Democrats renewed consideration of impeaching President Donald Trump after the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, with leading progressives and some presidential candidates calling for swift action -- as Democratic leaders cautioned restraint.
In interviews with ABC News, a half dozen House Democrats remained wary of immediately launching impeachment proceedings against Trump, even as they highlighted the report’s unflattering depiction of the Trump White House and the president’s actions.
Moving forward on impeachment, they argued, could alienate voters and help Trump ahead of the 2020 election, jeopardizing the party’s chances of retaking the White House and Congress by overshadowing Democrats’ messaging on healthcare and kitchen-table issues.
“Congress has a responsibility for oversight,” Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Michigan, told ABC News. “But we’ve also got a job to deliver for the people.”
But some of the party’s rising stars and presidential candidates said Mueller’s findings called for a quick response.
“This isn't about politics," Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts, the first presidential candidate to voice support for impeachment proceedings, said on MSNBC Friday. "This isn't even specifically about Donald Trump himself. It is about what a president of the United States should be able to do and what the role of Congress is in saying, no, a president does not get to come in and stop an investigation about a foreign power that attacked this country.”
In an interview with CNN on Friday, former Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Secretary Julian Castro said it would be “perfectly reasonable” for Congress to begin impeachment proceedings.
The rest of the Democratic presidential hopefuls remained uncommitted to pursuing impeachment, with some suggesting that it may be best at this point to leave it to voters at the ballot box in 2020.
Mueller determined that the Trump campaign did not conspire or coordinate with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election, but stopped short of clearing the president of obstruction of justice --- outlining 11 instances of possible obstruction and suggesting it would be up to Congress to make that judgment.
Mueller wrote that "[w]ith respect to whether the President can be found to have obstructed justice by exercising his powers under Article II of the Constitution, we concluded that Congress has the authority to prohibit a President's corrupt use of his authority in order to protect the integrity of the administration of justice.”
Democratic leaders, including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, are wary of rushing to action, but have not definitively ruled out impeachment. Seizing on Mueller's own words, they have said Congress must first review the un-redacted report and hear testimony from Attorney General William Barr and the special counsel about the report’s findings.
“As the Speaker has said repeatedly, one step at a time,” Ashley Etienne, Pelosi’s communications director, told ABC News in response to Warren’s comments. "We’re focused on getting the full un-redacted version of the report and its underlying documents – as well as hearing from Mueller. The report raises more questions and concerns that we believe the American people deserve answers to."
Nadler has issued a subpoena to the Justice Department for the full report and requested Mueller’s testimony. Barr is scheduled to testify before the House and Senate in early May.
“Once I hear the testimony from Mueller, then I’ll be able to make a decision,” Rep. Gregory Meeks, D-New York, told ABC News.
Pelosi has scheduled a Monday conference call with the House Democratic caucus – now scattered around the world during a two-week congressional recess –- to discuss the report and the House’s next steps.
Many Democrats bluntly acknowledged the political reality surrounding impeaching the president: As Nadler and Pelosi have argued, the effort would fizzle without Republican buy-in.
In the Senate, 20 Republicans would have to join with all Democrats to convict Trump, who remains exceedingly popular among Republican voters and lawmakers.
“If, for instance, you end up in like in previous situations where the House does one thing and the Senate does something else – then the president could proclaim his innocence even more than he’s doing now,” Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, D-Illinois, a member of the House Intelligence and Oversight Committees, told ABC News.
After the release of the report, the majority of Republicans claimed vindication, celebrating the fact that Mueller did not bring charges against the president and found no evidence on coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.
“Feels good to be right,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Florida, told ABC News.
Rep. Tom Reed, R-New York, a moderate who frequently votes with Democrats, said Mueller’s conclusions “should be celebrated.”
“Now it is time for our country to heal because all politics all the time is tearing our country apart and hurting real people,” he said.
Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah, appeared to be one of the only Republicans to express some concern with Mueller’s findings, but did not suggest any course of action in Congress.
Privately, some undecided House Democrats said the president’s actions outlined in the Mueller report constituted impeachable offenses, but worried about the political costs of a failed impeachment push.
For now, only the party’s most progressive voices, including Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, joined activists and a handful of Democrats in support of impeachment proceedings without additional committee actions in the House.
Mueller’s report is clear in pointing to Congress’ responsibility in investigating obstruction of justice by the President.
It is our job as outlined in Article 1, Sec 2, Clause 5 of the US Constitution.April 18, 2019
“People in my view are genuinely conflicted about the need to hold the president accountable and some sense of how we bring this country together, and how we move on from this chapter in this country’s history,” Rep. Ro Khanna, D-California, told ABC News.
ABC’s Luke Barr contributed to this report.