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Democrats Not In Any Hurry To Call For Impeachment Proceedings


Earlier this week, President Trump's onetime lawyer and fixer Michael Cohen pleaded guilty to campaign finance violations, saying the president directed him to pay hush money to two women. That development has added fuel to an ongoing debate in the Democratic Party. While more and more of the party's base wants to push for Trump's impeachment, most Democrats in Congress are wary of forcing that issue before the midterms. NPR's Scott Detrow explains.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: Every few months, a new development in Robert Mueller's investigation forces Democrats to return to this question. Should they start calling right now for President Trump to be impeached? So far, the answer remains no. So many Democratic leaders are hesitant about calling for impeachment that when Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren was on CNN this week, the possible presidential candidate was asked if the idea made her nervous.


ELIZABETH WARREN: I'm not nervous. I just want to be effective. And the way that any of us are effective is to say, let's get all of the evidence. Let's get all of the pieces out there. Protect Robert Mueller. Let him finish his investigation. Let him make a full and fair report to all of the American people. And when we've got that, then we can make a decision on what the appropriate next step is.

DETROW: There are a couple different reasons for this caution. The first is pragmatic, as House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi told KQED Wednesday.


NANCY PELOSI: Impeachment is not something that is a partisan exercise. Unless you have bipartisanship, you're just acting politically.

DETROW: Democrats and Republicans ultimately voted to impeach Richard Nixon after an extensive House committee investigation while the push to impeach Bill Clinton became a partisan affair and Clinton easily survived a Senate trial. The second reason is political. Most national polls show voters are wary of any push to remove the president. A spring NPR survey found independent voters especially would be more likely to vote against a candidate pushing for impeachment.

If Democrats are going to win back the House, they'll need the support of independent, moderate and even Republican-leaning voters in districts currently held by GOP lawmakers. That's one reason why President Trump regularly warns that Democrats would try to impeach him if the party wins back the House. He and other Republican leaders think the threat could rally GOP voters to show up in November. Here's Trump on Fox News this morning.


PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: I'll tell you what. If I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash. I think everybody would be very poor because without this thinking, you would see numbers that you wouldn't believe.

DETROW: In reality, Democrats voted resoundingly against a partisan impeachment measure offered by a small group of lawmakers when it came to the House floor last December. But there are a lot of Democratic voters who do want to see the party get more aggressive. Billionaire Tom Steyer has signed more than 5 million people onto a petition demanding impeachment and is spending millions promoting the effort.


TOM STEYER: It's time for Congress, Republicans and Democrats to put their political interests aside and act on behalf of our country.

DETROW: His group is sending a memo to Democratic candidates arguing voters want them to start talking about this on the campaign trail. But many Democrats in Congress just don't see it as a way to win votes.

BRENDAN BOYLE: I believe we can walk and chew gum at the same time.

DETROW: Congressman Brendan Boyle represents Philadelphia.

BOYLE: I've been very firm and aggressive in talking about the sanctity of this investigation and that we must protect it. But the difference is I don't only talk about this issue because I know that when I'm at my town halls, I also get asked about health care.

DETROW: So expect Democrats to keep pushing back when Trump attacks the Mueller investigation, but expect them to spend their time talking about health care and the economy. After this week's convictions and pleas, Pelosi sent a letter to Democrats saying while they'll need to hold the White House accountable, the party needs to focus on broader issues. In fact, if she had her way, Democrats wouldn't talk about Trump at all.


PELOSI: Oh, I don't think they should even mention his name. He's self-evidently what he is. But the - but what they have to do is connect with the - it's about themselves. People want to know, what do you - how do you relate to my hopes and fears, aspirations and apprehensions?

DETROW: But as much as Democrats want to control their message, they're going to have to keep responding to new news headlines. And if the Mueller investigation leads to more bombshells like Michael Cohen's courtroom admission, leaders are going to have to keep re-examining whether they need to change their impeachment strategy. Scott Detrow, NPR News, Washington. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.