Congress

Dems see one last chance to boost public support for impeachment

Democrats concede public support remains static as they press forward.

Witnesses sworn in

House Democrats have one final shot to drive up public support for impeachment, with a slate of hearings in the House Judiciary Committee beginning next week.

But even Democratic lawmakers acknowledge public sentiment might be impossible to move in the weeks before an anticipated historic House vote on impeaching President Donald Trump.

“I think people have made up their minds on this in a lot of ways,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee. “But I think, frankly, what should drive us is the evidence and the facts and our oath of office.”

Many Democrats are skeptical that anything they do or say can further tick up backing for impeachment, keenly aware of polling this week showing that support has plateaued in the wake of an explosive set of House Intelligence Committee hearings that unearthed evidence suggesting an abuse of power by Trump.

About half the country backs impeachment, per recent polls, a high watermark but one that remained unchanged throughout the public hearings in November. Now Democrats say their primary goal is to finish building the case against Trump — mostly importantly through the upcoming Judiciary hearings — even if that’s not the tipping point many once hoped it would be.

“We are at the place where we have to protect the Constitution, and we have to protect our democracy and our elections, and we’re going to have to do that regardless of the conditions around us,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.), another member of the Judiciary panel, said Tuesday.

“Our task is to make sure that we’re bringing the public along with us as much as we can — not so much swaying but bringing the public along with us — and explaining.”

For months, senior Democrats, including Speaker Nancy Pelosi, resisted calls to launch impeachment proceedings, citing lack of public support as one of the primary reasons. But now many of those same lawmakers say they couldn’t let what was a clear abuse of power — Trump’s pressure campaign to force Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden — go unchecked.

And many of those members are also quick to cite polling during the investigation into Richard Nixon; support for impeachment was initially as low as 19 percent before eventually ticking up to 58 percent as the House prepared to impeach him.

Public support in favor of impeaching Trump has remained between 47 percent and 50 percent since late September, according to polling data from CNN. Over the past month, that figure held, though Democrats hauled in a dozen witnesses over two weeks to highlight evidence that Trump abused his power by attempting to strong-arm Ukrainian leaders into investigating a potential rival in the 2020 election.

Another poll released Tuesday from POLITICO/Morning Consult also showed that support remained about the same over the past month. Half the country now supports Trump’s removal from office, but there’s been no discernible change in the national mood after the hearings.

Just weeks from a likely impeachment vote, some Democrats acknowledge they may never convert the core group of supporters who have weathered crisis after crisis by Trump’s side.

“We’d all love to see it change, however we don’t expect it to,” Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) said Tuesday.

And it’s unclear what impact — if any — the Judiciary hearings will have in shaping public opinion. The first hearing on Dec. 4, announced Tuesday, will feature a slate of constitutional experts explaining what constitutes high crimes and misdemeanors.

Trump’s counsel has been invited to participate in the hearing, but the White House has so far refused to cooperate with Democrats’ investigation, rejecting subpoenas for documents and testimony. Some White House officials, however, testified despite these efforts.

Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.), who sits on the Judiciary Committee, said next week’s hearing will be key to laying out details of impeachment that “unless you're a historian or a political scientist, you might not know.”

But she said she won’t be making the ultimate decision on articles based on public support.

“I think the polls are interesting, but certainly our work has to be tied to the evidence, the law and our oath of office,” Dean said, adding, “To have half the folks, 50 percent of the folks, not just supporting impeachment but removal, to me, that’s an impressive number.”

Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.) added there is a “real possibility” the Judiciary hearings focused on articles of impeachment could move the needle by 4 or 5 percentage points.

“I think the real possibility for a significant change is when Judiciary Committee actually debate the articles of impeachment and possibly the trial,” Yarmuth said.

But, he acknowledged, “I don't think it’ll ever get to 60 percent.”

Still, most House Democrats believe they have all the evidence they need to move forward with articles of impeachment. The caucus has largely been unified on that position and has shown no signs of splintering even as battleground Democrats headed back to their districts for Thanksgiving were bombarded by GOP attack ads on the very issue.

“Most of us feel there is enough developed in the couple of weeks with the Intel Committee to go forward with articles of impeachment,” Beyer said. “We’ve given the Republicans plenty of public time.”

Though at least two Democrats are expected to oppose the effort — Reps. Jeff Van Drew of New Jerseyand Collin Peterson of Minnesota voted against the impeachment inquiry last month — Beyer said the overwhelming sentiment is that articles of impeachment are warranted.

“Everyone else, I think, is ready to vote for it when the articles are finally prepared,” he said.

Democrats are still facing an unsettled landscape as they ponder their next moves, including when to begin drafting articles of impeachment and how quickly to bring those articles to the House floor for a vote.

Top Democrats will also need to decide how to proceed after a crucial court ruling on Monday ordering former Trump White House counsel Don McGahn to testify seemed to throw open the prospect of new, high-level witnesses coming forward — but also the potential for monthslong legal battles.

Democratic leaders on Tuesday offered the first hint of what to expect when the House returns from Thanksgiving break, with plans for a lineup of hearings representing the final stage of the House’s investigation.

The House Judiciary Committee will hold its first hearing next Wednesday focusing on the definition of an impeachable offense. At least two more Judiciary sessions are expected the following week — Democrats’ presentation of their evidence against Trump and a vote on articles of impeachment, according to multiple lawmakers and aides. That schedule would keep Democrats on track to hold a full House vote by the end of the year.

“I hope people will tune in,” Cicilline said of next week’s hearing. “It probably doesn’t have the same kind of appeal of the fact witnesses but it’s obviously a really important part of this impeachment inquiry.”