Democratic convention in San Francisco reflects party divisions over impeachment
SAN FRANCISCO - House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, ?D-San Francisco, was moments into her speech Saturday when a man shouted out from the back of a convention hall stuffed with thousands of delegates to the state Democratic Party convention.
“Impeach Donald Trump!” he screamed, uttering a battle cry Pelosi has rebuffed, despite growing demands from her party’s activist wing.
“President Trump will be held accountable for his actions,” she said. The I-word never left her lips.
Less than an hour later, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-California, stepped to the same podium to deliver a very different message. “We need to begin impeachment proceedings!” the presidential candidate bellowed. The crowd roared.
The party’s deep divisions, refreshed when last week’s remarks by former special counsel Robert Mueller raised new questions about whether Trump had committed impeachable violations, played out time and again during the first full day of the weekend convention as they have across the nation.
Democrats’ dueling messages highlighted the dilemma confronting the party’s congressional leaders and presidential hopefuls: how to balance the demands of a fervently anti-?Trump activist base without alienating the more moderate voters who helped hand them the House in 2018 and could deliver the presidency in 2020.
Saturday was the first of two days that in total will feature speeches by 14 Democratic presidential candidates in the self-styled home of the Trump resistance. Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, electrified the crowd with a fiery address that appeared to take a swipe at former Vice President Joe Biden, who did not attend. Three of the candidates are scheduled to speak Sunday, rounding out the largest gathering of 2020 presidential contenders to date.
Among activists, fury with Trump reached the boiling point after Mueller reiterated Wednesday that he could not clear the president of obstructing justice in his probe of Russian interference in the 2016 election. Trump’s defiant attitude toward congressional oversight has stoked further anger.
“That’s adding salt to the wounds,” said Maria Elena Durazo, a Democratic National Committee vice chairwoman and California state senator who represents parts of Los Angeles.
It has also opened a fissure between Democratic congressional leadership and the party’s White House hopefuls, who were once largely united in opposition to impeachment. After Mueller’s comments, the list of presidential candidates calling for impeachment grew, even as House Democratic leaders stood firm.
Pelosi and her top lieutenants are seeking to persuade Democrats that the best action is to stay the course they have charted - to continue to investigate Trump and rely on the courts to intervene when they are stonewalled by the administration.
“Our investigations are breaking through the Trump administration’s cover-up to get the truth. We want the truth for the American people,” Pelosi said Saturday. She noted two recent court victories and Mueller’s public statement.
“Why is it that the president won’t defend our democracy?” she asked. But rather than appease activists, her words prompted some in the crowd to chant “Impeach!”
“I tell you, this is like coming home for me,” Pelosi joked, in reference to San Francisco’s cutthroat politics.
Warren, who was among the first of the major presidential candidates to come out in favor of impeachment proceedings, did not mention the word in her address.
She did, however, offer a line used by several of the speakers, including Pelosi, when she called for a party that “believes no one is above the law, not even the president.”
On Friday, Warren unveiled a new plan to ensure that a sitting president can be indicted on a charge of criminal conduct. A Justice Department finding that a president cannot be indicted played a role in his refusal to accuse Trump of criminal acts, Mueller has said.
The senator from Massachusetts, who has been climbing in the polls, also attracted attention with a sharp critique of unnamed figures in her party she deemed unwilling to think big and take dramatic steps to improve the country.
“Some say that if we just calm down, the Republicans will come to their senses. But our country is in a crisis. The time for small ideas is over,” Warren said. The crowd booed at her allusion to caution and offered Warren the biggest applause of the day.
The comments appeared to be a dig at Biden, who has vowed to work with Republicans he contends are a different breed than the president.
He has predicted that Republicans will have an “epiphany” on bipartisanship after Trump leaves office.