BURNSVILLE, Minn. — Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s comments this week ratcheted up the clamor from presidential candidates and House Democrats to begin impeachment proceedings against President Trump, but the din didn’t rattle Representative Angie Craig.
Hours after Mueller spoke about the Russia investigation, the first-term Democrat from the moderate Minneapolis suburbs sat down at a big square table in a beige conference room here, determined to hold a round table focused squarely on health care costs — not the I-word (impeachment), the O-word (obstruction), or even the T-word (Trump).
“If I’m just focused on issues, and not on politics, this is what we need to take on,” Craig told the gathering Wednesday.
She is among the vast majority of House Democrats who still are publicly backing Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s methodical approach to investigating Trump without yet beginning an impeachment inquiry — even after Mueller’s first public statement emphasized that he had not exonerated the president of obstruction charges, and seemingly suggested it was up to Congress to hold him accountable.
“We’re on the path to filling in the details,” Craig said in a brief interview, “so my position really hasn’t changed.”
About 40 House Democrats who are furious with Trump have publicly broken with Pelosi and called for impeachment proceedings to begin, with a few new converts, including Massachusetts Representative Jim McGovern, after Mueller spoke.
But even advocates of impeachment concede that the battle to open an inquiry is likely to hinge on red-to-blue districts like this one, a swath of suburbs and farmland south of the Twin Cities that Trump narrowly won in 2016 but swung to Democrats last year as they seized the House.
In most of those districts, which are the key for Democrats to keeping the House majority and possibly winning the presidency next year, the political dam has yet to break.
“The folks pushing for impeachment are stronger — it does remain to be seen whether that’s going to change Nancy Pelosi’s position,” said Ezra Levin, a cofounder of the national progressive group the Indivisible Project. “Whether or not that position shifts, I do think it’s going to be dependent on those districts.”
Political strategists say impeachment proceedings could alienate moderate to conservative voters whose support Democratic incumbents need to win reelection, although liberals have warned that not pursuing impeachment could demoralize the Democratic base.
So far, only a couple of the 43 Democrats who flipped Republican seats in the fall’s midterm election have called for the House to open an impeachment inquiry.
Privately, there’s a sense among some top Democrats that Mueller’s comments this week will shift momentum in favor of impeachment by strengthening the moral case to move forward. But for now, six weeks after the release of the Mueller report, Democrats remain deeply divided on a question that will shape their agenda in the House and the 2020 election.
The Twin Cities area illustrates this division. Ilhan Omar, who represents the safe Democratic seat in the Fifth District encompassing Minneapolis, has been a vocal advocate of impeachment. But a visit to the more politically moderate second district, just to the south, revealed fewer signs of impeachment fever, at least for now.
At two events Craig held this week — including a town hall on Tuesday where she took 14 questions on issues like health care, climate change, and immigration — impeachment barely came up, although she fielded questions on the issue at a town hall in April. Even Democratic activists interviewed in the district appeared to be approaching the issue with caution.
“I’m hungry for the truth to come out. I’m hungry for people to really be aware of what’s going on,” said Caren Gallagher, a Democratic activist with a network of local progressive groups called CD2 Action, who said she nevertheless trusted Craig’s position. “I also see a lot of bigger picture issues that you need to take into account.”
And next door, in Minnesota’s Third District — another formerly Republican seat that Democrats picked up in last year’s midterm elections — Representative Dean Phillips also said he is not ready to endorse an impeachment inquiry, but acknowledged his patience is wearing thin.
“If the president refuses to comply with a court order, that will move my needle,” Phillips said, although he added that the issue has not dominated his conversations with constituents. “It’s dominating cable news but it’s not dominating conversations in cul-de-sacs.”
That’s not to say there’s no pressure on moderate Democrats to join the calls. This week, groups like Need to Impeach organized dozens of visits to representatives’ offices, and Stand Up America said its members made nearly 18,000 calls to Congress on Tuesday and Wednesday alone.
Some freshman Democrats who represent swing districts acknowledge they are facing more pressure from their constituents to back an impeachment inquiry.
“It’s certainly a factor, because it used to be the other way around. We used to have more people saying, ‘Don’t impeach,’ ” said Katie Hill, a California Democrat, according to The Hill newspaper.
But for representatives like Craig, a call for impeachment would run counter to the strategy she is hoping will win her reelection — stressing bipartisanship and nuts-and-bolts issues like health care and constituent services.
“These aren’t places where [impeachment] will be helpful to the Democrats, because the more Democrats pursue it, the more the party is taking their eye off of regular people’s problems in the eyes of these voters,” said David Wasserman, who analyzes House races for the Cook Political Report.
A 47-year-old former medical device executive, Craig first ran for the seat in 2016 and lost to Republican talk show host Jason Lewis before defeating him by five points in 2018. Now, she touts her status as the only lesbian mom in Congress — Craig and her wife have four boys — and as a card-carrying member of a local gun club.
At a town hall held in a chapel in Northfield, Minn., this week, she talked up Democratic efforts to pass an anticorruption measure, and her own work on a bipartisan bill called the Local Water Protection Act.
Her most pointed allusion to the Trump administration came when she spoke of the effect Trump’s tariffs have had on farmers.
“We need adults in the room who know what the hell they’re doing on trade,” Craig said.
Although one voter, Jane Moline, 61, lightheartedly urged her to impeach Trump after the event, none of the 14 questions Craig heard from voters touched the issue — and she seemed to prefer it that way.
“I’m one of the 31 Democrats who currently hold seats that Donald Trump won across the country,” Craig said in an interview. “Since I started running, I’ve had to differentiate myself from my Republican opponent, and also some ideas that perhaps come from my own party.”
Several of the Democratic voters who came to the town hall said they, too, were leery about moving too quickly on impeachment.
Lorraine Rovig, a retiree who said she is a precinct chair in the local Democratic Farmer Labor party, said impeachment does not seem practical without more support from Republicans.
“I think we’ve got a lying bum in office, and I’d love to have him go away,” Rovig said. “I just don’t see a pathway to it right now, so let’s work on the other stuff.”