WASHINGTON — House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged her caucus Wednesday to hold off on starting impeachment proceedings against President Trump, while also publicly accusing Trump of staging a cover-up.
In a closed-door meeting, Pelosi and party leadership attempted to quell a growing movement in the party that is calling for an impeachment inquiry into the president in the wake of the Mueller report and as the White House refuses to comply with House investigations in obstruction. Leaders argued that the more time is needed for committee investigations to continue, but they also ratcheted up their attacks on the president.
“We believe that no one is above the law, including the president of the United States. And we believe that the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up,” Pelosi said after the meeting.
Shortly after the cover-up accusation, Democratic leaders went to the White House to continue negotiations over a massive infrastructure bill.
Instead, according to a Democratic aide, Trump walked into the room, made reference to Pelosi’s “cover-up” comment, and walked out before anyone had even sat down or shaken hands. Trump repeated this complaint to reporters in the Rose Garden shortly afterward.
“Instead of walking in happily into a meeting, I walk in to look at people that had just said I was doing a cover-up. I don’t do cover-ups,” he said.
Trump said he will not negotiate while the investigations into his administration continue. Pelosi accused Trump of staging the walkout and never being serious about negotiating a deal.
Democratic committees investigating the White House are locked in a multipronged legal battle with the administration over witnesses and documents. This has helped cause the groundswell of Democrats in the House accusing Trump of obstruction and calling for an impeachment inquiry, the first step in a potential impeachment vote.
“I don’t think that anybody came to Congress last year wanting to move down this path. But honestly, we’re at the point where the administration’s leaving us no choice,” said Rep. Susan Wild.
Pelosi and committee chairs made the case that Democrats should stay on course and continue fighting in the courts for information. They pointed to a recent court victory and new agreement for the Department of Justice to hand over documents related to the Mueller investigation.
Elijah Cummings, chair of the House Oversight Committee, said Tuesday that an impeachment battle “might tear the country apart” and that Democrats need to move carefully and gather more information.
But the number of members calling for an impeachment inquiry continues to grow. While there is no formal count (and many members refused to guess), estimates placed the number at around two dozen. Some members said it could be higher. They argue that the White House is undermining Congress’s constitutionally mandated oversight role and the House is compelled to act. Rep. Pramila Jayapal said she expects the pro-impeachment ranks to grow stronger as obstruction continues. “I think that more and more people will feel that way depending on the administration’s own behavior,” she said.
But for now, those who want to see an impeachment inquiry concede they are in the minority. Wednesday’s meeting ended with many members saying they want the legal battles and committee investigations to continue before impeachment gets broached.
“The overwhelming majority believe that we should continue to proceed along the course that we’re on right now,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a member of Democratic leadership.
An impeachment inquiry would be conducted by the House Judiciary Committee, which would consider whether there are grounds to draw up articles of impeachment against the president. If the committee concluded there was, it would go before a vote before the full House of Representatives. However, for the president to be removed from office an impeachment verdict would need to be confirmed by the Senate, which is almost unthinkable given that is controlled by Republicans who have been fiercely loyal to Trump.
Still, some Democrats argue the party has a responsibility to uphold the Constitution and begin the inquiry. For now, Democrats are remaining on course to fight the administration in the courts. But several members said Wednesday they only expect the calls for impeachment to grow.
“There’s still interest in going through the judicial process for most of us,” said Rep. Jackie Speier. “But at some point the clock runs out.”