Debating impeachment, Democrats have 2020 on their minds

WASHINGTON — For Democrats, the decisions being made of whether to support impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump are personal, gut-wrenching and, at times, starkly political, with fallout in 2020 and beyond.

Some lawmakers worry impeachment will benefit the president, energizing Trump’s supporters and solidifying his campaign, much the way the proceedings against Bill Clinton ended up costing Republicans in 1998.

Others warn that failing to impeach Trump risks deflating Democratic voters they need to turn out in 2020.

And still others envision a “nightmare” scenario: The House votes to impeach, but the Senate declines to convict, Trump survives to win a second term and Democrats lose majority control.

The arguments, being made out loud and behind closed doors, show the depth of the discussions among Democrats and could set the party on a path toward — or away — from an impeachment proceeding, with lawmakers and the party’s voters anxious to get it right.

“Literally all I get when I get home is, ‘Get rid of him. We got to get rid of him,'” said Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., the chairman of the Budget Committee, who represents Kentucky’s liberal stronghold in Louisville and supports impeachment.

But Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson, a member of the Judiciary Committee, from the Atlanta suburbs, is holding back. He’s worried impeachment will put his colleagues, including many freshmen, in a tough position that could cost Democrats their majority and leave Congress with no checks on Trump’s second term.

“I think we have to pay close attention to what’s going on in the 30 or so swing districts, what are those people thinking,” he said. “I’m thinking beyond my district and I’m thinking beyond the here and now.”

While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says Congress shouldn’t impeach for political reasons or not impeach for political reasons, Democrats acknowledge that political considerations overhang the decision making.

Nearly 60 House Democrats now favor launching an impeachment inquiry, but many of them come from politically safer Democratic strongholds, not the swing districts that gave Democrats the majority. Pelosi has resisted their push, and instead is nudging the House forward on a slow if steady “path,” as she calls it, digging into special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, investigating Trump’s finances and running of the government, and engaging in court battles with the administration.

“I don’t think there’s anything more divisive we can do than to impeach a president of the United States, and so you have to handle it with great care,” Pelosi said in a recent interview at the Council on Foreign Relations. “It should by no means be done politically.”

At the same time, impeachment is nothing but a political process, say those who favor the proceedings, a path for removing the president that’s embedded in the Constitution and deliberately placed beyond the reach of the ballot box.

Erza Levin, co-founder of Indivisible, a liberal advocacy group, acknowledges it’s “at best unclear” what impact impeachment would have on the coming elections.

There’s the risk of impeaching, he and others say, but also the risk for Democrats of doing nothing. And even if the House votes to impeach Trump and the Senate declines to convict, he said, it may be politically worthwhile to force the Republican senators who are up for re-election in Colorado, North Carolina and other swing states to vote.

Besides, if the political fallout is unclear, Levin said, “then we should do what’s right.”

And so the conversations go. Against these blunt political calculations are the personal ones, as lawmakers consider what’s at stake for constituents, the country and their own what-did-you-do-when moment in history.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the party’s rising star from New York who supports starting an inquiry, said the decisions shouldn’t be about elections or polls.

“Impeachment is incredibly serious,” she said on ABC’s “This Week.” ”This is about us doing our jobs. And if we’re talking about what’s going to be a victory for Trump and what’s not going to be a victory for Trump then we are politicizing and we are tainting this process, which, again, should be removed from politics.”

Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., worries what happens if the House votes to impeach but Trump remains in office. “If we did impeachment today, we would make my constituents very happy — and then they would be angry,” she said. “My concern always is suppressing the desire to vote.”

Advocates for impeachment held rallies in several cities over the weekend, the start of what they say will be a long summer of educating the public about the process. Turnout was nowhere near the levels needed to shift the debate. But some new supporters did emerge.

New York Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney announced her decision in favor of impeachment at a Foley Park rally “after doing as much soul-searching as I’ve ever done in my life.”

She said impeachment would be “a painful ordeal for our already divided nation.” But in going forward, she said, she hoped “we will emerge stronger than before.”

David Sievers, the campaign manager at the liberal group MoveOn, which helped organize the rallies, expects more lawmakers will come forward.

But where the conversation goes remains uncertain.

“We have 234 members,” said Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, in a briefing with reporters. “So I think there are a multiplicity of things running through our members’ heads and Americans’,” he said, on what to do.

Associated Press writer Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.