House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
(D-Calif.) marshaled her troops at a closed-door meeting in the Capitol, asking whether they were ready to move forward with impeachment as more and more Democrats question whether a floor vote should be held before Christmas.
During the meeting in the Capitol basement Wednesday morning — where staff and cellphones were not allowed — Pelosi posed a simple question to her caucus: “Are you ready?”
She received an enthusiastic response from the Democrats in the room.
Pelosi’s question to her caucus, first reported by CNN, came a day after Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee released an extensive report detailing the findings of their two-months-long investigation into Trump’s handling of foreign policy in Kyiv. The report painted a damning picture of Trump leveraging U.S. military aide to Ukraine to press that country’s leaders into announcing anti-corruption investigations targeting his political rivals — the episode at the center of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.
Pelosi used Wednesday’s meeting to deliver a simple marching order for the caucus: “What the Speaker said is, ‘Read the report,'” said Rep. Donna Shalala (D-Fla.).
Democrats met as the House Judiciary Committee prepared to hear from four witnesses about whether Trump had committed impeachable offenses. Three of the witnesses, all invited by Democrats, said that he had. A fourth witness invited by Republicans said the case for impeachment had not been made.
The impeachment inquiry has been proceeding with the expectation there could be a floor vote on impeaching Trump before Christmas, but a number of Democrats are now raising questions about that timetable.
Rep. Ami Bera
(D-Calif.) cited “a desire … to try to get something done sooner than later.” But with Democrats also fighting to pass a series of legislative priorities — including a drug-pricing bill; a new trade accord with Mexico and Canada; and a sweeping package to fund the government through the remainder of the fiscal year — he suggested the Dec. 20 deadline could slip a few days.
“There’s a sense that we have this overwhelming evidence in front of [us], we should probably act on it, whether that happens before Christmas or shortly thereafter,” he said.
Rep. Emanuel Cleaver (D-Mo.) noted another complication facing Democrats leading the impeachment investigation: Each new interview and hearing seems to turn up new details about Trump’s actions for investigators to explore.
“For me, the only issue is what do we do with all this new information that seems to come in every single day,” Cleaver said.
While Pelosi and other Democrats have made it clear that their effort is moving forward on substantive grounds, there are reasons to think the party would like to finish with their work on impeachment sooner rather than later.
Polls on impeachment have been mixed, and Pelosi has long been wary that the inquiry could backfire on her party — particularly centrist members representing districts that were either won by Trump, or where the president performed well.
Democrats also want to focus on their own agenda to show voters they have moved forward with the priorities they outlined ahead of their midterm victories in 2018.
Pelosi did not provide a specific update on the timeline, according to multiple lawmakers leaving the meeting. But a number of Democrats predicted that Wednesday’s Judiciary Committee hearing won’t be the last before the panel moves on to drafting articles.
“There are more to come,” said Rep. Denny Heck (D-Wash.).
Additional hearings would leave the panel little time before Christmas to finalize the process and move articles to the floor. The House is scheduled to leave Washington on Dec. 20.
Wednesday’s Caucus meeting was designed largely to provide Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff
(D-Calif.) a platform to summarize his 300-page report. Those findings have been sent to the Judiciary Committee, which will orchestrate the next phase of the process.
“And then we make a decision as a caucus how to proceed,” said Rep. David Cicilline
(R.I.), head of the Democrats’ messaging arm and a member of the Judiciary Committee.
As Democrats huddled in the Capitol on Wednesday morning, Republicans were doing the same just down the hall, where Vice President Pence made an appearance at the House Republican Conference meeting to rally the troops ahead of the Judiciary hearing.
Sources inside the meeting said Pence focused his talk on what the administration has accomplished while alleging Democrats have failed to tackle a number of issues due to the impeachment inquiry.
“He talked about the contrast of what Republicans have gotten done in the House versus what the Pelosi leadership team has not accomplished,” Rep. French Hill (R-Ark.) told The Hill.
“And I think balance the issue of both what they haven’t done — USMCA, a bipartisan NDAA, a bipartisan appropriations process, bipartisan solutions to the border — to contrast that with staying focused exclusively on their disapproval the president and their attempt at impeachment.”