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Democrats Divided Over Pursuing Impeachment


Democrats still have a lot of questions about Robert Mueller's investigation. They'll get a chance to ask some of them soon when Attorney General William Barr testifies in a couple of weeks. Big question House Democrats now face is how aggressively to pursue their investigations now that the report is out and no one from the Trump campaign was charged over conspiring with Russia. NPR's congressional correspondent Sue Davis joins us. Sue, thanks so much for being with us.


SIMON: Let's hear what the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Jerry Nadler - Democrat, obviously, from New York - said yesterday on ABC's "Good Morning America."


JERRY NADLER: Mueller, the special prosecutor, made very clear that he couldn't reach a determination on obstruction of justice, basically because of certain Justice Department guidelines which didn't allow him to do that - but that he laid it out for Congress.

SIMON: Laid it out for Congress - does that mean that Congress is headed for impeachment hearings?

DAVIS: As you and I sit here today, this still seems rather unlikely. Following the release of the report, Democratic leaders like House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said that this country's going to have an election in 18 months and that he believes the fate of President Trump should be left to the voters. Remember, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has always been an impeachment skeptic. She has set a bar that would have to be, in her words, overwhelming and bipartisan, meaning you would need to get some Republicans on board to do it, namely Senate Republicans. And if anything, the response from Republicans on Capitol Hill to Robert Mueller's report was, case closed. Time to move on.

SIMON: At the same time, there were Democrats who, for some time, have been saying there's enough to proceed with impeachment and this week said, look; everyone says wait for the Mueller report. Well, I've read it. And even more now, I say impeachment. Is it dividing the party?

DAVIS: On some level, absolutely. You know, at the same time, you have people like Steny Hoyer and Nancy Pelosi saying one thing. You look to the progressive left or the activist left where you have freshmen lawmakers like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York or Ilhan Omar of Minnesota who, in response to the report, signed on to a resolution calling for impeachment proceedings to begin in the House Judiciary Committee. That is a resolution offered by another female freshman lawmaker - Rashida Tlaib, a Democrat from Michigan.

Also, you have some of the leading 2020 contenders - Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren called for the House to begin impeachment proceedings. It is certainly a reflection of where the party's base is, but it is not the presiding sentiment of the party. Lawmakers are out of town right now. We know House Democrats are going to have a conference call on Monday to begin hashing out their strategy here. Pelosi has told Democrats, in her words, Congress will not be silent. But in terms of the impeachment question, I think what you would have to see is a major shift in public opinion in order to prod Democrats in that direction 'cause of right now, their party leaders are saying, we're not going there.

SIMON: How do you explain the bipartisan agreement - Republicans and Democrats both calling for Robert Mueller to testify?

DAVIS: I think they agree they want him to appear. I think their reasons why for that agreement is very different. They have drawn very different conclusions about what this report says. Republicans see that as a political exoneration of the president, and they would like Robert Mueller to back that point up on television.

For Democrats, they see a report that does not exonerate the president. If anything, it lays out in extraordinary detail a president who encouraged bad actors to meddle in an election, who tried to interfere in the special counsel's investigation but for his aides, in many cases, who declined to carry out his directives. And they see a conclusion in this report where Robert Mueller may have just left on their doorstep a pathway to move forward on impeachment or at least to lay out a case to the people as to why Donald Trump should not be re-elected president.

SIMON: NPR's Susan Davis. Thanks so much.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.