Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiThe Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Pass USMCA Coalition - Dems look for traction following Barr-Mueller findings Democrats face dilemma after Mueller probe ends Raskin embraces role as constitutional scholar MORE (D-Calif.) on Tuesday delivered a clear message to her troops: Don’t let the report from special counsel Robert MuellerRobert Swan MuellerSasse: US should applaud choice of Mueller to lead Russia probe MORE get you down.
She urged Democrats to instead focus on bread-and-butter policy issues, such as health care, jobs and a better government, which won them the House a few months ago.
“This is really important today because we must, with all that is going on, stay focused on our purpose,” Pelosi said during a closed-door meeting of the House Democratic Caucus in the Capitol basement, according to an aide in the room.
“All that is going on” was an understatement.
Her pep talk came as President Trump and Republicans were taking a very public victory lap following the conclusion of Mueller’s 22-month investigation into Russia’s 2016 election meddling. Attorney General William Barr later summarized the findings, which said there was no coordination between Moscow and Trump’s team to sway the race.
Many Democrats had expected the probe to uncover damning proof of a criminal conspiracy surrounding Trump’s presidential victory, and the news deflated the party faithful.
But for Pelosi, who has long urged caution in her approach to Mueller’s investigation, there was a political bright side.
As Democrats gathered Tuesday for the first time since Mueller’s probe concluded on Friday, Pelosi put a positive spin on the news.
“Some people are viewing it as a glass half-full, glass half-empty. I think half-full. There’s so many indictments that came out of what he did. People will go to jail from what his investigation is about,” Pelosi said, according to an aide in the room.
“Be calm. Take a deep breath. Don’t become like them,” she added, referring to Republicans. “We have to handle this professionally, officially, patriotically, strategically.”
“Let’s just get the goods,” Pelosi said.
Other party leaders insisted the outcome of Mueller’s probe will have no effect on Democrats’ efforts to fulfill central campaign promises.
“Nowhere in the ‘For the People’ agenda does it talk about Russia,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), chairman of the Democratic Caucus.
And still others said there’s been no shift in the party’s approach to impeachment.
“Why aren’t we going to pivot [on impeachment]?” asked House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.). “Because we have been in a place for a long period of time where we said impeachment was a distraction and that we were not pursuing impeachment.”
But a handful of Democrats aren’t giving up on impeachment just yet.
Rep. Al Green (Texas) had lunch Tuesday with billionaire activist Tom Steyer, who has been hosting town halls and running TV ads across the country through his group Need to Impeach. Both Green and Steyer are pressing on with efforts to impeach Trump, arguing that Mueller’s findings don’t negate other reasons to oust the president.
Green has pledged to force a floor vote on impeachment but has yet to file articles of impeachment or offer a timeline. The Texas Democrat forced two procedural votes on impeachment in the House in 2017 and 2018, drawing support from about 60 Democrats each time.
Green, a member of the Congressional Black Caucus, argues that Trump should be impeached for promoting bigotry through his actions and policies.
Steyer’s group, meanwhile, lists several reasons for impeaching Trump that don’t relate to Mueller’s investigation, including alleged violations of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause by taking foreign money through his businesses, pardoning former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, calling on the Justice Department to investigate Hillary Clinton and making payments through his former attorney Michael Cohen to silence women alleging affairs before the 2016 election.
“I explained to [Steyer] my position, which is that I will be going forward because what Mueller concluded has nothing to do with the position that I have,” Green said in a brief interview Tuesday.
And late Monday, freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) began circulating a letter to gin up support for a resolution calling on the House Judiciary Committee to investigate whether Trump has committed impeachable offenses. Those potential offenses include violating the Emoluments Clause, an attempt to “defraud the United States” by directing Cohen to make the hush money payments and whether evidence from Mueller’s investigation finds obstruction of justice.
“I, firmly, believe that the House Committee on Judiciary should seek out whether President Trump has committed ‘High crimes and Misdemeanors’ as designated by the U.S. Constitution and if the facts support those findings, that Congress begin impeachment proceedings,” Tlaib wrote.
But even liberals who have called for Trump’s impeachment weren’t eagerly endorsing Tlaib’s effort on Tuesday.
“I don’t even know about it,” said House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters (D-Calif.).
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), a close Tlaib ally and fellow freshman, said she was “taking a look at it.” Ocasio-Cortez went on to downplay the odds of impeachment.
“I think what’s tough is, impeachment in principle is something that I openly support. But it’s also just the reality of having the votes in the Senate to pursue that. And so that’s something that we have to take into consideration,” Ocasio-Cortez said.
To date, only one Democrat has unveiled articles of impeachment since January. Rep. Brad Sherman (Calif.) reintroduced his articles on the first day of the new Congress, while other Democrats who unveiled impeachment measures in the previous session have yet to do so this year.
Sherman’s articles allege Trump obstructed justice by firing James Comey as FBI director amid the investigation into Russia’s election interference.
Sherman acknowledged Tuesday that the summary of the report as provided by Barr didn’t help his cause.
“If Barr is to be believed, our single best possible source of new revelations does not have new revelations,” he said.
Top Democrats dismissed the impeachment efforts as a distraction.
“Individual members can do what individual members want to do. But in terms of the leadership and the majority of the caucus, we have an agenda,” said Congressional Black Caucus Chairwoman Karen Bass (D-Calif.).
At the same time, frustrated Democrats are in a holding pattern as they await more details from Mueller’s report beyond the summary provided by Barr.
Six House committee chairpersons wrote a letter to Barr on Monday night demanding that Mueller’s full report be provided to Congress by April 2. Pelosi offered her support for that effort in Tuesday’s caucus meeting.
Barr aims to release a public version of Mueller’s report within weeks, according to multiple reports. A Justice Department official told Reuters on Tuesday that Barr plans to make the report public within “weeks, not months.”
“When we get the report, then I think we can be more definitive about what we’re going to do,” said Waters, one of the committee heads who signed the letter.
Sherman accused Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein of unduly weighing in on whether Trump obstructed justice without providing the full report to Congress. Barr said in his letter to Congress that he and Rosenstein agreed the evidence uncovered by Mueller wasn’t sufficient to establish that Trump obstructed justice. At the same time, Barr wrote that Mueller’s report states it doesn’t exonerate Trump either.
“It’s not their call. They know it’s not their call. They’ve already announced they’re not in the business of indicting presidents,” Sherman said. “So why are they opining on something that, as a matter of their own policies, they’re not supposed to decide? I don’t know, except for public relations reasons and manipulation of public opinion.”