Why Pelosi has yet to embrace impeachment
Nearly every day that’s passed since Robert Mueller’s testimony last month, more House Democrats have become convinced that impeachment proceedings must begin to consider the removal of President Trump from office.
But here in this GOP-leaning district just outside Detroit, the question about impeachment is far more complicated, underscoring the stakes facing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi as she weighs the ramifications of moving ahead in the fall.
This region has long been dominated by Republicans — until a hard-fought victory in 2018 by Democrat Haley Stevens, a 36-year-old former Obama administration official who worked as a top aide on a task force seeking to rescue the auto industry.
Now, the freshman Democrat is trying to project a bipartisan and pragmatic image — something that could be upended if she’s forced to vote to make Trump just the third president in history to be impeached by the House.
“Some of this is so deeply personal,” Stevens told CNN after a news conference at a nearby hospital vowing to protect the Affordable Care Act. “This is something that we are evaluating, we are going through a process on. I am spending time with my church, my family evaluating the documents and I am holding tight here.”
Stevens added: “I don’t want this to be a rush to fail. … I want to do justice. I want to do it right.”
The predicament facing Stevens helps explain why Pelosi has been resistant to moving forward with impeachment, eager to balance the views of 31 Democrats who occupy seats in districts Trump carried in 2016 and fearful of losing the House — and reelecting the President — if the matter is not handled appropriately.
While she continues to leave the door open to impeachment, Pelosi continues to seek a more deliberative approach than many liberals in her party are seeking, saying the House’s demands that the Trump administration comply with their subpoenas should first be fought out in court before any action is taken. It’s a line echoed by Democrats in swing districts across the country, like freshman Rep. Mikie Sherrill in New Jersey.
“I think there could even be criminal charges for criminal obstruction in a court of law, but that’s very different from making a decision to impeach a president, to go against the democratic will of the American people,” Sherrill told CNN. “We have a situation where we have some concerns about the President, but we also need to move forward on so many things, and the American people want to see us move forward on things like taxes and health care and infrastructure.”
In Michigan, a state central to the 2020 presidential race and the battle for control of the House, the calculation over impeachment is complex for Democrats seeking to court Trump backers. In 2016, Trump won Michigan by fewer than 11,000 votes — and carried the 11th Congressional District now represented by Haley by just over 17,000 votes.
Stevens says voters here are clamoring for action on issues on like infrastructure, education reform and protecting the Affordable Care Act, and can be tired of the “noise” in Washington.
“I’m not looking to govern on Twitter,” Stevens said when asked about impeachment. “And this is also what I’ve told my constituents on both sides who’ve talked to me about this issue. I am not going to let you down. I am there to do the right thing. I took an oath, and I’m going to stand up for that.”
Asked why not move forward with impeachment proceedings now, as a majority of House Democrats now support, Stevens said bluntly: “I have mixed reviews from the people of my district.”
Indeed, she does.
Gabriel Costanzo, a Walled Lake city councilman and Trump supporter, praised Stevens’ middle-of-the-road approach and is open to supporting her in 2020.
“Haley’s been doing a pretty decent job. Pretty solid. Absolutely,” he said.
But Costanzo said she “absolutely” would “lose votes” if she ended up supporting impeachment.
“I would not be happy about that,” Costanzo said if Stevens backed impeachment proceedings. “And neither would a lot of my friends.”
Still, others in this Michigan district are eager to see the House take immediate action.
“I think they should get him out of there,” said Jean Guoin, a voter here when asked if she wants Trump impeached. “He’s an egotistical maniac, and I don’t really care for the man.”
It’s a divide that’s splitting Democratic lawmakers in Michigan as well. Out of seven Democratic representatives in the state, just four have come out in support of impeachment. The other three representatives, Debbie Dingell, Stevens and freshman Elissa Slotkin, have yet to publicly support an impeachment inquiry, even as Michigan Rep. Justin Amash left the Republican Party after backing impeachment proceedings.
Dingell, a third-term congresswoman and wife of the late Michigan Rep. John Dingell, the former dean of the House, told CNN this week that she is “conflicted” about the impeachment question.
“I think we’ve gotta be very careful in our approach,” Dingell said. “I think we are investigating the facts. That investigation is going forward.”
Dingell acknowledged that representatives like Stevens from more moderate districts must focus on the issues that matter to their constituents in order to get reelected.
“We’re going to win the election on the issues that matter to the people of all of our districts, and Haley’s going win reelection by paying attention to the issues that matter to the people in her district,” Dingell said.
But other Democrats in the state say voters are demanding action, warning that Trump could use failure to impeach as an argument that he was exonerated over allegations of obstruction justice stemming from the Mueller probe. Those arguments are voiced by a Democrat in the neighboring district, represented by Rep. Rashida Tlaib, a freshman who made waves on her first day in Washington by saying Democrats would impeach the “motherf—er.”
“Over half of our caucus now supports impeachment,” Tlaib told CNN Wednesday before attending a town hall in her district. “Many of our folks here actually elected me because I was very strong even during the campaign.”
Unlike Tlaib, Stevens won her district after flipping it from Republican control, securing the seat by almost 7 points. But as a Democrat in a traditionally Republican district, her reelection victory is anything but guaranteed, even though Republicans have struggled to field a candidate. The GOP initially had their hopes on military veteran and businessman John James, who opted to instead run for the Senate against Democratic incumbent Gary Peters in 2020.
But party politics often can be complicated — particularly for new members. After voting against Pelosi as speaker in a private caucus meeting after the 2018 elections, Stevens supported her on the floor, saying the caucus had made clear the decision to elevate her as speaker. Asked if she would support Pelosi again in 2020, Stevens said: “I think we’re going to win our seats again and we’re going to have a good time being back in the majority.”
Still, Stevens recognizes she likely will be a major target in 2020 — and is now spending the August recess barnstorming her district across 24 towns in the next few weeks, as she did here at a farmer’s market in Walled Lake.
“I’m not going to let you down,” she told a voter.