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

Why the Democratic floodgates are opening on impeachment

Updated

The Rachel Maddow Show, 9/23/19, 9:39 PM ET

'Game changer' Ukraine scandal prompts new calls for impeachment

Rep. Elaine Luria, members of the House Armed Services Committee, talks with Rachel Maddow about why Donald Trump’s political games with military funding for Ukraine threaten U.S. national security and why she now supports impeaching Donald Trump.
House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) acknowledged over the weekend that he’d been “very reluctant” to pursue presidential impeachment. He added, “But if the president is essentially withholding military aid at the same time that he is trying to browbeat a foreign leader into doing something illicit that is providing dirt on his opponent during a presidential campaign, then that may be the only remedy that is coequal to the evil that that conduct represents…. We very well may have crossed the Rubicon here.”

As Rachel noted on the show last night, Schiff isn’t the only one thinking along these lines. NBC News’ report this morning took stock of the shifting political landscape.

In a Monday night Washington Post op-ed, seven freshman House Democrats called for impeachment hearings in response to the Ukraine scandal, which three sources told NBC News may give House Speaker Nancy Pelosi the “cover” she needs to back a formal impeachment proceeding against the president which she has not done to date.

“This is major. It seems to me like it’s an inflection point,” one source said.

In the op-ed, Reps. Elaine Luria, D-Va., Gil Cisneros, D-Calif., Jason Crow, D-Colo., Chrissy Houlahan, D-Pa., Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J., Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., and Abigail Spanberger, D-Va., said their experiences in the military, defense and U.S. intelligence agencies helped shape their decision.

“These allegations are stunning, both in the national security threat they pose and the potential corruption they represent,” wrote the seven freshmen.

The number of lawmakers who’ve endorsing moving forward with Donald Trump’s impeachment has grown over the last 24 hours, but as of this minute, the list includes 149 House Democrats and one independent, Michigan’s Justin Amash, who was a Republican up until July.

In May, 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 one House Democratic freshman said there’s been a “seismic change” in the party’s attitude. It’s worth considering why and the practical implications of the shift.

On the latter, Nancy Pelosi, well aware of public skepticism about impeachment, has spent months trying to direct her conference in a different direction. That said, the Speaker also understands the importance of listening to her members, and the Washington Post reported overnight on Pelosi opening the door to the outcome she’d hoped to avoid.

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.

I think the broader political dynamic is multifaceted, and congressional Democrats are shifting for a variety of reasons, including the cumulative effect of so many presidential scandals.

But I also think the specific nature of Trump’s Ukraine scandal has helped open the floodgates.

Imagine someone is accused of serious wrongdoing, but the person faces no real consequences for the misdeed. In some cases, the accused might be glad to have gotten away with it, but the experience will have warned him of the importance of staying out of trouble.

Then imagine the same person taking a very different lesson: he got away with serious wrongdoing, which had the effect of telling him he can do as he pleases with impunity.

Donald Trump falls into this second category. His scandals are legion, but from his perspective, they don’t much matter: Democratic leaders don’t want to impeach him, Republican leaders don’t want to convict him, and voters may yet reward him with a second term.

Without the fear of consequences, and lacking any sense of limits, the president apparently sought foreign assistance for his campaign – again.

Or put another way, Trump will keep abusing his powers, pushing the envelope past the breaking point, keep doing whatever it takes to acquire and hold power, unless and until he’s confronted with some kind of pushback. It’s this dynamic, I suspect, that’s pushing so many Democrats off the fence.