The Democratic establishment may want to believe that impeaching President Donald Trump is a niche issue that isn't important to voters outside of D.C., but the public is proving that view wrong at town halls across the country.
"Enough is enough. We should open an impeachment inquiry."
—Rep. Madeleine Dean
Holding impeachment hearings over the president's actions during the Mueller investigation—actions that could amount to obstruction—is not a priority for the House Democratic leadership. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) continued to tamp down the possibility of impeachment despite a growing push from members of her party, including a number of 2020 presidential candidates, to hold the president accountable for possible high crimes.
The recent call for impeachment from Rep. Justin Amash, a Republican from Michigan, has only added to the pressure on Democrats.
Trump, in remarks to reporters Thursday, said he was disgusted by even hearing the word "impeach."
"To me, it's a dirty word, the word impeach," said Trump. "It's a dirty, filthy, disgusting word."
Conventional wisdom in Washington holds that voters in the U.S. are committed to "kitchen table issues," shorthand for economic issues like jobs and healthcare. Conveniently, that allows Democrats uninterested in holding impeachment hearings to avoid treating the issue seriously—at least in comments to the press.
"Most polls indicate that 60 percent of the country is opposed to impeachment right now," freshman Rep. Dean Phillips (D-Minn.) said in an interview with Meet the Press on May 24. "We should be paying attention to what most people are talking about."
Phillips then clarified what he meant by people.
"Now by the way, there's what cable news is talking about and then there's what people are talking about in cul-de-sacs," said Phillips, "and sometimes it's a little bit different."
The House Democratic leadership wants to change focus.
"We can't continue to stay focused on the outrage of the day," Rep. Cheri Bustos (D-Ill.), the head of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, told NPR. "It is wearing people out."
On the ground, however, things are different. Democratic lawmakers on break have been faced with a growing chorus from constituents to support impeachment, and, with audiences from upstate New York to Hawaii bringing up the topic, all indications are that impeachment is itself a kitchen table issue.
Democrats are reacting to the push from constituents in different ways, with many following the lead of Pelosi and attempting to downplay the issue.
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"That is not why I decided to run," Rep. Antonio Delgado (D-N.Y.) said of impeachment on Wednesday at a town hall in the upstate town of Glasco, according to reporting from The Daily Freeman.
Delgado, a freshman Democrat who has come under criticism from constituents already in his brief time in office for his refusal to back Medicare for All and the Green New Deal—the congressman prefers more conservative approaches to legislation—told the crowd in Glasco that while the White House is refusing to cooperate with congressional investigations, Delgado said he wasn't sure that equaled obstruction. And anyway, the Democrat said, there's a process that has to play out.
"I very much support the leadership's position at this point to continue to investigate," Delgado said. "There is a process here, and that process needs to unfold."
Nearly 5,000 miles away, in the Hawaiian city of Honolulu, Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii) told a town hall crowd that he wasn't ready to call for holding hearings in the House, echoing Delgado's "process" language—though Schatz wasn't completely dismissive of going forward with impeachment.
According to the Honolulu Civil Beat:
Schatz said that while impeachment is a "process" and needs more time for official inquiries to finish, it would be "extremely unwise" to take impeachment off the table.
"I think the mistake that people make is either they want it now or they don't want it at all," he said.
In Utah, freshman Rep. Ben McAdams, a Democrat, told constituents that impeachment hearings would have to meet standards that could prove difficult to match.
"Any impeachment proceedings would be initiated by a committee that I'm not a member of, and, for me, would require meeting a high bar and would have to be sufficiently bipartisan," said McAdams.
Not all Democrats are rejecting the calls for impeachment from the base. Some, like Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.)—co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus—say now is the time for the process to begin.
"I have called for us to start an impeachment inquiry," Jayapal told a crowd at a town hall in Seattle Wednesday. "I have not done that lightly."
Jayapal's support for impeachment was joined Wednesday night by Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Penn.), who signaled she was on board in remarks to a town hall with constituents in Blue Bell, Pennsylvania. Dean, replying to a question on impeachment from the audience, said she had decided that it was time to hold hearings.
"Enough is enough," said Dean. "We should open an impeachment inquiry."