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Growing Democratic support for impeachment poses challenge for Pelosi

A month ago, 15% of House Dems supported impeachment. Now, it's 33%. For House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the challenge is becoming more acute.
Image: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi Holds Her Weekly Press Conference At The Capitol
U.S. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi departs her weekly press conference on Jan. 31, 2019 in Washington.

It's been four weeks since this quote first came to public attention:

Speaker Nancy Pelosi likes to talk about the numbers to defend her go-slow approach to launching a formal impeachment process against President Donald Trump."I think it's like 35 of them out of 238, maybe its 38 out of 238, have said they wanted to be outspoken on impeachment and many of them are reflecting their views as well as those of their constituents," Pelosi said at a Commonwealth Club of California Wednesday. "Yes, there are some, and the press makes more of a fuss about the 38 than the 200."

The arithmetic created a credible foundation for the House Speaker to lean on. When pressed for answers, Pelosi could simply point to two straightforward metrics: most Americans opposed impeachment, most of her members opposed impeachment, and therefore, there wasn't much else to talk about.

As of this morning, however, the number of House members supporting Donald Trump's impeachment had doubled since Pelosi made those comments: according to NBC News' tally, the total stood at 76 (75 Democrats and one Republican). This afternoon, a 77th came to the same conclusion: Rep. Jim Himes (D-Conn.), a House Intelligence Committee member, also endorsed impeaching the Republican president.

The list will almost certainly grow. In fact, even House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who's publicly voiced opposition to the idea in recent weeks, sounded quite a bit more open to the possibility yesterday.

In fairness, it's worth emphasizing that there are some nuances in these positions, with some members insisting that Trump has met the threshold and must be impeached, and others calling for an impeachment inquiry to formally begin. The list of pro-impeachment members aren't all saying the exact same thing.

But they're saying roughly the same thing, which for the House Democratic leadership, poses a meaningful challenge.

As things stand, there are 235 House Democrats. A month ago, Pelosi was largely comfortable putting aside the pro-impeachment concerns of 35 of her members (roughly 15% of the conference). But now that 76 of her members are on board with the idea (roughly 33% of the conference), the Speaker will probably find it that much more difficult to keep the issue on the back burner.

Looking ahead, what's worth watching is whether a tipping point emerges. What happens if we reach the point at which 51% of House Dems endorse impeachment? Or 60%? Or 70%?

Is there a threshold at which Pelosi grudgingly changes direction, feeling as if her membership has left her little choice?