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‘Deceit and Lies and Obstruction of Justice’: 2020 Democratic Candidates Split With Pelosi on Impeachment

June 2, 2019, 5:30 PM UTC

Numerous Democrats running for president are turning impeachment of President Donald Trump into a campaign focal point, pressuring party leaders who are trying to throttle back expectations that Democratic House will act quickly.

The 2020 contenders and congressional Democrats face a growing clamor from the party’s activist base for impeachment proceedings to commence in Washington. The sentiment—and the divisions it’s causing—was evident as 14 of the 23 presidential hopefuls were addressing a weekend convention of the California Democratic Party.

Among the contenders, home-state senator Kamala Harris drew the loudest applause during her speech on Saturday when she lit into the president.

“He obstructed justice and hired an attorney general to clean up the crime scene,” Harris said. “We need to begin impeachment proceedings and we need a new commander in chief.”

Marked Shift

Those types of comments are a marked shift from earlier this year, when the presidential candidates largely—and very deliberately—attempted to ignore Trump as they got their campaigns rolling.

But the public statement on Wednesday from Special Counsel Robert Mueller reiterating that he couldn’t clear the president of crimes—and specifically of obstruction of justice—has given the Democratic left wing new cause to ramp up impeachment calls, even as most opinion polls show the general public is against taking that step.

Mueller’s statement prompted Senators Cory Booker of New Jersey and Kirsten Gillibrand of New York, plus former Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper, to call for initiating impeachment proceedings. They joined other competitors appearing at the California gathering including Harris, Senator Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and former Texas Representative Beto O’Rourke, who previously called for Trump’s impeachment.

“The House of Representatives should move to impeachment proceedings,” Booker said Saturday at a MoveOn forum in San Francisco, drawing cheers as he accused the president of “deceit and lies and obstruction of justice.”

Notable Exception

Not all of the candidates are taking on the issue on the stump, though. The notable exception to the impeachment fervor is former Vice President Joe Biden, the clear early front-runner in the campaign.

Biden skipped the convention in California and instead spoke Saturday night in Columbus, Ohio, at a dinner held by the Human Rights Campaign, the largest LGBTQ advocacy group in the U.S.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who’s been resisting calls to initiate impeachment proceedings in the House and urging patience, faced repeated cries of “Impeeeeach!” as she addressed the crowd in her hometown of San Francisco.

Pelosi vowed to “go where the facts lead us,” but never used the word impeachment.

“We will insist on the truth. We will build on an ironclad case to act,” Pelosi said. “And President Trump will be held accountable for his actions. In the Congress, in the courts, and in the court of public opinion.”

Political Risk

Pelosi and her deputies in the House are moving cautiously, reflecting polls that show most Americans don’t support impeachment. A CNN poll published on Sunday found 76% of Democrats favor impeaching Trump, a bump from 69% in April. However, only 41% of the general public backs that stance.

They’re concerned that impeachment could backfire by animating Trump’s base and turning off independent voters. This could put some of the 40 Democratic freshmen at risk in next year’s election, especially those who represent swing districts won from Republicans only

But among a faction of the Democratic Party there’s no question.

“I don’t think this is a close call,” billionaire Democratic activist Tom Steyer, who has been financing a campaign to push for Trump’s impeachment, said in an interview. “Mr. Trump is out of control, reckless, lawless, and very dangerous to the American people. He’s refusing any kind of oversight and any notion that he is to obey any law or custom. And that’s a scary point.”

Behavior ‘Normalized’

Steyer launched an impeachment drive in 2017 by setting up the group Need To Impeach, which had a heavy presence at the Democratic convention this weekend, seeking to mobilize support for its ongoing pressure campaign on Congress. When he first launched the effort, many prominent Democrats keep their distance, but more are coming around to his view after release of the Mueller report.

“The question over whether he deserves to be impeached is now over,” Steyer said. “The question is: Are we going to impeach him? If not, we will have normalized his behavior. It will be the new standard for the next president.”

Democrats who attended the party convention and a forum by the activist group MoveOn in San Francisco this weekend ranged from certain to conflicted on impeachment.

“We have a president who has complete disregard for the law, who’s broken the law while in public office. It’s necessary that we explore impeachment. I’m frustrated that Democratic Party leaders haven’t moved fast enough,” said Zahra Billo, 35, a lawyer from San Jose. “This is urgent, this is about saving our country.”

But others saw merit to Pelosi’s resistance.

“I have utmost faith in Nancy Pelosi that she is doing what she thinks is the right thing and I’m willing to be a little patient for a little while longer,” said Shauna Wright, 51, a writer from San Francisco. “But I am definitely moving more toward it than I was.”

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Watch: Everything You Need to Know About Impeachment