A group of moderate Democrats are growing impatient with leadership, warning that any effort to include charges that the President obstructed justice in potential articles of impeachment could severely hurt the frontline members who help make a majority of the caucus, according to conversations with Democratic aides and members.
The tension is emblematic of a diverse caucus and the competing allegiances members from swing districts have versus many members of the more liberal House Judiciary Committee.
One moderate Democrat who spoke on the condition of anonymity to freely discuss the caucus’s thinking told CNN that the speaker’s office has kept any plans on drafting the articles closely held, creating frustration and anxiety for members who will have to go home and explain impeachment in their districts.
“The fact of the matter is this does have political consequences and the people who will suffer significant political consequences are our moderate members. In fact, there are on-year amounts of money being spent in districts all across our moderates. For our leadership not to engage with moderates at all to either talk about how they are going to message or what they are going to put in it, seems to be a giant oversight,” the member said.
Another moderate Democratic member lamented that the information about articles of impeachment are “secondhand.”
“I would say look I am concerned about not knowing what the articles will have in them. I am concerned about the timeline of this whole impeachment process. For me, right now, I am struggling to see how the evidence supports impeachment at this point,” the member said on the condition of background in order to speak freely about internal discussions.
One reason members are in the dark is that the drafting of the articles of impeachment have been closely held. Still, the House Intelligence Committee’s report released this week reveals that Democrats are looking closely at how the President obstructed Congress and how the President abused his power. The House Judiciary Committee hearing also raised questions about how the President might have obstructed justice as part of the Mueller report. That caused concern for moderates who worry that the articles could reach back too far to Mueller and lend credence to GOP talking points that Democrats are trying to re-litigate the 2016 election.
The hope for moderates is that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi would structure any impeachment articles on the floor to allow members to vote individually on each one, but even then, there is concern about having to go home and explain nuanced votes in an environment where splashy GOP ads could easily paint Democrats with the same broad impeachment brush.
“I can’t comment on any articles until I’ve seen them, but with that being said, you know that I came out against impeachment previous to this Ukraine matter, and I do remain very cognizant of that. You can take that as you like,” one Democratic moderate Rep. Max Rose said.
Asked if he had talked to some of the liberal members on Judiciary, Rose said “when I have spoken to members of the Judiciary, I have emphasized ‘no more bringing buckets of chicken to hearings and no more selling ‘impeach the mo-fo’ t-shirts. That’s been my principle message to them,” Rose said.
Rep. Tom Malinowski, a moderate from a New Jersey swing district who has been a part of the investigation related to Ukraine, told CNN that he wants the articles to stay “focused” on the Ukraine matter.
“If we impeach the President for everything he has done that is impeachable, it would probably take us until 2025. Let’s be smart, disciplined and focused about this and get it done,” Malinowski said.
“I think this is where you’re hearing moderates speak up. We want something that’s very tightly defined,” Rep. Brad Schneider, Democrat from Illinois who is part of the moderate Democrat Blue Dog Coalition, told CNN. “We want something that’s reflective of the facts.”
Schneider stressed that the articles needed to be narrow and focus on the Ukraine debacle, because they need to be “easy for the American people to understand.”
“I don’t think we should be throwing the whole kitchen sink and try to overreach,” he said.
Rep. Elaine Luria, a freshman Democrat from Virginia who flipped her district from red to blue in 2018, agreed that she wanted the articles to be narrow in focus and remain centered on the Ukraine issue. She said they didn’t decide to impeach the President until the Ukraine matter was raised, and the articles should stay focused on that.
Multiple Democrats declined to talk to CNN at all about the articles or how they felt about them. Rep. Haley Stevens, a Democrat from Michigan, told CNN she wasn’t talking to anyone about her thoughts related to impeachment at this time. Rep. Abby Finkenauer, a freshman Democrat from Iowa, brushed past CNN when asked directly how she felt about any mention of Mueller in the articles.
Leadership has met regularly with members as part of their caucus meetings, but discussions about what is in the specific articles of impeachment are closely held. This week, Democratic Whip Jim Clyburn acknowledged that not all Democrats will likely vote for impeachment.
“We do expect to lose some, and that’s why I say it is a conscious vote,” he said. “And it’s with our constituents. We have a very diverse caucus.”