Rep. Al Green has been trying for nearly two years to get his Democratic colleagues to start down the path of impeaching President Trump. He finally got his way — though the reasons now look far different than those the Texan laid out in his first attempt.
Then, it was over the president’s words after the 2017 racially charged violence in Charlottesville that Mr. Green took to the House floor and was roundly defeated.
Democrats have since tested out impeachment over Russian “collusion,” then impeachment for Mr. Trump’s attempts to hinder the Russia probe, then the president’s phone call trying to rope Ukraine’s president into investigating former Vice President Joseph R. Biden.
Now, in the latest iteration, Democratic leaders say Mr. Trump’s efforts to stymy that Ukraine probe could be grounds for impeachment on its own.
“I think it’s been everything and anything they think they can throw against the wall and make stick,” said Samuel Dewey, a lawyer at McDermott Will and Emery who used to lead congressional investigations. “I think there’s been a rush to take anything they remotely think is negative and turn it into an impeachment posture.”
Democrats, though, counter that it’s Mr. Trump who keeps giving them ammunition, making it impossible for them to duck their duty to the Constitution.
“We see a growing body of evidence that shows that President Trump abused his office and violated his oath to ‘protect, preserve and defend the Constitution,’” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in a statement this week, as she inched closer to pulling the trigger on impeachment.
It’s a major evolution from the early days when Mr. Green’s push was marginal.
The vote on his first impeachment resolution, accusing Mr. Trump of racism, drew support from just 58 members in December 2017. A do-over vote a month later earned 66 members’ backing. And a final attempt this July was backed by just 95 members.
But things were beginning to move on another track.
In March Rep. Rashida Tlaib, joined by Mr. Green, introduced a resolution calling for an impeachment inquiry into Mr. Trump over the Russia probe. Special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, released to the public in April, fueled the effort, and by the time Mr. Mueller publicly testified in July, support for an inquiry reached the 100 mark among House Democrats.
It stalled there as lawmakers went back home for a lengthy summer vacation, and Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged them to focus on legislation rather than impeachment politics.
Even still, House Democrats began to argue to federal courts that they were already in the midst of an impeachment inquiry, despite the lack of an approval-resolution from the full House.
Congress returned to Washington last month with a new gift from Mr. Trump — the phone call with President Volodymyr Zelensky, where Mr. Trump pressed for an investigation into Mr. Biden, a 2020 Democratic presidential frontrunner, and his son Hunter.
Citing that phone call, Mrs. Pelosi announced in late September that the House was now officially engaged in an impeachment inquiry, and told committee chairs to pursue the matter wherever it led. This week she called Mr. Trump’s efforts to hinder the probe “unlawful,” and suggested the case for impeachment is growing.
“The White House should be warned that continued efforts to hide the truth of the president’s abuse of power from the American people will be regarded as further evidence of obstruction,” she said.
She’s gotten buy-in from across her party.
Even those who’d been early backers of impeachment over other issues, such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, say they’re comfortable with Mrs. Pelosi choosing to take a stand on the Ukraine matter.
“I think it’s definitely understandable as the right approach because the Ukraine complaint is arguably the complaint that unites the majority of the members of the caucus,” the New York Democrat told The Washington Times.
Mr. Green, the early ringleader for impeachment, didn’t respond to inquiries from The Times, but he told Democracy Now in an interview that Mrs. Pelosi’s reversal is “vindication” of his efforts.
“We need 218 people to impeach. And I think we’ve reached critical mass,” he said.
Jennifer Victor, a politics professor at George Mason University, said that before the Ukraine revelations, impeachment was chiefly backed by Democrats with very liberal pedigrees from solidly blue House districts.
“They were all moving at a relatively glacial pace, and it didn’t seem like the temperature was changing at all,” she said.
Ukraine “tipped the scales,” she said.
Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, told The Times that Mrs. Pelosi may have been reluctant to pursue impeachment over Russia because of what it could mean in an eventual impeachment trial in the Senate, opening the door to Mr. Trump creating a spectacle by challenging the origins of the Russia probe.
Limiting impeachment to Ukraine could still put Mr. Biden in an embarrassing position, but it would spare other Obama administration officials from having to explain their involvement in accusing Mr. Trump of conspiring with Russian interference in the 2016 presidential elections — a charge the special counsel’s report shot down.
Republican strategist Ford O’Connell said Democrats have treated impeachment as a “prerogative” ever since the 2016 election and the first Russian-interference allegations. An ability to do something about it, though, became a reality when they retook control of the House in the 2018 election.
Mr. Trump and the White House see the evolution of the impeachment push as the latest iteration in attempts to undo his surprise victory in the 2016 election.
“The Greatest Witch Hunt in the history of the USA!” Mr. Trump tweeted, using the same words to describe the Ukraine probe as he used to attack the Russia investigation.
Polling shows support for impeachment has grown since Mrs. Pelosi announced the official inquiry, though most of those gains appear to be among Democratic voters who had been opposed, but are now on board.
Mr. O’Connell said things could change if the House takes the next step and actually votes on articles of impeachment. The White House this week all but dared Mrs. Pelosi to do just that — telling her they would refuse to cooperate with subpoenas unless there was a formal vote authorizing the impeachment investigation.
Mr. O’Connell warned that a vote like that carried political risks for both sides, but thinks it could turn out well if persuadable voters side with Mr. Trump.