President Donald Trump and Congress careened closer to a constitutional crisis Tuesday, as Democrats continued to struggle with what many of them view as competing impulses to impeach the president and to follow a more politically cautious path.
In the morning, the White House instructed former counsel Don McGahn to ignore a subpoena for documents related to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of the Trump operation’s ties to Russia and possible obstruction of justice.
In the afternoon, Judiciary Committee Democrats were moving a step closer to voting Wednesday that the House find Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for failing to turn over Mueller’s report and related documents — even though panel staff and Justice officials had met earlier in the day to try to avert the vote.
For now, both sides are circling each other, with Democrats having developed no clear strategic tack beyond trying to get more information about Trump into the public realm.
Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, said in an interview with NBC News that Democrats are pursuing “a political investigation” with no merit and that the president is smart not to give in.
“I don’t think they expected that he was going to fight back as hard as he has. But he has every right to,” said Giuliani, who does not represent the president on matters related to White House documents and personnel. “If I represented him, I wouldn’t give them a damn thing that they didn’t earn. I’d want a court to say that’s a legitimate investigation.”
Part of the problem for Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and her fellow House Democrats is that their caucus remains torn between two twin-pronged arguments on impeachment.
On the “pro” side, many Democrats view past acts by the president as impeachable and some see his current defiance of congressional oversight as rising toward that bar. On the “anti” side, a large number of Democrats are swayed by the case that any attempt to remove the president would fail in the Senate and the fear that a House vote to impeach him would be politically fatal for their own party.
Nonetheless, the anti-impeachment faction can see the argument that the president’s behavior is inconsistent with the faithful execution of the duties of his office, and the pro-impeachment lawmakers are aware of the political risks of their preferred course.
Democrats and Republicans often point to the 1998 elections, when Democrats bucked midterm trends by picking up a net of five House seats while Republicans were moving toward the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, as evidence that a failed effort to remove a president can create a political backlash.
But the House didn’t impeach Clinton until after that year’s election, and the Senate trial didn’t end until the following year. In the next presidential election, Republican George W. Bush won the White House narrowly, with Democrats netting one House seat.
For now, the question of impeachment can be put off as the Democratic House battles Trump over documents and witnesses that some of his adversaries hope would contain the seeds of action against him. But pressure is building in the Democratic ranks outside the House.
Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., who is seeking the party’s nomination, reiterated her call to start the process immediately in a Senate floor speech Tuesday.
“This is not about politics, this is about the Constitution of the United States of America,” she said. “We took an oath not to try to protect Donald Trump, we took an oath to protect…and serve the Constitution of the United States of America, and the way we do that is we begin impeachment proceedings now against this president.”
And former Vice President Joe Biden, who is leading the 2020 primary field, has said that Congress has “no alternative” but to pursue impeachment if Trump continues to block its efforts to follow up on the Mueller probe.
Pelosi’s own commentary Tuesday pointed to the Democratic dilemma…Continue Reading