Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been quietly sounding out top allies and lawmakers about whether the time has come to impeach President Trump, a major development as several moderate House Democrats resistant to impeachment suddenly endorsed the extraordinary step of trying to oust the president.
Pelosi, according to multiple senior House Democrats and congressional aides, has been gauging the mood of her caucus members about whether they believe that allegations that Trump pressured the Ukrainian president to investigate a political foe are a tipping point. She was making calls as late as Monday night, and many leadership aides who once thought Trump’s impeachment was unlikely now say they think it’s almost inevitable.
The officials spoke on the condition of anonymity to speak frankly.
Pelosi’s conversations — and reconsideration of her long-held position that impeachment is too divisive — come amid a growing clamor for impeachment that extends beyond the party’s liberal base and many Democratic presidential candidates to moderate lawmakers in competitive House seats.
Seven freshman Democrats with previous service in the military, defense and U.S. intelligence said in a Monday night Washington Post op-ed that if the allegations against Trump are true, “we believe these actions represent an impeachable offense.”
“We have devoted our lives to the service and security of our country, and throughout our careers, we have sworn oaths to defend the Constitution of the United States many times over. Now, we join as a unified group to uphold that oath as we enter uncharted waters and face unprecedented allegations against President Trump,” the seven wrote.
Pelosi’s office declined to comment Monday night about her conversations.
But an official familiar with her thinking warned that just because she was considering impeachment didn’t mean it would happen right away. The person said the process still needs to play out.
The same individual also said that members have been calling Pelosi for advice on the matter while she has been consulting with investigative committee chairs and fellow leaders on next steps. Those conversations have focused on how to force disclosure to Congress about a whistleblower’s complaint that alleges Trump’s conversations with Ukraine constituted an “urgent concern” regarding the nation’s security.
The White House has refused to turn over the document.
Democrats say there’s been a significant shift in the tenor of the discussion following reports that Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former vice president Joe Biden, a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, and his family.
Trump on Monday denied that he offered military aid to Ukraine’s leader only if the country launched a probe.
The drama is all building toward Thursday, a make-or-break moment in the eyes of House Democratic leaders. Pelosi gave the acting director of national intelligence, Joseph Maguire, until then to turn over the whistleblower complaint. Under the law, any matter deemed of “urgent concern” is supposed to be shared with Congress. But the Trump administration has refused to hand over the material — despite an inspector general’s determination that it has met that threshold.
Pelosi had made it clear on Sunday that she would no longer stand for months of administration stonewalling. In a letter to Republicans and Democrats, she wrote, “If the administration persists in blocking this whistleblower from disclosing to Congress a serious possible breach of constitutional duties by the president, they will be entering a grave new chapter of lawlessness which will take us into a whole new stage of investigation.”
The letter did not specify what “new stage of investigation” meant. But people familiar with Pelosi’s conversations say there’s been a shift in her thinking on impeachment.
Senior Democratic officials cautioned that no steps have been finalized, and there were still questions about timing and how to conduct the proceedings. Some Democrats, for example, want House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.) to have a role in whatever impeachment process moves ahead. Democratic leaders are also discussing the possibility of a special select committee that would combine House Judiciary with other panels such as Intelligence.
In the meantime, House leaders are planning to hold a vote on a resolution to either condemn Trump’s actions or express the sense of the House that the administration turn over the whistleblower complaint, a move liberals are already dismissing as insufficient. The language has not been finalized.
On Monday night, 146 Democrats backed impeachment, well over a majority of the caucus. But Pelosi has long said that any impeachment would need public support as well as backing from some Republicans.
Currently, she has neither. Voters still overwhelmingly disapprove of Democrats impeaching the president — though those polls were conducted before last week’s reports about the whistleblower complaint. In the Senate, Republicans have made it clear that they are standing with Trump and are unlikely to convict him if a trial occurs.
Yet in interviews with multiple Democratic lawmakers and aides on Monday, almost everyone said the House had reached a point of no return on impeachment.
For example, impeachment dominated a meeting of chiefs of staff for lawmakers in competitive districts on Monday, according to one official familiar with the talks. The individual said the session grew heated and angry, pitting those congressional aides who thought it was time to back impeachment against those who worry about the political fallout.
Meanwhile, freshman Democrats — most of whom were back in their districts Monday — have been in constant discussion about how to respond to the Ukraine controversy, with plans for a conference call Monday night. Many were debating privately whether they should come out in favor of impeachment before Pelosi or wait until after she makes a public move to take a position.
The seven lawmakers who backed impeachment in the Post op-ed — Reps. Gil Cisneros of California, Jason Crow of Colorado, Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania, Elaine Luria of Virginia, Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, Elissa Slotkin of Michigan and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia — said they did not arrive at their decision lightly. They called on their colleagues to use all congressional authorities, including impeachment hearings, to “address these new allegations, find the truth and protect our national security.”
They weren’t alone. Reps. Angie Craig and Dean Phillips, two moderate Democrats from Minnesota, also joined those impeachment calls Monday.
In another telling shift, Rep. Rosa L. DeLauro (D-Conn.) issued a lengthy statement Monday calling Trump’s conduct a “reckless abuse of power” and a “turning point.” A close Pelosi ally of similar views and temperament, she described being previously reluctant to pursue impeachment for similar reasons as the speaker has stated: the fear that it would divide the country and that a Senate acquittal might backfire. But she said her thinking had changed, writing that an impeachment inquiry “may be the only recourse Congress has” to reproach Trump.
“Congress must meet this pivotal moment in our nation’s history with decisive action,” she wrote.
Another significant shift came from Rep. Debbie Dingell (D-Mich.), who has urged Democrats to sharpen their appeal to Trump voters and protect the party’s centrist flank. On Monday night, she announced support for an impeachment inquiry “because we must follow the facts and hold the President accountable.”