WASHINGTON — After months of infighting (often about impeachment), the Democratic Party has been mostly unified since the House formally began its inquiry into President Donald Trump in late September. Last week, they lost just two votes on a resolution affirming their inquiry and outlining its next steps. Witnesses are testifying nearly every day, and the investigation is moving forward toward a likely vote to impeach Trump.
But as that vote inches closer, the cracks in the party are (inevitably) starting to show, and a fight over what’s in the articles of impeachment themselves has begun in earnest.
“Some people may want to try and charge everything the president has done wrong over the course of his career, and obviously we can’t do that,” Rep. Jamie Raskin, a longtime impeachment supporter who sits on the Judiciary and Oversight committees, said in an interview with BuzzFeed News Thursday.
Others, he said, want to focus more narrowly. “Some people may want to try to blank out the whole pattern and system of corruption to just focus on one event. That might be placing things at too microscopic a level. We have to try to tell a comprehensive story faithfully while at the same time zeroing in on the criminal charges where we think the evidence is decisive and irrefutable,” Raskin said.
Raskin stressed that the articles have not yet been written and that the House is still in a “fact-finding phase.” But as of now, Democratic members and aides say articles of impeachment will definitely include an article related to Trump’s dealings with Ukraine and the alleged quid pro quo at the center of the inquiry, in addition to obstruction of Congress (many members of the administration have defied congressional subpoenas under orders from the White House).
But some members of the caucus want to go further, arguing that the articles should also include other allegations against Trump, like claims of sexual assault and his continued stake in his DC hotel (Democrats allege he’s violating the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause), his past racist remarks, and findings from earlier investigations, including former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, and other alleged and admitted wrongdoing.
“The words ‘racist abuse of power’ should be part of the articles of impeachment. Not including this type of abuse based on racism will be unjust to the children caged at the border & all the communities who have faced violence b/c of his actions,” Rep. Rashida Tlaib tweeted Tuesday, responding to a story about Trump’s decision to proclaim November “National American History and Founders Month” instead of Native American Heritage Month.
Earlier this fall, Rep. Al Green, the first sitting member of the House to support impeaching Trump, made a similar argument, telling BuzzFeed News that he wants to see “at least one article of impeachment concerning the president's bigotry infused into policy that is harming our society.”
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has already dismissed putting anything that might seem ideological in the articles.
“If you have disappointment about the president being cowardly about gun violence prevention … or cruel in terms of DREAMers or trans [rights], or in denial about climate change — the list goes on and on — an opposition to a woman's right to choose, Violence Against Women Act, equal pay for equal work, any of those things — if you have your disagreements with the president, save that for the election,” she said at a press conference just two days after the House announced its formal inquiry. “That has nothing to do with the impeachment.”
As the investigation roars on, it’s increasingly clear that the most likely outcome is that Pelosi’s strategy during the inquiry will extend to the impeachment itself.
In an effort to protect her most vulnerable members, the investigation has been narrowly focused on Ukraine, as the party’s more moderate members have been more comfortable talking about national security issues instead of the Mueller report and other allegations against Trump.
Pelosi hesitated to support impeachment for months after much of her own caucus was on board; her concern was that it could lose her party the House. With the momentum behind the Ukraine investigation, it’s increasingly clear, Democratic aides say, that that hesitation will mean the speaker wants to keep the articles narrow too. At top of mind will be moderate frontliners — the party’s most electorally vulnerable members — like Reps. Greg Stanton and Lucy McBath, who sit on the Judiciary Committee and will draft the eventual articles.
But some more progressive members and longtime impeachment supporters want to see a wider-ranging condemnation of the president’s actions and have raised concerns that leaving out any wrongdoing could look like the president’s getting a free pass.
“One thing, I think, strategically is that Ukraine and this incident [Trump’s call] is the issue that has united the caucus on impeachment, so as far as it being the primary article, I think that we're fine about that,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez told reporters not long after the House officially began its inquiry. “I personally would like to see additional articles on there from emoluments, because I don't want to send the message that this is okay. But at the same time, we’ve got to do whatever we can.”
It’s a balancing act, Raskin said, and the founders certainly saw emoluments violations as an impeachable offense.
“Donald Trump is a one-man crime wave who spawns a lot of different legal problems,” he said. “We can’t follow every single criminal action that the president has allegedly been engaged in, but we have to focus on the major ones.”