No Democrat was in more demand Wednesday than Rep. Al Green (Tex.) â the seven-term Democrat from Houston who held a hometown news conference two days before calling for the impeachment of President Trump. Then came allegations that Trump had pressured the FBI director to beg off a criminal investigation of his then-national security adviser â and then came the media.
Green delivered a morning floor speech on impeachment (âwith a heavy heart, with a sense of dutyâ), then spent nearly an hour just outside the House chamber, walking from camera to camera near the Capitolâs statue of Will Rogers, where TV networks set up their satellite links.
âItâs about the fact that the president has committed obstruction of justice,â Green, a former trial lawyer, said in an interview. âIt is indisputable that he fired the FBI director. It is indisputable that he said he considered the investigation that was taking place â of the president â when he fired him. And itâs indisputable that he went on to tweet what might be considered intimidation, words that are intimidating.â
For much of a frenzied day, Democrats and Republicans were asked not just whether there needed to be further investigations of the president, but whether impeachment, a power Congress has used against just three of its 45 presidents, was on their minds.
It was unclear how the Justice Departmentâs decision to appoint Robert S. Mueller III as a special counsel to oversee allegations of Russian meddling in the election would affect such talk. As of earlier Wednesday, neither partyâs leaders wanted to talk about impeachment. But neither party could seem to avoid it.
âI think that we ought to keep our focus on finding out the facts,â said Rep. Adam B. Schiff (Calif.), the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, at a morning news conference meant to tout the Democratsâ campaign to form an independent commission on the FBI scandal. âNo one ought to, in my view, rush to embrace the most extraordinary remedy that involves the removal of the president from office.â
The impeachment talk had already begun at the fringes of the Democratic Party before this week â Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) was leading the charge. But despite the Mueller announcement, the noise grew louder after news that ousted FBI Director James B. Comey took notes of his conversation with Trump, during which the president asked Comey to drop the investigation of former national security adviser Michael Flynn, according to Comeyâs associates.
As with so much of Congressâs agenda, whether to talk impeachment seems to have been a choice that outside forces had already made for lawmakers. At a Monday night town hall sponsored by CNN, House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was prodded on the impeachment question, and she stayed with the partyâs message: an investigation would uncover facts, and impeachment made no sense without it.
âIf you are talking about impeachment, you are talking about, âWhat are the facts?âââ she said. âWhat are the facts that you would make a case on? What are the rules that he may have violated? If you donât have that case, you are just participating in more hearsay.â
For that, Pelosi was flayed on Twitter by left-wing accounts. And by midweek, the progressive group MoveOn.org was texting members, urging them to ask their representatives to âstart an independent investigation into whether Trump obstructed justice and begin impeachment if he did.â Democratic candidates for other offices, like Illinois gubernatorial hopeful J.B. Pritzker, were flashing their progressive bona fides by calling for impeachment.
âCalling for impeachment is not something done lightly, but I believe itâs necessary to protect our countryâs national security and democracy,â Pritzker wrote on Twitter. âThere are credible reports that Donald Trump has obstructed justice in the investigation of the Russian hacking of our democracy.â
Pelosi, who led her party to control of the House from 2007 to 2011, had heard the impeachment drumbeat before. The 1998 impeachment of Bill Clinton, which led to a failed removal vote in the Senate, left Democrats with bitter memories. Throughout George W. Bushâs presidency, activists called for his impeachment. In 2006, Pelosi repeatedly said that impeachment was âoff the table,â and in the end, all activists got from the campaign was a day-long hearing during which one witness suggested that rather than face impeachment, Bush should be tried for murder.
But âthe I-word,â as Rep. Joseph Crowley (D-N.Y.) called it Wednesday, remains the gold standard when presidents tumble into scandal.
âMaybe itâs the shock value,â said Sen. Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), a progressive who spent part of the day batting back impeachment questions.
âMost people calling our offices are asking for a special prosecutor,â said Sen. Chris Van Hollen (D-Md.), the chair of a Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, which next year has to defend 10 senators from states that Trump won.
Republicans, who egged on impeachment talk in the Bush years, are cautiously sounding the same notes now. In an email to donors, headlined âSabotage,â the Trump reelection campaign warned conservatives of a campaign to bring down his presidency.
âYou already knew the media was out to get us,â the email read. âBut sadly itâs not just the fake news .â.â. There are people within our own unelected bureaucracy that want to sabotage President Trump and our entire America First movement.â
In conservative media, coverage of Greenâs speech was sometimes apocalyptic. On Fox News, the story was âDems, Media Bring Up Impeachment.â At the other end of the pro-Trump spectrum, the fringe site Infowars informed readers that âImpeachment of Trump Could Lead to Mass Riots This Summer.â
Rep. Jan Schakowsky (D-Ill.) who co-sponsored impeachment resolutions against Bush and against former vice president Richard B. Cheney, said that the politics and realities of 2017 were completely different. Trump struggled to win over Republican leaders up until he won the presidency â and she thought a botched lunge at his presidency would firm up Republican support in a more partisan media environment than Bill Clinton or even Richard Nixon ever faced.
âTheyâre saying, oh, this whole thing is proof that Democrats lost the election, and they want to find another way to get rid of Trump,â Schakowsky said. âWhat we need is a bipartisan or nonpartisan look at this, so thereâs a consensus about where we go. Maybe impeachment is where it ends up. But transparency and independence is where to focus right now.â
Rep. James E. Clyburn (D-S.C.), who said that ânobodyâ in his district was asking for an impeachment, was just as wary about the media dynamic. âThere are a lot of Republicans that think that no matter what this person does he ought to be allowed to do what he wants to do, that he has the authority to hire and fire,â he said. âI think that we ought to wait to see where the facts will lead us.â
Still, the impeachment question made news whenever it was asked. On Wednesday, after a meeting of the House GOP Conference, Rep. Justin Amash (R-Mich.) raced up the stairs of the Cannon House Office Building, fielding questions from a stubborn pack of reporters. He was just one of two Republicans open to a special probe of the fallout from alleged Russian meddling, and reporters tested how much further he could go.
âIf the allegations are true, would they be grounds for impeachment?â asked one reporter.
âIf the allegations are true, yes,â said Amash. âBut everybody in this country gets a fair trial, including the president, or anyone else.â
For the rest of Wednesday, Amash â an iconoclast who wrote in the name of Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.) for president â was famous. The Hill ran a news alert: âFirst Republican raises impeachment for Trump.â A video of Amash answering the question bounced over Twitter.
Meanwhile, Mother Jones reported to its progressive audience that Amash was the first Republican to suggest that âTrump may have committed [an] impeachable offense.â The magazine updated its item after a spokesman for Rep. Carlos Curbelo (R-Fla.) said that he, not Amash, was the first to mull over impeachment â after a reporter asked about it.