WASHINGTON — The day after former special counsel Robert Mueller’s long-awaited testimony, four more House members — including Massachusetts Representatives Katherine Clark and Lori Trahan — came out in favor of launching an impeachment inquiry into President Trump, despite resistance from party leaders.
Their announcements brought to nearly 100 the number of House Democrats who want to start impeachment proceedings. But that is still a minority of the 235 House Democrats.
The math means that, as lawmakers left Washington Thursday for a six-week recess, Mueller’s underwhelming performance had changed some lawmakers’ minds but had yet to produce the surge in support that many liberals hoped it would.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and many of her deputies have been resisting calls for impeachment out of fear that it will backfire politically given lukewarm public support and near solid Republican opposition.
“We do need to be realistic, and that is, the only way he’s leaving office, at least at this point, is by being voted out, and I think our efforts need to be made in every respect to make sure we turn out our people,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff, a close Pelosi ally, told CNN on Thursday. “Should we put the country through an impeachment? I haven’t been convinced yet that we should.”
The last hope for House Democrats pushing impeachment could be a groundswell of support from voters back home.
Representative Eric Swalwell of California predicted more House lawmakers would join him in favor of impeachment after taking the temperature of their constituents during the long summer break. “The way I see it is you’re not going to see fewer people calling for impeachment,” he said. “And no one who called for impeachment and then watched the hearing is going to say, ‘You know what — I made the wrong call.’ ”
Appearing before two committees Wednesday, Mueller confirmed he did not exonerate Trump of obstruction of justice after a two-year investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election. But Mueller did not deliver any new bombshells or viral moments — and as promised, he did not stray from the 448-page report he issued in April.
Still, Mueller’s testimony was enough for Trahan.
The Westford Democrat had already read the report. But she said Mueller’s testimony persuaded her to call for impeachment because he had made enough of a case to the public about potential obstruction of justice and confirmed that Trump had not been exonerated, countering the narrative from the president and administration officials.
“Delivering that message, which people just hadn’t received before, was important because you want impeachment proceedings to be self evident,” she said. “You want it to be where people understand what you’re doing is not a partisan thing.”
Trahan, who is in her first term, was a congressional staffer when President Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998, so she knows the disruption, distraction, and divisiveness that process can cause.
“There is a tremendous burden of history when you make decisions like this,” Trahan said in her Capitol Hill office Thursday. “But at the end of the day, we need to send a very clear and strong message that no president — not this one, not the next one — is above the law.”
Clark’s move was surprising because she serves in the House Democratic leadership. But while she said the ongoing investigations are laying the necessary groundwork to start an impeachment inquiry, she felt compelled to do more in the face of the Trump administration’s “unprecedented stonewalling and obstruction.”
The Melrose Democrat also said she was “stunned” when Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell, a Republican, blocked a vote on an election security bill Thursday after Mueller had warned Russia was still trying to interfere with US elections.
“We can’t allow Republican inaction to prop the door open for thieves to steal an election,” Clark said. “We must be relentless in exposing the truth, act to protect our national security, and ensure that every eligible American can vote without foreign interference.”
Democratic Representatives Peter DeFazio of Oregon and Lisa Blunt Rochester of Delaware also came out for impeachment after Mueller’s testimony.
The nine-member Massachusetts congressional delegation had been split on the issue. Six House members now have said they favor impeachment. Three — Representatives William Keating, Stephen Lynch, and Richard Neal — have not come out publicly for it.
Keating said Thursday that he was approaching the issue through the lens of a former prosecutor. The House oversight hearings of Trump so far have raised serious questions about financial entanglements, criminal fraud, and compromised government officials that still needed to be explored, Keating said.
“When a prosecutor would come to me and say, ‘We have enough to indict,’ I would sometimes say yes, and I would say sometimes say no,” the Bourne Democrat said. “We have more we have to gather.”
Massachusetts Senator Ed Markey also came out in favor of impeachment Thursday, joining his colleague Elizabeth Warren, who was the first major Democratic presidential candidate to make the call. Markey is facing primary challenges from two Democrats who have called for impeachment.
“Taken together, Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony and the president’s obstruction of the congressional investigation compel us to immediately begin a formal impeachment inquiry,” Markey said in a speech on the Senate floor.
But impeachment must start in the House, and there’s not even yet a majority of Democrats there who support it. A Washington Post/ABC News poll released this month showed 37 percent of adults wanted the House to start impeachment proceedings, while an NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll also released this month found 21 percent support from registered voters.
Political experts did not expect the Mueller testimony to move the needle much in terms of public opinion, pointing to polling data that show previous revelations from the Mueller investigation have not had an impact on Trump’s approval ratings.
“I think Democrats are trying to use the Mueller report to keep it in the public’s mind,” said Kyle Kondik, communications director for the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia.
The reaction came after House Democrats and Republicans on Wednesday painted opposing realities of Mueller and his testimony. Republicans characterized Mueller as unprepared and lacking a “firm grasp on the issues,” with House Intelligence member Devin Nunes referring to the second hearing as “the last gasp of the Russia collusion conspiracy theory.”
In her office on Thursday, Trahan said she felt relief in calling for impeachment — a decision she said was reinforced by the calls from constituents she has received.
“You want to work on all the things you campaigned on,” she said, as she rushed out for votes on the House floor. “At the same time, you are balancing that with protecting our democracy and standing up for what’s right. When they said that the job is not supposed to be easy, they are right.”