The most intriguing political conflict of the moment is playing out in real time, right in our own congressional delegation.
Representatives Katherine Clark and Ayanna Pressley, both rising stars in the Democratic Party, have decidedly different opinions on whether the House should launch impeachment proceedings against President Trump.
How those differences play out — Clark is generally cautious about proceedings and Pressley is all in — will determine the state of politics for the next two years, and, quite possibly, who wins the White House in 2020.
The subject came up when the two were in the South End Tuesday for a press conference to tout a new bill aimed at combating sexual harassment in the workplace.
Clark, a Melrose Democrat, eagerly fielded my question. She insisted that, in the wake of the report by Special Counsel Robert Mueller, the House is determined to get to the bottom of any malfeasance in the White House. Once that’s done, the House can go from there.
“The House is going to keep pushing,” she said. “We’re going to continue to push for answers.” Former White House counsel Donald McGahn has been subpoenaed to testify before Congress, she pointed out, and Mueller himself — the elusive one — is expected to eventually appear on Capitol Hill as well.
But does any of that mean Trump will be impeached?
On that point, Clark demurred.
“We will see where the facts lead us,” she said. “I don’t think impeachment should be a political decision. I don’t think deciding not to impeach should be a political decision either.” In essence, Clark echoed the sentiments of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi: Let’s all slow down. Let’s not rush into anything.
As Clark spoke, the usually voluble Pressley looked on a bit uncomfortably, but didn’t say anything. A few minutes later, an aide said Pressley wanted to address the question. “She has a different take on impeachment,” he said.
Indeed she does. Like many of her progressive colleagues, Pressley supports impeachment — the sooner the better.
“I do believe that there are grounds,” Pressley told me. “Although large swaths of the report are redacted, what is unredacted does make the case for obstruction of justice, for witness tampering, and suppressing the independent investigation from happening in the first place. I think that there is so much that has happened in the light of day that it certainly gives you great pause about what is happening in the dark.”
But what of Mueller’s much-debated demurral on the question of whether Trump obstructed justice?
“I think that Mueller is a by-the-book guy, a constitutionalist, who really is giving Congress the runway as a co-equal branch of government to assume its role, which is why he neither exonerated nor indicted,” said Pressley, a Boston Democrat.
Pressley stressed that her position had not been arrived at lightly. “This is not anything that we’re entering into casually or cavalierly,’’ she said. “I didn’t arrive at that decision in that way at all.”
Both Clark and Pressley made the point that the House has a full agenda of other issues before it, and is determined to pursue that agenda. Both spoke of Congress working on “parallel tracks” — one track being all things Trump, the other track being the range of other issues that affect the lives of all the people who elected them.
It’s good to know that Congress doesn’t intend to suspend all other business while it probes foreign influence in our elections, Trump’s finances, and the various attempts to impede any investigation of same.
But there’s a basic tension between those who believe pursuing impeachment is a misguided idea — at least politically — and those who believe the evidence already presented demands it. No happy talk about “parallel tracks” can obscure that this is a House fundamentally divided.
I asked Pressley if it matters to her that the Republican-controlled Senate would almost certainly refuse to remove Trump, under any circumstances.
“We put forward legislation every day . . . in the best interests of the American people,” she said. “And we are not optimistic that the Senate will take it up. There’s good legislation that’s piling up over there that they haven’t acted on. But that doesn’t mean that we’re not going to do our job.”
There are strong arguments for and against aggressively pursuing impeachment. Congress might well be better served by using its authority to investigate Trump like crazy. That course of action wouldn’t allow Trump to prevail in a Senate trial and claim — as he surely would — vindication. In the midst of a presidential election, at that.
But there’s an equally strong case that Congress has an obligation to hold a president accountable for clear-cut misconduct. It’s not hard to understand why some members despise the idea that impeachment should be off the table simply because Trump’s Republican enablers would ultimately protect him.
“What we all want is to restore people’s faith in government and their trust,” Pressley said. “We might have different ideas about tactically how to get there, or sequentially how to get there.”
Where the Mueller report once promised clarity, it has instead delivered division. Even in the most solidly Democratic delegation that exists.