House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Financial Services Committee Chair Maxine Waters (D-CA) disagreed over the issue of impeachment at a closed-door meeting on congressional investigations Tuesday.
Waters, who has been a steady proponent of impeaching President Donald Trump, appealed to the rest of the caucus at the Tuesday meeting. She became the only committee chair so far to publicly encourage members of the caucus to impeach — a move directly at odds with Pelosi.
Waters’s stance represents the growing appetite among House Democrats to take stark action against Trump. There’s still disagreement on just how far to go — Waters advocated for impeachment, while others simply want to launch an impeachment inquiry. Pelosi reacted to Waters with a retort of her own, according to Rep. Gerry Connolly (D-VA).
“I think she replied, ‘So in other words, the committee work is working, and producing facts and lines of inquiry,’” Connolly said, adding, “It was taken in good spirit. We all understand there are different points of view and everyone should be respected.”
Leaving the meeting, Waters simply reinforced her point to reporters. “All I can tell you is I’m for impeachment, I’ve always been, I’ve never changed my mind,” Waters told reporters.
Pelosi spokesperson Ashley Etienne told Vox Wednesday’s meeting was not about impeachment, and said Pelosi and Waters did not disagree about impeachment during it.
“Any reports or suggestion that there was a disagreement between Speaker Pelosi and Chairwoman Waters about impeachment in Tuesday’s meeting is completely inaccurate,” Etienne said in a statement. “The meeting wasn’t about impeachment and the Speaker never raised the issue.”
The meeting came as conflicts between the White House and House Democrats are mounting. The White House has offered blanket refusal to subpoena inquiries, and Democrats are increasingly frustrated and strategizing their options. Pelosi and committee chairs besides Waters reminded the caucus Democrats have alternatives to an impeachment inquiry, and pointed to recent successes in their subpoena war with the Trump administration in the courts. Pelosi’s statement after the meeting made no mention of her exchange with Waters, and focused largely on Democrats’ recent success in the courts.
“We do believe it’s important to follow the facts, we believe that no one is above the law, including the president of the United States, and we believe that the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up,” Pelosi said.
Members of the House Judiciary Committee have joined calls for an impeachment inquiry — as have some moderates in conservative districts.
“We’ve got to do something,” said Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-NJ), a first-termer facing a tough reelection in a conservative New Jersey district. While Malinowski didn’t definitively say whether he was in favor of launching an impeachment inquiry, he talked about the situation gravely.
“We have to figure out what the right thing is, and if at the end of the day we do our duty and the Senate doesn’t, the shame will be on the other side,” Malinowski said.
Pelosi is trying to hold the line as impeachment inquiry talk ramps up
The past few days have seen a growing number of members talking about an impeachment inquiry more seriously than they have in the past.
It’s important to note this is not the same thing as launching articles of impeachment; inquiry proponents argue it’s another tool Congress can use to hold the Trump administration accountable as the White House has fought to block congressional subpoenas at every turn.
Whereas the impeachment inquiry conversation used to focus more on Russia and the Mueller report, it has now turned to questions of Trump’s conduct in declaring war on Congress — suing to block their subpoenas and refusing to produce witnesses and documents. Democrats in favor of an inquiry say the president has pushed too far and Congress must show strength in return.
“I think we have to,” said Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-PA), the vice chair of the House Judiciary Committee. “I think we’re at an inflection point. We’re no longer just dealing with a president who obstructed the Mueller inquiry. He’s now obstructing Congress at every turn, including telling witnesses who no longer work for the government that they cannot speak about public documents.”
Other Democrats said they believe an impeachment inquiry would set a bad precedent for Congress in the future. Connolly, who supports using other tools like inherent contempt or fines for noncompliance with subpoenas, told reporters he’s afraid future congressional committees would have to open an impeachment inquiry every time they wanted to get information from future administrations.
“We’re foolish not to use it,” Connolly told Vox. “I think it certainly would go a long way reminding everybody that Congress has great powers at its command if it chooses to use them. Certainly, it would be a reassuring message to our base that we’re not going to roll over and play dead.”
Scanlon told Vox she understands the reticence around an impeachment inquiry among leadership and the caucus, especially moderates in tough districts. She herself is at an interesting nexus; she’s a first-term Democrat who flipped a longtime conservative Pennsylvania district blue in 2018 after it was redistricted, so she understands the concerns of more moderate members.
But she said the administration’s conduct has gone too far.
“This is not something that anyone wants to do, but we have an administration that’s out of control, and I just feel we no longer have a choice,” she told Vox.
And other moderate members who are hesitant to say they are backing an impeachment inquiry right now are still keeping their options open in the future.
“I think we’re seeing the drumbeat moving more in that direction, the more he defies us, the more it’s becoming an inevitability, but I don’t think the caucus as a whole is there yet,” said Rep. Katie Hill (D-CA).
Update: This piece was updated to add a statement from Pelosi spokesperson Ashley Etienne.