It was Michael Cohen’s day on Capitol Hill, but Democrats are still waiting for Robert Mueller.
Donald Trump’s former lawyer leveled a raft of explosive allegations against the president Wednesday, but Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team are in no hurry to launch impeachment proceedings.
Instead, they’re still waiting to see what the special counsel turns up.
Pelosi largely sidestepped questions about Cohen’s testimony on Wednesday, declaring that she had been too busy to watch the hours-long grilling he received from her members on the House Oversight Committee.
“I haven’t seen one word of it. If I have a statement, you’ll be the first to know,” the California Democrat told reporters as she walked into the House chamber for floor votes. “Let me say this. I care a lot more about the bad policies of Donald Trump than his bad personality.”
Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) offered similar sentiments: “Let me repeat: We need to wait for the Muller report and see what it says,” he told a throng of reporters. Majority Whip Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), the No. 3 Democrat, declined to weigh in, saying he had yet to watch Cohen’s testimony.
The question of whether to impeach Trump is perhaps the most sensitive one facing Democratic leaders, who are eager to keep a caucus with vastly competing interests — from moderates in GOP districts to outspoken progressives calling to “impeach the motherf—er” — united.
So far, Pelosi has largely been able to keep the caucus from erupting into a public brawl over impeachment, despite a multi-million-dollar pressure campaign from liberal megadonor Tom Steyer and increasing demands on the left to take action. But it’s unclear how long that can last.
“Isn’t it interesting that not one person on our side even mentioned the word impeachment? Not one,” Oversight Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) told reporters after a nine-hour hearing, adding that he wants to “proceed very cautiously.”
Pressure to remove Trump from office is sure to grow within the liberal base after Cohen presented what he claimed was physical evidence that Trump had committed a felony while in office — a check signed by the president that Cohen claims was repayment for efforts to silence adult film actress Stormy Daniels in the weeks before the election.
But even Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — who said in an interview published Wednesday that there’s “no question” that she would vote to impeach Trump — was restrained when pressed by reporters on the issue of impeachment.
Ocasio-Cortez said the hearing had turned up some “gravely concerning evidence,” but cautioned that Democrats need to process the details before they move forward.
“The documents were just provided this morning,” she said. “So we need to really go through that.”
And while Cohen’s testimony — including claims the president knew about the infamous Trump Tower meeting with Russians — may meet the “high crimes and misdemeanors” standard for impeachment, several Democrats said it isn’t enough on its own to outweigh the political risk of going forward.
“Any discussions about impeachment proceedings remains premature,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), the No. 5 Democrat, noting news stories that the Mueller report could be finished any day. “The heart of the investigation… is whether Donald Trump or close associates of the Trump campaign were involved in working with Russian spies to sell out our democracy.”
A half-dozen other senior Democrats largely ducked the questions or became defensive when asked about the impact Cohen could have on demands for impeachment proceedings.
When asked whether Cohen’s testimony changed Democrats’ calculations on impeachment, House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern turned the matter to Republicans.
“I think a better question is, what are Republicans going to do?” McGovern (D-Mass.) responded, noting that the GOP-controlled Senate would have to vote to remove Trump from office if the House impeached him.
Since taking back the House in January, Democratic leaders have tried to stifle impeachment calls from rank-and-file lawmakers by reassuring them that any action before Mueller finishes his probe could backfire badly in the next election.
This restrained approach comes even as the Democratic majority has launched several wide-ranging probes into Trump’s administration, businesses and finances, all of which could help make the case for ousting the president down the road.
And while the move has largely contained an antsy left flank, some Democrats signaled Wednesday that they were increasingly ready to take on their own leadership.
“They don’t feel that way yet, but we’ll work on them,” said Rep. John Yarmuth, who leads the House Budget Committee.
The Kentucky Democrat — who has inched closer to supporting formal impeachment hearings all year — said he was convinced by Cohen’s testimony on Wednesday.
“The evidence is pretty unambiguous,” Yarmuth said. “The president of the United States committed a crime while in office, he needs to be brought up for impeachment. I think we’re at that part.”
But several other Democrats said while Cohen’s testimony was damning to the president, they didn’t think it was enough to sway two constituencies key to launching impeachment proceedings: the American public and GOP lawmakers.
Republicans, meanwhile, are salivating at the prospect of impeachment proceedings, which many privately believe could be key to their campaign to take back the House after last fall’s blue wave.
Republicans led by Oversight ranking member Jim Jordan of Ohio have been sharply critical of Cohen’s appearance this week, calling it a “coordinated campaign” with Democrats to impeach Trump. Jordan and other Republicans on the committee ripped Cohen Wednesday, repeatedly questioning his credibility and describing him as the Democrats’ “patsy.”
Wednesday’s hearing marked the highest-profile witness to testify against a sitting president since the Watergate investigation into Richard Nixon. But it’s clear Democrats are still trying to sort out the gravity of Cohen’s testimony and how it might shape the majority’s future decisions on impeachment.
Some Democrats were explicit that this was the “first step” in a lengthy probe into the president.
“This was meant to be the opening hearing, to give context, to let the American people start to hear things out in the open,” said Rep. Katie Hill (D-Calif.), a freshman who is in leadership. “I don’t think we’re there yet. I think we’re going to have to see all of the evidence and certainly there’s a lot more that we need to look into.”
Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), who was one of lawmakers grilling Cohen in the committee, stressed that there would be “a lot more hearings.”
“There are entire categories of crimes that haven’t been mentioned today,” Raskin said, citing claims that Trump businesses have profited from foreign companies. “This is a good beginning in terms of pulling the curtain back about what’s taking place.”
But other senior Democrats grew defensive when pressed on whether Cohen’s testimony and his evidence against Trump had given the party enough to begin impeachment proceedings.
“[Impeachment] was not the purpose of our hearing,” Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-Va.), a member on the Oversight Committee, told reporters. “Y’all throw out questions and then don’t ever want to take responsibility for the implications behind them.”
Andrew Desiderio and John Bresnahan contributed to this report.
Article originally published on POLITICO Magazine
Droolin’ Dog sniffed out this story and shared it with you.
The Article Was Written/Published By: firstname.lastname@example.org (Melanie Zanona)