Rep. Collin Peterson (D-MN) will entertain the idea of impeaching President Trump when he’s sure enough votes exist in the GOP-controlled Senate to convict him. Which is to say, not anytime soon.
“We’re not anywhere close,” Peterson told The Daily Beast as he exited the House floor on Tuesday. He’s been pressing his colleagues in the House Democratic caucus to recognize that this simple fact should put impeachment fever to bed, for now. But he says he hasn’t had much luck.
“They’re not listening,” said Peterson. “I’ve tried, but it’s pretty hopeless.”
Peterson is a rare breed these days: a self-identifying centrist Democratic House member openly trying to convince his colleagues that impeachment at this stage isn’t just impractical but politically suicidal. Technically, the position he holds is the majority one. Just over 50 members of the 235-member House Democratic caucus support impeachment. But that group is growing in numbers and confidence, forcing those like Peterson—who largely hail from the centrist bloc of the party—to try to convince on-the-fence members to pump the brakes.
Like Peterson, Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-NJ) has been trying to convince his colleagues that an impeachment push now would be unfruitful. The freshman Democrat has said he is “done” with talk of impeachment until or unless new evidence emerges, declaring it’s “time to move forward.” Van Drew told The Daily Beast on Tuesday that plenty of his colleagues are nodding their heads when he makes that case. “They’re not all Blue Dogs, they’re not all people that are Frontliners,” he said, using the party’s term for its most vulnerable House incumbents.
“There’s some people that are really even just traditional liberals that are saying, it’s time to get something else done,” he added.
So far Peterson, Van Drew, and other impeachment-skeptics have had the luxury of having party leadership in their corner. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) has declined to endorse starting impeachment proceedings and most of her deputies have said the landscape isn’t quite ripe to go that route.
But pressure is mounting on Pelosi to act. Pro-impeachment lawmakers are recruiting colleagues on the fence to join them, with a formal whipping operation expected to emerge soon. Recent caucus meetings have been featured more intense discussions over why the party hasn’t adopted a more aggressive posture.
Impeachment skeptics have not launched an organizing effort of their own, though some are clearly pressing their case to colleagues—and an aide familiar with the dynamics suggested more may join the “now’s-not-the-right-time” crew if momentum for impeachment grows.
Those Democrats currently in this group largely come from purple and red districts that make up their new House majority. In interviews, they stress that they weren’t elected to impeach Trump but to deliver results on things like lowering prescription drug costs and funding infrastructure. They have maintained that facts, not political emotions, should determine the course on impeachment.
“When it comes to impeachment, we shouldn’t be making this consideration through the lens of politics, either for or against,” said Rep. Stephanie Murphy (D-FL), a co-chair of the Blue Dog Coalition, who has said impeachment would be warranted if the Trump administration defied court orders.
But political concerns clearly are a factor for Democratic moderates and the leadership that is closely following their re-election prospects. Pelosi, for starters, has fed the idea that Trump would welcome impeachment because it would fire up his base heading into the 2020 election. Impeachment proponents scoff at that argument, stressing that historical data isn’t conclusive that the public rallies to the president under fire. But polling data tends to show that the country right now isn’t enamored with the idea. A new survey from a Michigan-based pollster found in that key swing state, over 41 percent of voters strongly oppose impeachment, while 27 percent strongly supported.
Looking at these numbers, Democratic skeptics of impeachment have fretted about being drawn into a discussion they would rather not have and one their constituents don’t particularly want. Though plenty of members hear about impeachment, and not just in deep blue districts, several aides close to moderate Democratic lawmakers insisted they aren’t hearing much, if anything, about impeachment back home.
Rep. Andy Kim (D-NJ), who does not support impeachment, held a recent town hall in his Republican-leaning district, where The Wall Street Journal reported the focus was squarely on the opioid epidemic. “What they’re focused on is talking to me about what they want me to do,” Kim told The Daily Beast on Wednesday of his constituents.
Van Drew said that one of his fears was having to return to his constituents with little to point to other than battling the president to some form of political or legal gridlock. “You go home and you want to say, OK, we fought a lot about Trump, that’s what we did for the last year?” he asked.
While moderates are eager to hear about anything other than impeachment when they get back home, progressive advocacy groups may not be so keen on letting them off the hook. Groups like CREDO Action and Need to Impeach, the Tom Steyer-backed advocacy organization, are carrying out plans to put pressure on House Democrats from impeachment supporters.
Heidi Hess, co-director of CREDO Action, said moderates have an obligation to step up and make the case that there’s plenty of existing evidence to justify impeaching Trump now.
“We should expect leadership from Democrats,” she said. “We should have confidence that kind of bold leadership, not just on the coasts, not just in deep blue districts, that leadership across the country is what motivates voters.”
Van Drew, for one, remains optimistic that his viewpoint will win out. “I’m an optimist,” he said. “I haven’t given up yet.”