Senate Democrats hesitant to go all-in on impeachment probe

Senate Democrats are divided over whether to throw their full support behind the House impeachment inquiry into President Trump, with some senators saying they want more information before taking an official position.

The chorus of new voices in the House calling for an impeachment probe over the past two days was in stark contrast to the Senate. Some senators have backed an inquiry moving forward in some form, while others have dodged or argued more time is needed.

“There’s been no meeting or whip or anything like it. Members are drawing their own conclusions and [Senate Minority Leader Charles] Schumer has encouraged us to each think it through on an individual basis,” said Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), the Senate Democratic whip, when asked how united the caucus was on impeachment proceedings.

Durbin was one of several Democratic senators who came out in support of moving forward on impeachment after a whistleblower complaint and news reports that Trump and his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, tried to pressure Ukraine into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.

“I think this may be the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Durbin added. “There’s so much cumulative evidence here and many of us have wondered if this would ever see the light of day in an impeachment inquiry. But I think now we have to move forward.”

Durbin, who is up for reelection next year, is the highest ranking senator to back an impeachment inquiry. Sens. Patty Murray (Wash.) and Debbie Stabenow (Mich.) — the No. 3 and No. 4 Senate Democrats, respectively — threw their support behind an inquiry earlier this year.

Several other Democrats, including Sens. Tina Smith (Minn.), Chris Van Hollen (Md.) and Brian Schatz (Hawaii), have also come out in support of some form of impeachment proceedings or an inquiry in the wake of the fight over obtaining the whistleblower complaint.

“It is now my belief that the House of Representatives must begin an impeachment inquiry into the president’s corrupt efforts to press a foreign nation into the service of his reelection campaign,” Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) said Tuesday.

“If, as it appears Mr. Trump has already acknowledged, the president violated his oath of office by using the constitutional powers entrusted to him to try to destroy a political rival, then the president much be impeached,” he added.

Sen. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) also threw his support behind taking action.

“I reached this decision with sadness, but also anger, after the President has repeatedly broken laws and betrayed his oath of office. His seeking corrupt assistance from a foreign leader for personal political gain crosses the line,” Blumenthal said in a statement.

Their announcements came before Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), facing insurmountable pressure from within her caucus, announced Tuesday evening that the House will initiate an impeachment inquiry into Trump’s reported efforts to get Ukraine to go after the Bidens.

Trump appeared to acknowledge Sunday that he had discussed Joe Biden on the call with Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky. But he said on Monday that he did not threaten to withhold U.S. aid to Ukraine unless they investigated the Biden family.

He confirmed on Tuesday that he had delayed the Ukraine aid, and also said he’s authorized the release of the transcript of his call with Ukraine.

But several Senate Democrats are cautious about backing an impeachment proceeding or getting ahead of Pelosi.

Schumer (D-N.Y.) has been laser focused on trying to get the Senate to support forcing the Trump administration to hand the whistleblower complaint over to Congress. The Senate passed a nonbinding resolution Tuesday urging the administration to hand over the complaint.

Pressed repeatedly on Tuesday about impeachment or an impeachment inquiry during a weekly leadership press conference, Schumer demurred except to say that he trusts Pelosi.

“I speak with regularly with Leader Pelosi … and I believe she’s handling this appropriately and she has my support,” Schumer said.

Democrats may have to confront unfavorable poll numbers if they move forward with trying to impeach Trump, underscoring the political risks to the party. A recent Monmouth University poll, conducted before the recent reports about Trump’s call with Zelensky, found that 35 percent of Americans thought Trump should be impeached, compared to 59 percent who disagreed.

Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.), who won reelection last year in a red state, urged his party to “get facts,” particularly from the inspector general (IG) report that contains the whistleblower complaint.

“It’s the House, OK. I think we need to get the IG report so we can see what’s in it. I think it’s important we find out what transpired. And I think if the Republicans buck us on this, they’re doing the wrong thing. Get the IG report and then see where that leads you,” he said.

Pressed if impeachment was politically risky, he added: “My point is you can talk about impeachment all you want. We need to get facts. And I think if you get facts, you can sway American people much better.”

Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) demurred when asked about impeachment, noting it was up to the House. While Sen. Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), declined to take a position.

“I’ve not seen anything. It’s a lot of chatter right now, until we see some facts and see what’s happening … it’s hard to comment on,” Manchin said.

Sen. Christopher Coons (D-Del.) argued that it was “critical for us to get to the bottom of several fairly alarming allegations,” but sidestepped taking a position on impeachment proceedings.

“If the president wants to disprove any allegations, he can authorize the release of these things tomorrow,” Coons said. 

When a reporter noted that several of his colleagues have backed an impeachment inquiry, Coons fired back: “Good for them.”

— Alexander Bolton contributed

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