … we need to oversee,” Houlahan said.
Houlahan’s fellow freshman, U.S. Rep. Madeleine Dean, D-4th District, said during a recent appearance on NBC’s “Meet the Press with Chuck Todd,” that the House Judiciary Committee is “just not there yet” on an impeachment proceeding.
In an interview broadcast just after the Mueller Report’s release, Dean said that if the revelations in the report “are as troubling as they appear,” and if the committee’s oversight uncovers additional issues regarding “emoluments or campaign finance errors and payments to porn stars,” there could be “enough evidence that amounts to an impeachment proceeding. But we’re not there yet.”
U.S. Sen. Bob Casey, D-Pa., told the Capital-Star on Tuesday that he’s been scouring the report both online and in hard-copy format. “I’m a yellow highlighter kind of person,” he said.
Pennsylvania’s senior United States senator said he’s troubled by what he’s seen, he said, including “fact patterns about potential obstructive conduct.”
Casey said there’s more work to do by the House, where lawmakers will call witnesses, including Mueller himself. But he said he’s cautious about the issue because he could be a juror if impeachment proceedings ultimately move from the House to the Senate.
“Our standard is higher because we would have to be voting on removal, which is a much higher bar. So I’ve been very careful about prejudging it,” Casey said.
Two former presidents — Republican Andrew Johnson and Democrat Bill Clinton — were impeached by the House but acquitted by the Senate. The House began the process against President Nixon, but he resigned before the full House vote.
Democratic lawmakers are grappling with opposing interests within their own party. Most Democrats want impeachment hearings to begin now that Mueller’s report has been released, but the idea is still unpopular overall, according to an NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll.
Michigan Rep. Rashida Tlaib, elected in 2018, has introduced a resolution to direct the House Judiciary Committee to explore impeachment proceedings. She’s attracted only six Democratic co-sponsors, however, not including any Pennsylvania lawmakers.
Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., said that in his district and elsewhere across the country, “there’s a lot of people that want to have some level of accountability.” On impeachment, he said, “I do think we have to work to build the public opinion to actually have that support but I don’t think we’re that far away and I’m not afraid to actually go down that road.”
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has been cautious about impeachment. She penned a letter to House Democrats last month urging her caucus to hold off on impeaching Trump, the New York Times reported, although she denounced the “highly unethical and unscrupulous behavior” that she said had dishonored the office.
‘Let them go at it’
Republicans in Pennsylvania and elsewhere across the country are urging their Democratic colleagues to drop the investigations.
“I like the idea of moving on,” freshman U.S. Rep. Dan Meuser, R-9th District, said. “Not a lot there, maybe a little bit of smoke, but that was about it.”
Some of Trump’s Republican allies have expressed concerns with revelations about Trump’s behavior contained in the report, but they largely say they’re willing to look past his transgressions.
“I think that when you have an investigation like this, someone’s personal attorney’s office gets raided, the very details of a man’s life, who’s led a pretty complicated life, comes to light,” Meuser said.
“And so if there’s a few instances that seem a little off-color, if that weren’t the case, we’d probably be questioning the investigation. The intent was to find collusion, that was the premise, and obstruction and criminal activity. None was found.”
Mueller declined to reach a conclusion about whether Trump had obstructed justice. His report says, “while this report does not conclude that the President committed a crime, it also does not exonerate him.” The report also depicts Trump’s efforts to direct his staff to fire Mueller during the investigation.
Then-White House counsel Don McGahn refused to carry out the order, “deciding that he would resign rather than trigger what he regarded as a potential Saturday Night Massacre,” the report says. Trump has disputed that finding.
“If people want to say, ‘Oh, he did this. Oh, he told this person to do that’ — these things happen in the course of a day in business,” Meuser said.
“When I served as revenue secretary [in former Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Corbett’s administration], I would call in attorneys and folks who worked within the department and say, ‘Okay, I want to do this.’ And they might say, ‘Okay, we can probably get that done, but doing it this way is outside of the parameters of the law.’ So you don’t go that route. … You were bringing up an idea in an area that maybe wasn’t your field of expertise. That happens in the private sector and the public sector.”
Meuser said Democrats risk a political backlash if they pursue impeachment.
“That’s their prerogative. If they think that’s what’s in the best interest of their base and our country, let them go at it. I certainly disagree.”