As Democrats vie to wrest control of Congress from Republicans this November, there’s one talking point they are pointedly staying away from: impeaching President Donald Trump.
Sources tell ABC News some Democrats are privately debating impeachment ahead of the midterm elections in the wake of the political fallout from a number of investigations into Russian election meddling and questions of potential collusion between the Kremlin and the Trump campaign.
However, party leaders have said little on the subject publicly.
“I think that we have been very clear. It is important for us to win this election so that we can meet the needs of the American people,” House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi said during a press conference earlier this month. “Whether or not the president should be impeached is a matter that is being dealt with at the Justice Department. I don’t know that they’re talking about impeachment, but whether they have the facts and the law to make a determination about how they go forward.”
But some strategists say impeachment is more than just a talking point for Democrats seeking re-election -– it’s a call to action.
“Impeachment isn’t a political strategy. It’s an action that millions of Americans, across the ideological spectrum, believe needs to be taken to truly hold Donald Trump accountable for the obstruction of justice in the Trump-Russia investigation, blatant disregard for the Constitution’s emoluments clause, and a host of other attacks he’s made on our country’s ailing democracy,” Neil Sroka, communications director for the Center For Democracy, told ABC News.
“The Americans excited to vote in 2018 want to see Donald Trump and his corrupt cronies held accountable for their crimes,” Sroka said.
A number of Democrats in the House have already pushed for Trump’s removal from office on grounds that he has committed crimes. Others are pushing the 25th Amendment route, which would involve a majority of Trump’s cabinet determining that he was physically or mentally unfit to do his job.
House Democrats have so far forced two procedural votes on impeachment in the last six months.
“Donald John Trump, by causing such harm to the society of the United States, is unfit to be president and warrants impeachment, trial, and removal from office,” Rep. Al Green, D-Texas, said on the House floor as he moved to introduce the articles in December.
Some 66 House Democrats, over a third of the caucus, voted in January to begin impeachment proceedings, up by 8 votes from the first vote they held in December.
Despite these two attempts, Democrats have mostly shied away from pushing the impeachment factor because they say it’s too soon.
“Legitimate questions have been raised about his fitness to lead this nation,” Pelosi and Minority Whip Steny Hoyer, D-Md., said in a statement. “Right now, Congressional committees continue to be deeply engaged in investigations into the president’s actions both before and after his inauguration. The special counsel’s investigation is moving forward as well, and those inquiries should be allowed to continue. Now is not the time to consider articles of impeachment.”
In November, the top Democrat in the Senate, Chuck Schumer of New York, told the Daily Beast: “Let me put it the right way. There may be a time. It is premature. And to call for [impeachment] now you might blow your shot when it has a better chance of happening. It is serious, serious, serious. And so … you wait.”
And other political heavyweights are also urging caution.
Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel, who was senior advisor to President Bill Clinton during his impeachment proceedings, called it unwise for Democratic candidates to rely on the impeachment factor heading into November’s races.
“I lived through the Clinton White House. This is a serious legal and constitutional, not political, issue. … I couldn’t be angrier at Donald Trump. … That said, you don’t just flippantly say: ‘We’re for [impeachment],’” Emanuel said in an interview with Axios on Monday.
You “don’t just treat … the policy standard of impeachment … as a political tool. It’s a constitutional standard and, when that standard has been met, we’ll know about it. … This is a case where the best politics is good policy,” he added.
Former Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid told NBC News Wednesday, “I’ve been through impeachment, and they’re not pleasant,” the Nevada Democrat said.
“And the less we talk about impeachment, the better off we are,” he continued.
Meanwhile, Republicans in the Senate have fired warning shots to the president that he could face impeachment proceedings if he fired special counsel Robert Mueller, who is leading the investigation into ties between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin.
“I believe it is in President Trump’s best interest to allow the investigation to run its course, because I believe it will vindicate him,” Republican Sen. Orrin Hatch of Utah wrote in an op-ed article in the Wall Street Journal on Wednesday. “Firing Mr. Mueller would be a grave error. It would trigger a crisis, possibly even impeachment. It would threaten many of the administration’s accomplishments and make continued progress virtually impossible.”
Sen. Jeff Flake, a top Trump critic who is retiring this year, has also said firing Mueller would be grounds for impeachment.
“We are begging the president not to fire the special counsel,” tweeted the Arizona Republican last month. “Don’t create a constitutional crisis. Congress cannot preempt such a firing. Our only constitutional remedy is after the fact, through impeachment. No one wants that outcome. Mr. President, please don’t go there.”
We are begging the president not to fire the special counsel. Don’t create a constitutional crisis. Congress cannot preempt such a firing. Our only constitutional remedy is after the fact, through impeachment. No one wants that outcome. Mr. President, please don’t go there.
— Jeff Flake (@JeffFlake) March 20, 2018
And Sen. Lindsey Graham, a one-time Trump opponent and now Trump supporter, also warned if Trump moved to fire Mueller, it could be an impeachable offense.
Some Republicans are also using the impeachment factor as a warning to conservative voters that should Democrats win the majority in the U.S. House of Representatives this November, the Democrats would immediately start impeachment proceedings.
Earlier this month, Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tx., featured a video with a fake news anchor reading bogus headlines of what the future might hold should conservatives not show up at the polls in November.
“Senate Majority Leader Schumer announced the impeachment trial of President Trump,” one of the anchors says.
Rep. Steve Stivers of Ohio, chairman of the House Republican campaign organization, held a private dinner with two dozen party strategists in February, the New York Times reported, where he addressed the threat of impeachment against Trump as a means to fire up the party base.
But impeaching the president, for strategists like Sroka, is only half the battle.
“While millions of Americans believe that Donald Trump can and should be impeached, I’ve yet to meet a single voter or candidate who believes that impeaching Donald Trump alone would fix the racial and economic injustice that underlies the range of challenges our country faces,” Sroka said.