As top House Democrats demanded the Department of Justice release special counsel Robert Mueller’s full report by next week, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had a message for her caucus: Stay calm, cool, and collected. And don’t take your eyes off the prize.
“Be calm. Take a deep breath. Don’t become like them,” Pelosi told House Democrats at their weekly caucus meeting, according to an aide in the room. “We have to handle this professionally, officially, patriotically, strategically. Let’s just get the goods.”
As Washington has become consumed with Attorney General William Barr’s recently released summary of the Mueller report, Pelosi and Democratic leaders are trying to soothe tensions in the caucus and reemphasize that Democrats should stay focused on health care and other issues they ran on in 2018.
Barr’s four-page summary said Mueller did not find evidence that the Trump campaign conspired with the Russian government to meddle during the 2016 election. And though Mueller himself did not make a determination on the issue, the attorney general also determined Trump did not obstruct justice.
Democrats still want to see Mueller’s full report, but they’re walking a fine line between continuing their own Trump investigations and avoiding pressing the Russia investigation further if Mueller and the rest of the country have moved on.
Some still think Trump needs to pay a price. Progressive Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) renewed her push to impeach the president in Tuesday’s caucus meeting, trying to gauge support from others.
But Democratic leaders say that is not what they’re focusing on as they head into the 2020 election cycle.
“We won control of the House of Representatives not focused on Russia, not focused on collusion, not focused on impeachment, not focused on obstruction of justice — but focused on health care, infrastructure, and on cleaning up corruption in Washington, DC,” said House Democratic Caucus Chair Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY).
Democrats are still planning to follow the money
Democrats have a number of investigations of their own into Trump, his business empire, and his administration — everything from probing how the White House is handing out top-secret security clearances to trying to get Trump’s tax returns to the administration’s less-than-effective response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico.
In other words, although Democrats want to see the special counsel’s full report to help inform where they should direct their investigations, they have plenty of work to do on their own.
“This is our watch,” House Oversight Committee Chair Elijah Cummings told reporters on Monday night. “We have to make sure we pass on a democracy that is intact. So when you see this effort to tear down the CIA, the FBI, Office of Government Ethics, voting rights, on and on, we have to bring these things to the attention of the American people.”
House Democrats are following the money in their investigations of Trump; House Financial Services Chair Maxine Waters (D-CA) told Vox she plans to scrutinize the president’s financial dealings, with or without the Mueller report.
“I’m going forward with the work I must do to understand the financial relationships that our president had with Russia,” she said. “I want to understand everything about possible illicit funds that got into the Trump finances; I want to understand money laundering.”
And Democrats in the Ways and Means Committee are preparing to formally request Trump’s tax returns in an attempt to scrutinize the president’s financial dealings, though Committee Chair Richard Neal (D-MA) has told reporters he’s taking time to make sure his request is airtight before he launches it.
“We’ve got to do it this year,” said Rep. Bill Pascrell (D-NJ), a member of Ways and Means, adding that the committee may have to go to court for the documents. “Whether Mueller even looked into them is another question; I have to read the report.”
Pascrell called Trump’s tax returns a very high priority for House Democrats.
“I would put it up top three,” he said. “In terms of what the fallout could be, in terms of deciding where money was spent, who do you owe, I think it’s very critical.”
Democrats are staying focused on health care
Even as House Democrats attempt to get the full Mueller report, they’re putting a renewed focus on health care and protecting the Affordable Care Act.
It’s concurrent with the Trump administration’s latest attack on the health care law, asking the federal courts to invalidate all of the Affordable Care Act in a Justice Department brief released late Monday night.
“I believe that the Mueller report has been done,” House Majority Whip James Clyburn (D-SC) told CNN on Tuesday. “That’s a chapter that’s closed, and I think that last night, this administration opened a new chapter when it moved to completely invalidate the Affordable Care Act, and that to me is the number one thing on people’s minds.”
Speaker Pelosi directed the caucus to concentrate on their core agenda at Tuesday’s weekly meeting, according to an aide in the room.
“We must, with all that is going on, stay focused on our purpose for the people: lower health care costs, bigger paychecks, and cleaner government,” Pelosi told members. “And thank you to the caucus for staying focused in that way.”
Likewise, Jeffries told Vox that only a small minority of House Democrats are discussing impeachment, and that the vast majority of the caucus is behind Pelosi’s call not go down that road. The caucus remains focused on advancing issues like health care that helped Democrats reclaim the House majority in 2018, he added.
“The overwhelming majority of the House Democratic caucus fully embraces the notion that we promise to lower health care costs and protect people with preexisting conditions,” Jeffries said. “Those were the dominant issues of the 2018 midterm election.”
Cummings, the head of the House Oversight Committee, said he sees no point in jumping to conclusions on whether Trump should face impeachment.
“I get tired of people saying, ‘Oh, they’re going to run and the only thing they’re going to do is go after Trump,” Cummings said. “That’s not true! In my committee, we’re looking at things like prescription drugs. We’re looking at things like the census, voting rights, a lot of things.”