A “blue wave” swept Democrats into the House during the 2018 midterm elections, and now that they’re there, a new poll shows that most Americans want them to do one of the main things they said they would: investigate President Donald Trump.
According to an ABC News/Washington Post poll published Sunday, six in 10 responders think Democrats should use their congressional authority to obtain and release Trump’s tax returns. Similar numbers of respondents support investigations into three other areas: possible collusion in the 2016 election, Trump’s ties with Vladimir Putin, and Trump’s possible financial connections with foreign governments.
Democrats campaigned on calling for investigations like these. With a Republican-controlled Senate and a president uninterested in or openly opposing the left’s agenda, the new House majority is legislatively “hamstrung,” Vox’s Ella Nilsen notes. Investigations are a way for House Democrats to claim their power through 2020:
The area where Democrats may have the most power in the next Congress is investigations. With Republicans in the Senate and White House, Democrats ultimately don’t have a lot of power to pass policy — but they do have the power to subpoena the president.
According to the ABC/Post poll, Americans want to see this happen. Amid a government shutdown and border security gridlock, Republicans are appearing weaker and weaker. And scandals touching the White House, such as Roger Stone’s indictment last week, could also increase support for Democrats to hold the Trump administration accountable. Democrats would also politically benefit from investigations, making the party look like a united front, Nilsen reports.
So it’s unsurprising that support for the investigations differs along party lines, with the strongest support for releasing the president’s tax returns found among liberals (84 percent) and moderates (65 percent). But the poll, conducted January 21-24, with a margin of error of 3.5 points, found 39 percent of conservatives would approve of publishing them.
Other important issues the House is likely to investigate include Jared Kushner’s security clearances and business ties; the Trump administration’s use of private emails; the response to Hurricane Maria in Puerto Rico; the family separation policy; and the Affordable Care Act.
Ideally, Democrats are hoping they come out of these investigations having made the impression they’re ready to govern after the 2020 elections.
But what about impeachment?
When asked whether they think Democrats will go too far investigating Trump, 46 percent of poll respondents agreed. But does “too far” mean impeachment? If so, questioning the president’s fitness for office could unravel, rather than unite, the party.
Only 40 percent of poll respondents supported impeachment proceedings against Trump, and the majority of those who endorsed it were Democrats. The party is walking a fine line when it comes to declaring Trump unfit for office, with most lawmakers saying they should wait for the results of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into the 2016 election. Vox’s Andrew Prokop has more:
The prevailing sentiment among elected Democrats has been quite skeptical of impeachment. Perhaps a few dozen of the 235 House Democrats have said they are in favor. And even some of those supporters don’t talk about it very often — like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who prefers to talk policy and ideology — or have shifted to a “let’s wait for Mueller” position.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi strongly disputed first-term Rep. Rashida Tlaib’s (D-MI) call to “impeach the motherfucker,” and reaffirmed the party would not make decisions ahead of Mueller’s report.
But waiting could have consequences, too. The more time Democrats spend trying to push bills through the Senate, the fewer chances they have to impeach Trump before election season is in full swing and other issues take priority. Right now, Democrats don’t know what the report could contain and whether they’d even have a case, Prokop writes:
A Mueller report has seemed to be the one thing most likely to shake up the current political equilibrium. If the special counsel has amassed a great deal of genuinely damning evidence against Trump, the political feasibility of impeachment could change very quickly. Those with objections to impeachment on the merits could be won over. It also may grant a hypothetical eventual impeachment more legitimacy, since the precipitating determinations will be made by nonpartisan prosecutors, not elected partisans.
Impeachment is tricky business. In the case of Bill Clinton, Prokop reports that impeachment actually splintered the GOP, and they lost seats in the following midterms. Democrats today risk the same fate, if Sunday’s poll is any indication.