President Donald Trump on Friday wasted no time framing newly empowered Democrats as being committed to his impeachment.
Democratic leaders, including Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer and House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, have appeared reluctant to discuss whether they would attempt to impeach Trump now that their party just took charge of the House.
But try as they might to play down the issue, some Democratic lawmakers started beating the drum for Trump's impeachment directly after being sworn in Thursday.
Freshman Michigan Democrat Rashida Tlaib, one of the first two Muslim women to be elected to Congress, provided the most profane pro-impeachment stance yet. "We're going to impeach the motherf-----," she told supporters Thursday night.
A video of the comment was posted on social media, raising a publicity storm. Trump jumped on the talk of his own impeachment in a pair of tweets Friday morning. After appearing to blame Democrats for the previous day's market sell-off, Trump claimed that Democrats "only want to impeach me because they know they can't win in 2020, too much success!"
Ten minutes later, Trump rhetorically asked how anyone could impeach a president who has "done nothing wrong" and "is the most popular Republican in history."
Some of Trump's supporters view the issue as a boon to his 2020 re-election bid, and a fitting strategy for a candidate who has seen great success asserting himself as the most-wanted target of his political enemies.
While running for president in 2016, Trump repeatedly decried the campaign process as being rigged and biased against him in favor of his Washington insider opponent, Hillary Clinton. Even after winning that election, Trump has consistently claimed that he is the victim of disloyal allies in his own administration, a "deep state" Washington bureaucracy fighting his disruptive persona behind the scenes, and a "phony witch hunt" perpetrated by special counsel Robert Mueller through an ongoing investigation of election meddling and possible Russian collusion with Trump associates.
Many prominent Democrats, on the other hand, have taken pains to avoid the subject of impeachment, fearing that such a strategy would backfire and end up increasing support for Trump.
Pelosi, for instance, refused to take the bait when asked in December what "repercussions" Trump ought to face after his ex-personal lawyer Michael Cohen implicated the president in campaign-finance crimes involving hush-money payments to two women during the 2016 campaign.
In an interview with USA Today the day she was elected speaker of the House, Pelosi said "I'm not seeking" grounds for impeaching Trump. But she noted that any impeachment effort would have to be "clearly bipartisan" — setting a sky-high bar to even consider such an action.
Schumer, too, has scrupulously avoided answering calls from Democratic voters to impeach Trump. After Schumer gave a gung-ho response in September to a question about when Trump would be impeached — "the sooner the better," he said — his spokesman reportedly claimed that the minority leader had misunderstood the question.
Even House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who has carved out a reputation as one of Trump's leading critics and most relentless watchdogs in Washington, reportedly said that raising the specter of impeachment only helps Trump "because he knows it energizes his base."
Rep. Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said in a CNN interview Friday morning that "It is too early to talk about" impeaching Trump "intelligently."
"We have to get the facts and we'll see where the facts lead. Maybe that will lead to impeachment, maybe it won't, but it's much too early and we don't have all of the facts and must have the facts," said Nadler, the new chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, which plays a crucial role in impeachment proceedings.
Nadler and other Democrats have sought other means of combating Trump short of jumping to impeachment out of the gate. Those efforts are expected to include re-opening investigations related to the president, seeking Trump's tax returns and protecting the Mueller probe, which Trump has taken aim at in the past.
But other Democrats, including Tlaib and other members of the newly strengthened contingent of ultra liberals, have been much more cavalier.
Tlaib did not shy away from her remarks, which were posted in a video on social media. "Congresswoman Tlaib was elected to shake up Washington, not continue the status quo. Donald Trump is completely unfit to serve as President," Tlaib's office said in a statement Friday. "The congresswoman absolutely believes he needs to be impeached."
The 116th Congress has already seen its first articles of impeachment filed. On Thursday, Rep. Brad Sherman, D-Calif., reintroduced an impeachment resolution against Trump. Multiple Democrats including Sherman had filed articles of impeachment in 2017.
Flanked by progressives' open advocacy for impeachment on the left and the president's condemnation on the right, it may soon prove impossible for Democratic leadership to keep mum on the topic.
Pelosi's next move may be to kick the issue back to Republicans on the hill when asked about impeachment.
"What's shocking is that the Republicans in the Congress of the United States will not hold him accountable," Pelosi said at an MSNBC town hall event Friday.