How vulnerable Democrats took the leap on impeachment
Washington – The rookie Democratic lawmaker caught House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s eye as the two women brushed past each other in a marbled Capitol hallway. Neither slowed her step. But over her shoulder, Pelosi flashed Rep. Elissa Slotkin a thumbs-up and said, “Congratulations.”
“Thank you!” Slotkin responded.
The lightning-flash moment just before noon Tuesday was one of the first public signs that Pelosi and the Democratic freshmen from swing districts who had resisted calls for President Donald Trump’s impeachment had broken the dam, sweeping the party toward formal proceedings against the nation’s 45th president.
Slotkin of Michigan and six other freshman Democrats with national security backgrounds had called for Trump’s impeachment from the pages of The Washington Post only the night before, most for the first time, over reports that he had pressured Ukraine to investigate Democrat Joe Biden’s son.
“It was a red line,” said Rep. Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey, another of the column’s co-authors.
Pelosi, monitoring the frenzy of texts, emails and sentiment in her caucus all weekend, read the op-ed Monday night on the flight back to Washington.
What followed was a flash flood of new demands, from Pelosi’s leadership team on down to vulnerable newcomers, for a formal investigation against the president. And that freed Pelosi to abandon her resistance to impeachment. A few hours after her brush with Slotkin, she announced the House would move.
“Nobody is above the law,” Pelosi said as she launched a formal impeachment inquiry against Trump.
Earlier Tuesday, at The Atlantic Festival in Washington, she said, “Now we have the facts.” She added, “We have gotten to this different place, use any metaphor,” offering “crossing the Rubicon” and a “new day is dawning” as examples.
The moment had its roots in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election and Trump had tried to shut down the investigation. More than half the Democratic caucus called for impeachment proceedings just on that basis. But not national security freshmen like Slotkin who had handed Democrats control of the House. And not some of the more senior members such as Rep. John Lewis, the civil rights icon and conscience of the House.
Only a few minutes after Pelosi congratulated Slotkin and opened the House for business Tuesday, Lewis set the tone with an impassioned speech from the House floor.
“Now is the time to act,” he said.
Many Democrats, including Pelosi, had thought the public didn’t understand or care enough about Mueller’s findings to get behind divisive impeachment proceedings. Not even Trump’s stonewalling was enough.
But that all changed late last week when Trump was reported to have asked Ukraine’s leader on a call to investigate work done for the country by Biden’s son. As Trump continued to not entirely deny the charge over the weekend, freshman Rep. Abigail Spanberger sensed sentiment in her politically mixed Virginia district “pivot” from a “general pit of confusion” over the Mueller report – to clarity.
“I saw a shift on the ground in my district,” said Spanberger, another author of the op-ed. “On the ground there was a change in the conversation. This is something new. It’s a new phase. This is a new type of allegation.”
This time, it was Trump being alleged to have leaned on another country to coerce help in defeating a political rival.
“It’s crystal clear,” said another of the column’s authors, freshman Rep. Elaine Luria of Virginia. “If this isn’t impeachable, what is?”
Trump insists he did nothing wrong and said he’ll release a transcript of the call with Ukraine’s leader on Wednesday.
Sherrill delivered one of the harshest statements of all from the Democratic newcomers.
“The president of the United States is attempting to ‘fix’ the election,” she said in a statement, adding that Trump “is threatening our national security.”