U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi departs her weekly press conference on Jan. 31, 2019 in Washington.
Win McNamee

House support for Trump’s impeachment reaches a key threshold

Updated

In the immediate aftermath of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s congressional testimony, a small army of pundits agreed on one thing: the prospects of impeaching Donald Trump had effectively disappeared. To the extent that the president was worried about the threat, he could take comfort in the apparent fact that the air had escaped the impeachment balloon.

It now appears the commentators were mistaken. Over the last week, about two dozen Democratic lawmakers have publicly announced their support for beginning impeachment proceedings against the president, and according to Politico, “The impeachment dam has broken.”

More than half of House Democrats say they would vote to launch impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, a crucial threshold that backers say will require Speaker Nancy Pelosi to reconsider her steadfast opposition. […]

Democrats who support impeachment proceedings eclipsed the halfway mark – 118 out of 235 voting members – on Thursday, when Rep. Ted Deutch of Florida announced his support. Deutch was also the 23rd Democratic lawmaker to support impeachment proceedings in the week since former special counsel Robert Mueller testified to Congress, affirming publicly his damning evidence that Trump attempted to obstruct justice.

A note of caution about the arithmetic: there are competing head counts. Politico points to 118 House Dems who’ve publicly endorsed impeachment proceedings, but NBC News, among others, has a list that puts the tally at 116 (with independent Justin Amash, 117).

Either way, with a chamber featuring a 235-member House Democratic majority, I think it’s safe to say impeachment proponents have either met or crossed the threshold.

So, now what?

In theory, the House Democratic leadership is guided in large part by the wishes of its members. Three months ago, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said there were only about 35 members supporting the president’s impeachment, and she chided the press at the time for making “a fuss” about a small group of lawmakers.

That group is no longer small, and the pressure on Pelosi to reevaluate her plans has reached a new level.

As we recently discussed, what’s unclear is whether there’s a tipping point, and where that fulcrum may lie. Are Democratic leaders willing to put aside the wishes of 51% of their conference? What about 60%? Or 70%? Is there a threshold at which Pelosi grudgingly changes direction, feeling as if her membership has left her little choice?

I don’t know, and as things stand, I’m not sure party leaders know either.

What I imagine the Speaker will tell her members, however, is that while most House Democrats may support presidential impeachment, most Americans do not. A Quinnipiac poll released this week found a 60% majority opposes impeachment, despite the fact that most Americans agree that Trump attempted to “derail or obstruct” the investigation into the Russia scandal.

For impeachment proponents, the argument is that the polls can change and, when it comes to principles of right and wrong, popularity shouldn’t necessarily be a consideration.

For impeachment opponents, the argument is that public support for presidential impeachment is a prerequisite to a legitimate process, and right now, that support isn’t where it needs to be.