With just days to go before the Sept. 4 primary election, congressional candidates in Massachusetts are jumping on the impeachment bandwagon.
In a Globe survey conducted after the conviction and guilty plea of two top aides to President Trump, 8 of 31 candidates in primaries for the House said they believe he is guilty of an impeachable offense.
A larger number of the state’s congressional contenders — 14 Democrats — said they would vote to begin an impeachment investigation, but would reserve judgment about the president’s guilt or innocence until the House completed its work.
National Democratic Party leaders are discouraging any discussion of impeachment during the campaign season. They’re focused on winning back majorities in the House and Senate, and they fear that talk of throwing the president out of office could drive up Republican turnout in November, especially in swing districts.
Democrats in solidly blue Massachusetts, however, have less to fear from Republican rivals in November. So in a number of competitive primary races, Democratic challengers agitating for impeachment are using the issue to distinguish themselves, and to jab more circumspect opponents.
“If I were serving on a jury right now, I would say it’s beyond a reasonable doubt that Trump is unfit to be President. I don’t say this lightly,” video game entrepreneur Brianna Wu, who is challenging US Representative Stephen F. Lynch in the Eighth District, wrote in an e-mail.
In the nationally watched Democratic primary in the Boston-based Seventh District, the distinction between the candidates is subtle.
Boston City Councilor Ayanna Pressley says the president “gives us examples every single day of why he is unfit for office and ought to be impeached.”
Her opponent, incumbent Michael E. Capuano, notes that he has twice voted to begin impeachment proceedings against Trump, though both proposals failed to win a majority in the chamber. But Capuano said that he wasn’t prepared to say whether the president is guilty of any impeachable crimes until after any such hearings were held by the House.
“As a lawyer and someone who believes in the Constitution,” he said, “I would not convict anyone without a fair hearing.”
The House investigates alleged crimes by the president, then votes on whether to send the charges to the Senate for a trial. Bill Clinton was impeached by the House and acquitted by the Senate of charges of perjury and obstruction of justice.
US Representative Bill Keating, who represents much of the South Shore and the Cape, said he supports waiting for the completion of the Mueller investigation before the House takes any action. His challenger, environmental chemist Bill Cimbrelo, said there is already “ample evidence” Trump is violating the emoluments clause, a constitutional provision that bars presidents from being paid by foreign powers.
“In addition,” Cimbrelo said, Trump’s “actions, reactions and unpredictable behavior call into question his fitness for office. The 25th amendment clearly stipulates the conditions under which his removal is warranted.”
The Globe reached out to all candidates for Congress in Massachusetts in the days following the Aug. 21 conviction of Trump’s former campaign chairman, Paul Manafort, for financial crimes, and the guilty plea of his longtime fixer, attorney Michael Cohen, to charges of tax fraud, bank fraud, and campaign finance violations.
In a dramatic courtroom appearance, Cohen implicated Trump, saying the then-candidate ordered Cohen to pay hush money to two women he’d had affairs with, in the hope of influencing the election.
All of the candidates the Globe interviewed — Republicans and Democrats alike — agreed that before any impeachment proceedings, Mueller, the Office of the US Attorney for the Southern District of New York, and the New York State attorney general’s office should be given time to complete their investigations of Trump and his team.
The impeachment conversation is most intense in the messy contest for the Third District, where 10 Democrats and two Republicans are running for the retiring Representative Niki Tsongas’ seat.
In that Democratic primary race, eight of the 10 candidates said they were prepared to begin impeachment proceedings, and five say they already know how they’d vote at the end of any such process, citing what they see as obstruction of justice and other violations. The latter group includes Daniel Koh, Jeffrey Ballinger, Bopha Malone, former US ambassador Rufus Gifford, and state Representative Juana Matias.
Another Democrat in that primary contest, Barbara L’Italien of Andover, who stopped short of calling for an impeachment investigation when queried by the Globe, challenged the other contenders for the seat to sign a statement promising to protect Mueller’s investigation if Trump tries to fire him.
Democrats Ballinger, Gifford, Koh, Malone, and Republican primary candidate Mike Mullen have taken her up on her offer.
Backing impeachment may help little-known contenders make a name for themselves more effectively than touting wonky distinctions on health care or trade.
“It’s not surprising that the only candidates who are publicly advocating impeachment at this stage are Democrats in contested primaries, who think they can win some extra votes by trying to outflank their fellow party members in taking anti-Trump positions,” said Dave Hopkins, a Boston College political science professor. “But this is a case where the incentives of individual politicians don’t line up with the optimal strategy for the party as a whole.”
Nationally, Republicans have been eager to provoke the impeachment conversation as a way of showing that Democrats are not focused on actual issues, and as a way to excite the GOP base. Trump has fired up crowds at rallies by raising the specter of impeachment-minded Democrats. He mused about the effects of an administration change during an interview with Fox News last week.
“If I ever got impeached, I think the market would crash, I think everybody would be very poor,” Trump said.
Locally, however, Republican candidates for Congress seem less interested in having the conversation. None told the Globe they would vote for impeachment proceedings, but they all said they wanted the Mueller investigation to continue unimpeded. This is in contrast to many Republicans across the country who are calling for Mueller to be fired.
“Foreign interference in our elections cannot be tolerated,” said Republican businessman Joe Schneider, who is taking on incumbent Democrat Katherine Clark in the Fifth Congressional District. “As a member of Congress, I’ll follow the Constitution and take appropriate action against anyone — Republican or Democrat — who breaks the law and undermines the sanctity of our elections.”
Some of the Massachusetts Democratic candidates might take a tough stance on impeachment in the primary but pivot to other issues in the fall, Boston College’s Hopkins said.
“Even for most Democrats,” he said, “the Russia issue is not the main reason why they dislike Trump or why they are fired up to vote in November.”
James Pindell can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.