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2020 Democrats split with House leaders over whether to impeach Trump after Mueller report

Key Points
  • Many Democrats have seized on the 448-page Mueller report on Russian election meddling, declaring it a damning account of executive incompetence and unethical conduct.
  • Its findings have shoved the impeachment conversation further into the mainstream than ever before during Trump's presidency.
  • In recent days, a growing number of Democratic presidential candidates have come out in favor of moving toward impeachment, and at least one of them has explicitly called for the House to launch proceedings against Trump.
President Donald Trump awaits the arrival of Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro at the White House March 19, 2019 in Washington, DC.
Alex Wong | Getty Images

The redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia report has finally arrived, and with it a renewed focus on whether Democrats will try to impeach President Donald Trump.

While the president touts the report as a resounding victory for him and his administration, many Democrats have seized on the 448-page window into Trump's White House, declaring it a damning account of executive incompetence and unethical conduct.

The Mueller report — released with redactions Thursday — found insufficient evidence to prove that Trump's 2016 campaign coordinated with the Kremlin. Attorney General William Barr and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein further determined that the report did not show that Trump committed an obstruction of justice offense.

Still, its findings have shoved the impeachment conversation further into the mainstream than ever before during Trump's presidency.

In recent days, a growing number of Democratic presidential candidates have come out in favor of moving toward impeachment, and at least one of them has explicitly called for the House to launch proceedings against Trump.

Leaders in the party, however, have signaled their opposition to launching an impeachment fight, which could derail their legislative agenda, hurt their party in the polls — or even threaten Democrats' chances of beating Trump in 2020.

"The rank and file for the most part realizes this is not a winning strategy," Monmouth University Polling Institute Director Patrick Murray told CNBC.

Murray pointed to polls showing that less than 4 in 10 voters support impeaching and removing Trump from office — a move that would require support from two-thirds of the Senate, which is currently controlled by Republicans.

And now that a version of the Mueller report is out, appetites for impeachment appear to be waning even further. A poll released Monday from Morning Consult and Politico found that just 34% of voters support impeaching Trump — a 5-percentage-point drop since January, even as Trump's own approval rating slid to 39%.

Jack Kingston, a conservative activist and former GOP congressman from Georgia, put it bluntly: "People don't like you screwing with their president of the United States."

Trump, who has raged against the Mueller probe as a partisan "witch hunt" before and after the release of the report, said Monday that he is "not even a little bit " worried about impeachment.

Impeachment gains steam

Activist groups have been pushing for Trump's impeachment since he took office; a few Democratic lawmakers took up the call not long after.

Tom Steyer, for instance, the Democratic megadonor who flirted with his own presidential run last year, has spent millions advocating for Trump's impeachment since 2017.

The Mueller report provides yet another reason for Democrats to try to impeach Trump, Steyer said in a statement to CNBC.

"We have all of the information we need, and the time for stalling is over. The American people, and the Constitution, demand political courage and accountability," Steyer said. "If Congress fails to fulfill its role, that is a profound statement about our democracy — and a green light for even more lawlessness."

For other Democrats, the facts in the Mueller report marked the turning point toward an impeachment debate.

"To ignore a President's repeated efforts to obstruct an investigation into his own disloyal behavior would inflict great and lasting damage on this country," Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., said in a string of tweets Friday that made her the first 2020 presidential candidate to support impeachment.

Other Democratic presidential candidates joined Warren's camp soon after.

California Sen. Kamala Harris and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg both said they supported pursuing impeachment during a CNN town hall event Monday night.

"I believe Congress should take the steps toward impeachment," Harris said.

Buttigieg, who has not held office in Congress, said, "I think he's made it pretty clear that he deserves impeachment," but added that it was the job of the "House and Senate to figure that out."

Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., the newest addition to the nearly 20-member Democratic presidential roster, told NPR on Tuesday that the impeachment debate was "absolutely" worth having.

"Don't tell me there's not enough to debate impeaching the president," Moulton said.

The resistant

Most of the Democratic candidates still haven't weighed in on impeachment. But the few who have don't all share the same view.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., who is running as a Democrat in 2020, cautioned Monday that focusing on impeaching Trump might only help him.

If "we're not talking about health care, we're not talking about raising the minimum wage to a living wage, and we're not talking about combating climate change and we're not talking about sexism and racism and homophobia and the issues that concern ordinary Americans, what I worry about is that works to Trump's advantage," Sanders said.

Former Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper, another presidential candidate, said Tuesday in an NPR interview that Democrats should only make their decision on impeachment after viewing the full, unredacted Mueller report — and after Mueller himself testifies before Congress.

Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., took a similar stance. "Having read parts of the report, I believe there is a basis for obstruction of justice and to proceed to impeachment proceedings based on what we know," she said Tuesday in an interview with MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell. "But I would like to have the rest of the report fully known before we proceed."

Democratic leaders in the House have shown reluctance toward impeachment, as well.

In a Monday evening conference call with Democratic leaders, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi reportedly said that Trump could be investigated without taking such drastic steps. "We don't have to go to articles of impeachment to obtain the facts, the presentation of facts," Pelosi said, according to NBC News.

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Md., was more dismissive. "Based on what we have seen to date, going forward on impeachment is not worthwhile at this point," the No. 2 Democrat in the House told CNN the same day that Mueller's report was made public.

"Very frankly, there is an election in 18 months and the American people will make a judgment," Hoyer added.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., whose committee holds the authority to launch an impeachment inquiry against Trump, said that some of the accusations in the Mueller report relating to obstruction would be impeachable "if proven."

Nadler issued a subpoena for the unredacted Mueller report and its underlying evidence Friday.