Wide range of emotions on impeachment underscores challenge
YORKTOWN, Va. (AP) — In suburban Philadelphia, it took a little more than eight minutes into the question-and-answer session at freshman Rep. Madeleine Dean’s town hall before someone asked about impeachment.
The topic was broached in Southern California as Rep. Katie Porter fielded other questions on health care, homelessness, border security and the minimum wage.
In military heavy Yorktown, along coastal Virginia, another newly elected Democrat, Rep. Elaine Luria, never got asked about it at all.
Since House Democrats swept to power last November, the seams of their big tent majority are being stretched over the difficult issues surrounding whether to start impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.
For those lawmakers and others, the town hall sessions in their districts revealed how much or how little impeachment is on voters’ minds. Lawmakers were at home the same week that special counsel Robert Mueller delivered his first and potentially last public statement on the matter.
The differing opinions expressed to lawmakers offer a snapshot of the challenges facing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and the many conversations to come.
“I actually wondered whether anybody would bring it up,” Dean told the crowd of about 150 in a Montgomery County Community College auditorium.
It was Wednesday, the night after Mueller’s rare public remarks. Dean drew applause and whistles and hoots of support as she laced into Trump, calling him “the most indecent president of our lifetime.”
Dean serves on the House Judiciary Committee, which is steeped in the impeachment debate, and she is among those calling for an impeachment inquiry. But the new congresswoman also acknowledged that in other conversations with voters around the district recently, they did not raise the subject.
The night before Mueller’s spoke at the Justice Department, Luria said she, too, was only asked about impeachment at one of her three stops Tuesday, during a visit with seniors at a retirement community.
The former Naval officer, who is also new to Congress, said it came up as more of a question, asking what she makes of it all.
“I talked about how I think Congress has an important duty, oversight, and we have a big responsibility to get to the bottom of the facts,” she recalled in an interview later that evening after the town hall in Yorktown.
Luria said she also brought the question back to the seniors for their advice. “I wasn’t alive when Watergate happened ... I understand it was very divisive as a country,” she recalled telling them, “and kind of asked them, ‘How do you feel about it?’”
The seniors nodded in agreement, she said, responding, “Yes, it’s something that would be very divisive.”
These are the considerations Pelosi is taking into account as she considers the House’s next moves. Despite increasingly vocal voices among her colleagues for the start of an impeachment inquiry, Pelosi has made it clear she’s in no rush to impeach. Such proceedings would start in the House before the case would shift to the Senate for a trial.
Pelosi prefers a more measured approach, saying she wants to have the country’s support, whatever the House’s ultimate decision.
Democrats last year won the majority in so many districts that had voted for Trump in 2016, basing their campaigns on promises of lowering health care costs, creating jobs with infrastructure investment and cleaning up the government. So Pelosi is wary of taking on an impeachment inquiry that would overpower that agenda.
Pelosi worries impeachment would split the country. She remembers how the proceedings against President Bill Clinton helped propel Democrats, and warns it could help Trump’s re-election in 2020.
But that might not be enough for some voters.
About 15 people waited at a library in Memphis to meet with Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat who was one of the earliest House proponents of impeachment
One constituent, Lloyd Brown, 62, told The Associated Press that he is watching the impeachment process closely.
“I do think that Congress should proceed with impeachment hearings, because I believe that will bring out some of the facts that haven’t become public yet,” Brown said.
Cohen, also a member of the House Judiciary Committee, discussed the possibility of impeachment, expressing his hope that Mueller will testify before the House. The congressman said that even if Trump is impeached, he does not think that the president will be convicted in the Republican-controlled Senate.
“But I do think he should have his day of reckoning,” Cohen said, adding later that Trump “makes Richard Nixon look honest.”
At a town hall in western Michigan on Tuesday, a woman told Rep. Justin Amash, the only Republican to accuse Trump of impeachable conduct, that she has been calling Pelosi’s office nearly every day because “we need to change her mind” about an impeachment inquiry.
Amash agreed it’s time to start an inquiry. But Amash, who has drawn criticism from his party, said Pelosi’s “sort of playing it both ways.”
On Thursday, about 100 people packed into a small room at a library in Tustin, California, as Porter spoke briefly then drew from random questions attendants had written down on cards.
They covered various topics including one about what should happen to those who refuse to appear for testimony before a congressional committee, leading Porter to briefly address the issue of impeachment.
The new congresswoman from what had been a Republican-held district told the crowd her goal is to do her job, not stoke a crisis. But she said the refusal to comply with the subpoenas was a turning point, in her view.
“You didn’t hear me ever talk about impeachment. It’s not why I went to Washington,” she said. “But I will not shirk my duty if the time comes, and the time is nigh.”
After the event, Barbara Colter, 66, said the last time she saw Porter speak the congresswoman didn’t seem to want to move in that direction. But her comments on Thursday made Colter think that’s changed. And she agrees.
“After yesterday, I think that we need to move in that direction,” Colter said.
Mascaro reported from Yorktown, Virginia, Levy from Blue Bell, Pennsylvania, Sainz from Memphis, Tennessee, and Taxin from Tustin, California. Associated Press writer David Eggert contributed from Grand Rapids, Michigan.