Should we all just throw away our impeachment position trackers?

Tracking support for an impeachment inquiry no longer relevant since Judiciary panel claims one’s underway

Protesters gather in front of the White House for a rally and candlelight vigil on July 18, 2018. The protest was one of more than 100 events around the country following a dozen indictments in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia probe. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Protesters gather in front of the White House for a rally and candlelight vigil on July 18, 2018. The protest was one of more than 100 events around the country following a dozen indictments in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s Russia probe. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call file photo)
Posted August 23, 2019 at 5:00am

ANALYSIS — Several news outlets, including CQ Roll Call, have kept tallies of the House Democrats who have called for impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump for months. It may be time to throw them out.

The media lists of Democrats who support an impeachment inquiry — counts vary slightly by news outlet — are effectively meaningless now that Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler and other senior Democrats say his panel’s investigation into Trump’s alleged misdeeds is equivalent to one.

The House is arguing in court — with Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s blessing — that the Judiciary Committee is actively considering articles of impeachment against Trump. And there is no reason to believe the House will ever hold a floor vote to open a more formal impeachment inquiry into Trump.

At this point, the media is tracking information that is no longer relevant. The more pertinent question is how many Democrats would actually vote for articles of impeachment against Trump?

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None of the existing media trackers directly answer that question because they include Democrats who support an impeachment inquiry but have not yet drawn conclusions about where such proceedings would lead.

Why the trackers started

The impeachment trackers popped up in late May amid a flood of Democrats calling for an impeachment inquiry as the White House indicated it would not cooperate with the congressional investigations into Trump.

That first spike of support came after the administration ordered former White House counsel Don McGahn not to testify before the Judiciary Committee, saying he has “absolute immunity” and is not legally required to comply with a congressional subpoena.

Then came other inflection points: former special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s first public statement about his work on May 29, Trump’s June 12 interview with ABC saying he’d accept campaign opposition research from a foreign government, a July 17 House vote to table Rep. Al Green’s articles of impeachment and Mueller’s congressional testimony on July 24.

The list of impeachment inquiry supporters grew in all those instances as most reporters tracked the number of Democrats who, if faced with a floor vote on opening formal impeachment proceedings, would vote “yes.”

But then, two days after Mueller testified, Judiciary Democrats flipped the script, arguing in a court filing and press conference that their probe into Trump was effectively an impeachment inquiry.

Still, more Democrats continued to put out statements expressing their support for an impeachment inquiry — few of which mentioned Judiciary Democrats’ claim that one had already begun.

On Aug. 1, as the number of House Democrats publicly supporting an impeachment inquiry reached half of their 235-member caucus, several media outlets framed it as a big story. But by that point, the support for an impeachment inquiry no longer carried the same weight.

Florida Rep. Ted Deutch, whom this and other outlets counted as the 118th supporter, couched his position that way.

“I support an impeachment inquiry. We don’t need a House vote. We are already in one,” the Judiciary member tweeted with a link to an op-ed further articulating his thoughts on the matter.

Nadler further clarified in a CNN interview on Aug. 8 that he views the committee’s ongoing investigation as equivalent to a formal impeachment inquiry.

“This is formal impeachment proceedings,” the New York Democrat said. “We are investigating all the evidence, we’re gathering the evidence, and we will at the conclusion of this — hopefully by the end of the year — vote articles of impeachment to the House floor or we won’t.”

Positions muddled

Since then the impeachment inquiry supporters’ positions have become muddled.

Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot L. Engel, whose committee is one of six with ongoing investigations into Trump and his administration, put out a statement July 30 saying, “I believe the House must pursue a formal impeachment inquiry.”

A few reporters caught up with the New York Democrat in the Capitol after an unrelated press event Aug. 13, and CQ Roll Call asked whether he thinks the House needs to vote to establish a formal inquiry or whether the Judiciary probe amounts to one. 

“I don’t know. I’d be open to either way,” Engel said. 

Democrats who have put out statements in recent days have been careful to note that they support the Judiciary Committee’s inquiry — shying away from any calls for more action than what is already taking place.

“The prospect of impeaching a president is not something I take lightly. The power to remove a public official from office is one of the most significant constitutional powers held by Congress, and it must be reserved only for extraordinary circumstances,” Rep. Jim Langevin said in a video message posted on Twitter on Wednesday.

“After careful reflection and interaction with my constituents, I now believe the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment inquiry into President Trump’s actions is necessary to gather the evidence Congress needs to make this critical determination,” the Rhode Island Democrat added. 

Illinois Rep. Lauren Underwood, a freshman who is considered vulnerable for reelection in 2020, noted in a statement Tuesday that she has long supported “the impeachment-related investigation by Chairman Nadler and the others being pursued by five other committee chairs.” 

She went on to mention the Judiciary Committee’s July 26 court petition for the grand jury information that was redacted from Mueller’s report and its citation that the committee is investigating whether to recommend articles of impeachment — essentially an impeachment inquiry.

“I support this investigation,” Underwood said.

Iowa Rep. Cindy Axne, another vulnerable Democrat who had yet to call for impeachment proceedings, made a similar comment during an interview with CQ Roll Call last week.

“I think we’re seeing more people who believe that it’s time to move forward in that direction,” she said when asked if her position on impeachment has changed. “And I’m in full support of Rep. Nadler’s Judiciary inquiry.”

Most of the 100 some Democrats who have yet to call for impeachment proceedings have said at some point over the past few months that they support the six House committee investigations.

So with Nadler now calling his panel’s investigation an impeachment inquiry, should the media trackers count all those Democrats as supporting impeachment proceedings?

Given how confusing and irrelevant the impeachment inquiry has become, we should all just agree to stop counting.

Let’s focus instead on which Democrats would vote to impeach Trump. Because that’s the real number that will influence Pelosi to call a vote.

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.