The 2020 Democrats remained firmly united on impeachment during this week’s debate, repeatedly calling President Donald Trump the “most corrupt president in modern history.”
Tuesday’s debate was the first to take place after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the beginning of a formal impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump this past September, and it focused heavily on Democrats’ commitment to the effort.
At this point, there’s universal support across the Democratic field in favor of an impeachment inquiry, though candidates are a bit more divided when it comes to pushing for the president’s ultimate removal — a trend reflected among Americans as a whole. Sen. Michael Bennet has argued that House Democrats need to proceed cautiously, for example, while Sen. Kamala Harris has said she doesn’t think the impeachment process will take very long, given Trump’s public statements calling on foreign governments to investigate a 2020 rival.
Pelosi had previously been hesitant to open an impeachment inquiry due to concerns that it would fire up Trump’s base, and endanger House members in more moderate districts. Many presidential candidates, meanwhile, have been out front on calls for an inquiry since special counsel Robert Mueller revealed the findings of his report on Russian interference this past spring. That’s included some of the top-polling contenders, like Sen. Elizabeth Warren.
The furor over a July phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, when he asked for help investigating Hunter Biden, seems to have united the party on the issue. Perhaps unsurprisingly, it’s even brought former Vice President Joe Biden along. Though he didn’t join the impeachment calls when the whistleblower’s story broke, he did, eventually, announce his support for impeachment, and began joking, “I may be the last guy that publicly called for impeachment, but I’m the only reason there is impeachment going on.”
Here are where the 19 Democrats still currently in the race stand on impeachment, starting with the 12 taking the debate stage Tuesday night outside Columbus, Ohio:
Former Vice President Joe Biden
The impeachment inquiry centers on Trump’s push to have Biden investigated. As news of a whistleblower’s allegations against the president came out, Biden did not call for impeachment, but instead demanded Trump release a transcript of his call with Zelensky. He did, eventually, announce his support for impeachment, and began joking, “I may be the last guy that publicly called for impeachment, but I’m the only reason there is impeachment going on.” In a speech in October, he formally backed impeachment, comparing Trump to a Nazi propagandist and calling him a man who “betrayed this nation:”
To preserve our Constitution, our democracy, our basic integrity, he should be impeached.
At the debate, Biden added that the president’s refusal to cooperate with the House’s investigations means lawmakers now “have no choice but to move” forward with the inquiry.
Sen. Cory Booker
Booker argued that impeachment proceedings were necessary after findings from Mueller’s report were revealed this past May, and he’s since said an inquiry would be vital to pursue even with an election taking place next year. Booker has also suggested that impeachment could wind up picking up bipartisan support:
“I swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution. I didn’t swear an oath to protect and defend the Constitution unless there’s an election coming up.” (NPR)
“And I think that we are just on the foothills of a mountain of evidence that will come out in the coming days and weeks, and I have faith at the end of the day, knowing a lot of my colleagues like I do, that some of them will have the courage to stand up and do the right thing at the right time.” (Politico)
South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg
Buttigieg noted earlier this spring that Trump “deserves impeachment,” though he did not call on Congress to begin such proceedings. He’s also previously said that removing Trump at the “ballot box” would be more effective since a Republican Senate is unlikely to impeach the president. After the House launched its formal inquiry, Buttigieg expressed his support in a tweet: “This is a moment of truth. This isn’t just about this president. This is about the American presidency — and we need to draw the line.”
And during the October debate, he said:
The president has left Congress with no choice. This is about holding the president accountable. For not just things emerging in these investigations, but actions he confessed to on television. It’s about the presidency itself. A president ten years or 100 years from now will look back at this moment and draw the conclusion, either that no one is above the law or that a president can get away with anything.
Former HUD Secretary Julián Castro
Castro has been a firm proponent of impeachment, and was one of the earliest to back it this past April. As he made clear in a recent NPR interview, he’s not just behind the inquiry, he also favors the “removal” of President Donald Trump:
“I believe that the best thing for the country would be not only impeachment but removal.”
Sen. Kamala Harris
Harris called for impeachment in April after the release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian election interference, and she’s reiterated this push amid the fallout from Trump’s phone call with Zelensky.
Most recently, Harris offered a prediction for how long the impeachment process would potentially take, while speaking at a United Food and Commercial Workers candidate forum. She argued that Trump’s public statements about Ukraine and China would make the process go a whole lot faster:
We’ve got a confession. And it don’t take a prosecutor to see that was a confession.
When people say, “How long do you think this impeachment process is going to be?” Well, it shouldn’t take very long, because, I mean, he did it out in the open.
Rep. Tulsi Gabbard
Gabbard supports an impeachment inquiry, but was one of the last of the 2020 candidates to do so. Following the release of the White House’s memo recalling a conversation in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe and Hunter Biden, Gabbard told the Hill, “I’m not a lawyer, but I think most people reading through that transcript are not going to find that extremely compelling cause to throw out a president that won an election in 2016,” arguing that the impeachment process would only worsen “the already hyperpartisan divides that we have in this country.”
By the end of September, she had changed her mind:
Up to this point, I have been opposed to pursuing impeachment because it will further divide our already badly divided country. However, after looking carefully at the transcript of the conversation with Ukraine’s president, the whistle-blower complaint, the inspector general memo and President Trump’s comments about the issue, unfortunately, I believe that if we do not proceed with the inquiry, it will set a very dangerous precedent.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar
Klobuchar had typically responded to questions of impeachment by reminding those asking she was a senator and that impeachment begins in the House of Representatives: “If the House brings the impeachment proceedings before us, we will deal with them,” she said during a CNN town hall in April. House lawmakers have not yet sent their decision on impeachment to the Senate, but have begun an inquiry, which the senator said in September she supports:
Yesterday, the House of Representatives announced the start of an impeachment inquiry into the President and his actions while in office and I called for and support that proceeding. The President has violated the public’s trust. We have a responsibility to the American people to hold the President accountable and protect the United States and our constitution.
Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke
While running for the Texas Senate last year, O’Rourke said he’d vote in favor of impeaching Trump if he won a seat in the upper chamber. He’s been consistent with this stance, and continues to back an impeachment inquiry in the House:
”It has to transcend what is good or bad for the Democratic Party. This has to be about what is good for this country.”
“If we don’t call this for what it is, if we’re not honest with ourselves and the American public, then we will have condoned this behavior, and we are complicit in the outcome, which is the loss of this democracy.”
Sen. Bernie Sanders
Sanders first began to call for an impeachment inquiry last summer, and had said he’d been reticent to do so before over concerns impeachment proceedings would energize Trump’s base, keep lawmakers from working on legislation, and would ultimately fail given the GOP’s control of the Senate. An inquiry, he said in June, was necessary “to determine whether or not Trump has committed impeachable offenses.” The senator has continued to express the potential perils of impeachment, but said in September:
We appear to have a president who, unbelievably, may have used security funds designed to protect the security of the people of the United States as a means to gain political dirt on an opponent. These are just some of the issues — and there are more — that the Judiciary Committee of the US House of Representatives must investigate as part of an impeachment inquiry. ... Enough is enough.
And at the October debate, he predicted the House of Representatives will impeach Trump: “I think that the House will find him guilty of — worthy of impeachment because of the emoluments clause.”
Entrepreneur Tom Steyer
Before he was a candidate for president, billionaire activist Tom Steyer funded the organization Need to Impeach and spent millions on pro-impeachment ads. He argued the Mueller report’s findings were grounds for impeachment, and has made his support for the impeachment inquiry clear, tweeting in September:
Two years ago, we began a movement to hold this lawless, criminal president accountable. We are finally at a watershed moment. The beginning of an official impeachment inquiry is the beginning of taking our democracy back. ... Impeachment has always been about what is right and the pursuit of the truth. When we stand up for what is right, we are doing our moral duty as citizens.
Sen. Elizabeth Warren
Warren became one of the first 2020 presidential candidates — along with Julián Castro — to call for impeachment in April, following the release of the Mueller report. “The severity of this misconduct demands that elected officials in both parties set aside political considerations and do their constitutional duty,” Warren wrote at that time. “That means the House should initiate impeachment proceedings against the President of the United States.”
After House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the start of the impeachment inquiry, Warren told a crowd in New Hampshire:
As we now know, if Congress does not hold this man accountable, then he will break the law again and again and again. It is time for impeachment now. I am glad to see that the House has stepped up and I hope we do this quickly.
The senator echoed this point during the October debate:
Impeachment is the way that we establish that this man will not be permitted to break the law over and over without consequences. This is about Donald Trump. But understand, it’s about the next president and the next president and the next president and the future of this country. The impeachment must go forward.
Entrepreneur Andrew Yang
As support for impeachment grew in April, Yang suggested the best way to remove Trump from office was for a Democrat — ideally him — to beat the president during the 2020 election. Following Pelosi’s announcement of an impeachment inquiry, he maintained that this was the most likely way Trump would be pushed from the White House, arguing there isn’t enough Republican support in the Senate for the president’s removal. However, he wrote on Twitter:
Given the President’s latest actions I think impeachment is the right path forward. Asking foreign leaders for political help in return for aid and then suppressing your own agency’s inquiry is egregious. There have to be limits and Congress is right to act. ... Sometimes you do the right thing independent of politics.
Among candidates who did not make October’s debate stage, all have thrown their backing behind Pelosi’s decision, though lawmakers like Bennet have been slightly more circumspect in advocating for Trump’s removal.
Sen. Michael Bennet
Bennet has said for now, he only supports an impeachment inquiry, and has said his position as a senator who could be involved in a potential Trump trial and his membership on the Senate Intelligence Committee means he has to carefully examine the evidence as it comes, while reserving judgment:
I support the decision to open an impeachment inquiry. As a member of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, I will continue to exercise my role in conducting oversight and uncovering the facts. We need to ensure that the Congress has access to the whistleblower’s complaint and that the whistleblower is protected to the full extent of the law.
Gov. Steve Bullock
Bullock has said his previous hesitancy to support an impeachment inquiry came from his conversations with voters — he came away from those feeling the general public was not yet behind an inquiry. Recent polls have shown that has changed, and with party leaders backing the inquiry, Bullock is now on board:
When you literally have the president withheld money to Ukraine, who asked the Ukrainian President, ‘Hey, do us a favor,’ when it comes to Joe Biden, when you had him directing the Ukrainian president to work with his personal lawyer and the AG and then try to cover it up, I think this impeachment inquiry has to go forward.
Former Rep. John Delaney
Delaney had previously refrained from taking a position on impeachment, though he’s since supported an inquiry after revelations about the Ukraine phone call emerged. In the wake of Pelosi’s announcement, he vocalized his support in a tweet:
Impeachment is a political process, which has historically been divisive and difficult on the morale of the country. It is a path no American, regardless of party, celebrates the country pursuing. Speaker Pelosi has exercised extremely good judgment on this question thus far, and I agree with her decision today to move forward with an official impeachment inquiry.
Rep. Tim Ryan
Ryan was not on board with impeachment until early June, when he said it was getting “harder and harder” for the party to avoid opening an impeachment inquiry. His statement following the Zelensky call offered strong backing for Pelosi’s decision:
“President Trump is a mobster. We must impeach.”
Mayor Wayne Messam
Messam said his piece on impeachment in response to the Mueller report, and wrote on Twitter in September, “Many folks continue to demand impeachment proceedings for [President Donald Trump], I’m on record as well.” In April, he said:
Based on what is available I believe the President should be placed under impeachment proceedings and let the weight of the full report carry out the justice the American people deserve.
Former Rep. Joe Sestak
Unlike most of the field, Sestak was not in the race when the Mueller report was released, but in the days following the launch of the impeachment inquiry, has made it clear he stands with Pelosi:
I think when the commander in chief who occupies the presidency reaches out to a foreign leader and invites him to actually violate the most sacred sanctity of America, fair and free elections, there is an obligation upon the Congress to follow its constitutional duty, investigate it and if it bears out that the evidence is pretty compelling and conclusive that he did that, then they must proceed with impeachment.
Writer Marianne Williamson
Like some of her rivals, like Sanders and Gabbard, Williamson had been hesitant to fully endorse an impeachment inquiry ahead of the Ukraine scandal for fear doing so would allow Trump to “make himself look like a victim.” The release of documents such as the White House’s memo on Trump’s call with Zelensky changed her calculus, however:
The Founders established the power of impeachment to protect our democracy at such a time as this. They did their part. It is time for us to do ours. ... It is with no pleasure that I support the opening of a formal inquiry into the impeachment of the president. It is, however, with a deep belief that it is the right thing to do.