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Pelosi Says Democrats Need A Stronger Case Before Pushing For Impeachment


Whether or not to impeach President Trump is a question that has divided House Democrats for months. Pro-impeachment Democrats had hoped that yesterday's hearings with former special counsel Robert Mueller would mark a turning point, but as NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis reports, Democrats are as conflicted as ever on the question of impeachment.

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: Congressman Denny Heck sits on the Intelligence Committee. He's read and reread the Mueller report. He questioned the special counsel directly yesterday, and he believes the president committed impeachable offenses. But he's still wrestling with what to do now.

DENNY HECK: I'm not asking for sympathy. It's an incredible privilege to have this job. But a deliberation like this is a profoundly lonely one (ph).

DAVIS: Heck is playing different scenarios out in his mind, including this one - if the House impeaches and the Republican-controlled Senate will not convict, it will in effect exonerate the president. Heck believes that outcome could hurt any potential legal case against Trump after he leaves office.

HECK: He would be less likely to be held accountable. Is that what we want?

DAVIS: Intelligence Committee chairman Adam Schiff also remains an impeachment skeptic. Here he is on CNN this morning.


ADAM SCHIFF: I haven't been convinced yet that we should. And going through that kind of momentous and disruptive experience for the country I think is not something we can go into lightly.

DAVIS: According to NPR's impeachment tracker, there are 96 lawmakers on record in support of beginning impeachment proceedings. Just two joined the group since Mueller's testimony. One of them, Massachusetts Democrat Lori Trahan, says she thinks more Democrats will come forward and join them after the August break.

LORI TRAHAN: I think a lot of people are going to go home to their districts, and they're going to see, you know, and hear, you know, their constituents and where they're at.

DAVIS: Like Trahan, most of the Democrats ready to roll on impeachment come from the most liberal districts in the country, where supporting impeachment brings little political risk. But among the 2018 class of Majority Makers, the freshman Democrats in Republican-leaning and swing districts, there's still hesitation. Here's one of those freshmen, Minnesota congressman Dean Phillips.

DEAN PHILLIPS: And I'm on the tipping point. But I'm also doing what I think is in the best interests of the country, and that is following the process that I think is an effective and appropriate one.

DAVIS: That process is one supported by another impeachment skeptic, Speaker Nancy Pelosi. She wants to continue with the current plan - continue oversight hearings and challenge the administration's rejection of congressional subpoenas in court. Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler told reporters their next move is to seek court orders for grand jury material and testimony from Trump's former counsel Don McGahn. Pelosi pushed back yesterday at the perception that she's not willing to pursue impeachment if the Senate won't convict.


NANCY PELOSI: I have never long said that. If we have a case for impeachment, that's the place we will have to go. The fact that - why I'd like it to be a strong case is because I don't - it's based on the facts, the facts and the law. That's what matters.

DAVIS: Pelosi has also said she'd like it to be bipartisan, but Mueller's performance only served to entrench Republicans deeper behind President Trump. Here's Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy.


KEVIN MCCARTHY: This president has not done anything wrong in the process. So no, I don't have a problem with this president.

DAVIS: Many freshman Democrats, like California's Katie Hill, talk tough when it comes to Trump, as she did in this message to her constituents following Mueller's testimony.


KATIE HILL: What I think we need to take away from this is that Trump's a criminal.

DAVIS: But like Pelosi, Hill doesn't think Democrats have a strong enough case yet, and she wants to see how the courts rule in the coming months.


HILL: And when that time comes, if I believe that we have the strongest possible case to bring forward, to the point where the Senate frankly doesn't have a choice but to convict, then I'm going to be calling for it.

DAVIS: And if that becomes the standard, the likelihood of a Senate conviction, impeachment may never be an option.

Susan Davis, NPR News, the Capitol. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.