Democrats in House wrestle with impeachment question
WASHINGTON — For two House Democrats from different backgrounds, the searing debate over whether to impeach President Donald Trump prompted an identical question: What about my grandkids?
Rep. Daniel Kildee, who represents a blue-collar Michigan district that Trump nearly won in 2016, calls it the “Caitlin and Colin rule.” What, in a decade or more, would they read in their history books?
“There’s going to come a day when we all have to answer for what we did in this moment,” Kildee said, explaining his support for impeachment.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver II, a Methodist minister, former mayor of Kansas City, Mo., and member of the Congressional Black Caucus, worried about a divisive president using the proceedings to further split the country — perhaps irreparably — and reached the opposite conclusion.
“That’s not healthy for my little 3-year-old grandson,” he said. “I would like to be able to say that I stood for maintaining the unity of the country.”
The debate over whether to impeach Trump, and thereby invoke one of the most solemn constitutional powers afforded to Congress, has placed House Democrats at the center of a visceral and highly charged fight that has quickly transcended traditional political alliances and calculations.
It is testing long-standing friendships, fueling emotional debates with family members and forcing lawmakers to navigate unfamiliar and competing forces. Many feel caught between party leaders fearful that impeachment will spark a political backlash and a growing sense that history will judge harshly those who chose not to act in the face of a norm-smashing president many Democrats believe has abused his power and broken the law.
This account of the unfolding drama among the rank and file of the House’s majority party is based on interviews over with past week with 45 Democrats spanning the caucus’ ideological, racial and generational divides. The conversations revealed the intense and highly personal nature of the debate taking place among members, often in private, and how some members were responding in surprising ways.
Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia, considered the conscience of Congress for his history-making stand during the civil rights era, said he has made a decision but won’t reveal it out of respect for House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-San Francisco. Freshman Rep. Katie Hill, D-Palmdale, is drowning in calls urging her to press for impeachment, even while representing a Republican-leaning district that is home to the Ronald Reagan library. Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Florida, who served in the Clinton administration during the 1998 impeachment, has cautioned her fellow freshmen about rushing toward a decision based on politics.
The Democrats can be broken down largely into three categories.
There are the waverers — torn between leadership that opposes impeachment and a fiery base that demands it. There are the skeptics, echoing Pelosi’s fear that impeachment would only make way for a Senate acquittal and a political triumph for Trump. And there are the die-hards determined to press for the ouster of a president they consider a singular threat to the republic.
Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, a freshman representing a heavily Democratic border district, is emblematic of the personal and political struggle facing each member of the caucus.
“I am terrified of another four years of Donald Trump,” Escobar said. “But I cannot ignore the oath that I took to uphold the Constitution and to defend our country against all enemies, foreign and domestic.”