When Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s findings were released last month, House Democrats were mostly united in their response: Impeachment shouldn’t be their first line of attack. Instead, they vowed to employ the full range of Congress’s oversight powers to discern whether the president had obstructed justice—a question Mueller left unanswered in his final report. They demanded to read the special counsel’s full, unredacted conclusions. And they summoned a series of key witnesses to testify.
But in the past two days, a slew of Democrats, most notably moderate members of the rank and file, have publicly abandoned that position and announced their support for—or at least their openness to—launching a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. While most members of the caucus still publicly oppose impeachment, this swift shift in attitudes suggests that more and more Democrats view the party’s current investigative strategy as ineffective—or that recent events have finally given them cover to say what they really think about impeachment.
For weeks, the administration has stonewalled Democrats’ oversight efforts, refusing to hand over documents, blocking the release of Mueller’s full report, and discouraging officials from testifying. Former White House Counsel Don McGahn’s failure to appear before a House panel on Tuesday seemed to be the move that drove many members to abandon course. His no-show followed the weekend announcement from conservative Representative Justin Amash of Michigan that the president should be impeached for his misdeeds, a declaration that helped bring the impeachment conversation back into the news. Party members are feeling “overwhelmed” by the “lawlessness in President Trump and his White House,” says Representative Jamie Raskin of Maryland, a member of Democratic leadership.
Some lawmakers may be finding that an impeachment inquiry would more effectively bring their oversight muscle to bear. Representative Harley Rouda, a moderate House Democrat who flipped a longtime Republican seat in Orange County, California, in 2018, told me that he wants to give Trump officials one final chance to fulfill Congress’s requests, but that “if they fail to comply by [a certain] date, then I do think we should start the proceedings.”