Im­peach­ment? Town halls may de­cide next steps

Pres­sure is on for fresh­men law­mak­ers to push for­ward on Demo­crat in­quiry

Baltimore Sun Sunday - - NATION & WORLD - By Lisa Mas­caro, Mike Catal­ini, Denise Lavoie and David Eg­gert

WASH­ING­TON — Fresh­man Demo­cratic Rep. Andy Kim came face to face with im­peach­ment fer­vor at a town hall in New Jer­sey. “Do your job!” shouted one voter.

Sev­eral states away, a woman held up a copy of spe­cial coun­sel Robert Mueller’s re­port and told fresh­man Rep. Elissa Slotkin at a Michi­gan town hall she hoped she would “be the per­son that puts us over the top to start an im­peach­ment in­quiry.”

And in Vir­ginia, new­comer Rep. Abi­gail Span­berger en­coun­tered vot­ers with ques­tions, if not re­solve, about im­peach­ing Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

“I don’t have blood drip­ping from my fangs for or against im­peach­ment,” said David Sus­san, 70, a re­tired postal in­spec­tor from Ch­ester­field, who fa­vors start­ing an in­quiry. “I just want the truth to come out.”

It’s th­ese fresh­man law­mak­ers, and oth­ers like them, who will likely de­cide when, if ever, House Democrats start for­mal ef­forts to im­peach the pres­i­dent.

Nei­ther Kim, nor Slotkin, nor Span­berger sup­ports im­peach­ment. But with half the House Democrats now in fa­vor of be­gin­ning an in­quiry, the pres­sure will only mount on the hold­outs to reach a tip­ping point. And with law­mak­ers re­turn­ing home to vot­ers dur­ing the Au­gust re­cess, what hap­pens next may prove piv­otal.

The pro-im­peach­ment group Need to Im­peach is run­ning tele­vi­sion ads. Along with ac­tivists from other groups, it’s also fan­ning out to con­gres­sional dis­tricts to push law­mak­ers, in­clud­ing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, to move more swiftly to­ward im­peach­ment pro­ceed­ings.

The or­ga­ni­za­tion’s lead strate­gist, Kevin Mack, says his coun­sel to law­mak­ers, es­pe­cially those new fresh­men who took over for­merly Repub­li­can-held seats, is to ig­nore the cam­paign con­sul­tants and party strate­gists, and “do what you think is right” about Trump.

“You can’t re­ally make the ar­gu­ment he’s the most cor­rupt pres­i­dent in Amer­i­can his­tory and not hold him ac­count­able,” he said. “Ei­ther you think what he’s do­ing is OK or you hold him ac­count­able.”

For law­mak­ers, though, the cal­cu­lus is not so sim­ple. Vot­ers in many of th­ese dis­tricts helped elect Trump in 2016, but flipped to give Democrats con­trol of the House in last year’s elec­tion. Many of the first-term Democrats al­ready face chal­lengers for 2020 and are try­ing to bal­ance the di­ver­gent views in their dis­tricts. While some vot­ers want im­peach­ment, oth­ers have dif­fer­ent pri­or­i­ties.

New Jer­sey law­maker Kim, a for­mer na­tional se­cu­rity of­fi­cial, told some 80 vot­ers at a town hall in River­side to re­main even­keeled and to trust in the in­ves­tiga­tive process that House Democrats are pur­su­ing.

“I don’t think get­ting caught up in the knife fight­ing and name call­ing is go­ing help us get out of this pit,” Kim said.

That caused some from the crowd to re­tort that pur­su­ing im­peach­ment wasn’t “knife fight­ing” but part of the Con­sti­tu­tion.

“Just do the in­ves­ti­ga­tion into im­peach­ment,” said Mar­i­anne Cle­mente, of Barnegat. “Just so that we’re do­ing some­thing” to show Trump he’ll be held ac­count­able, she said. “If we let him get away with this, we can kiss our democ­racy good­bye.”

Some of the loud­est ap­plause from the au­di­ence came when one con­stituent stood up and said Trump was “de­stroy­ing our coun­try.”

An­other voter said the con­gress­man’s fo­cus on other is­sues, like health care, was like “cut­ting the grass while the house is on fire.”

In Span­berger’s Vir­ginia district over the past week, she, too, fielded sev­eral ques­tions about her stand on the im­peach­ment in­quiry as she criss­crossed the re­gion for town halls.

When she was asked about it in Culpeper, Span­berger told vot­ers that she helped block an im­peach­ment bill based on Trump’s racism be­cause she did not be­lieve that qual­i­fies as “high crimes and mis­de­meanors” set out by the Con­sti­tu­tion.

“My opin­ion and stance has long been that I be­lieve in facts and ev­i­dence,” she said. “As long as the in­ves­ti­ga­tions are con­tin­u­ing, and we see my col­leagues are con­tin­u­ing to gather in­for­ma­tion, I am watch­ing very closely.”

And when Michi­gan law­maker Slotkin faced the ques­tioner armed with Mueller’s re­port, she told those gath­ered at the store in Mason about two re­cent moves by House Democrats that she sees as im­por­tant — the spe­cial coun­sel’s tes­ti­mony and House sub­poe­nas of the Trump ad­min­is­tra­tion.

“I’m open to where this goes,” Slotkin said. “But I think that it is im­por­tant that we do it in a way that com­mu­ni­cates clearly what we are in­tend­ing. And we do it in a way that doesn’t for­get about the other part of our job, which is to leg­is­late.”

DAVID EG­GERT/AP

Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., talks with a con­stituent Fri­day in Mason, Michi­gan. The fresh­man rep­re­sen­ta­tive has not backed an im­peach­ment in­quiry of Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump.

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