On Tuesday afternoon, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced her plans to open an official impeachment inquiry of President Trump. Although she and others in House leadership positions have resisted opening formal impeachment proceedings for months, a deluge of new calls from more moderate members of her party may have cemented her decision to move forward.
From ABC News:
More than two-thirds of the Democratic caucus now favor beginning an impeachment investigation in response to allegations that Trump attempted to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden, and may have threatened to withhold foreign aid.
This is a huge change from the end of July, when we last checked in on where impeachment stood among House Democrats. At that point, just a few days after special counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony before two House committees about his investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 campaign, 109 Democrats were in support of impeachment. Granted, more than half of House Democrats have been in favor of impeachment since early August, but that number has now risen to 179, according to the New York Times,1 which means a solid majority of the Democratic caucus now supports impeachment.
Of course, a lot could depend on how the next few days unfold — in particular, whether the White House turns over the transcript of Trump’s July 25 call with Zelensky or the whistleblower complaint (which the administration has so far refused to share with Congress, despite a subpoena). After all, some moderates have hedged saying they’d support impeachment if the allegations prove true. But if the accusations against Trump are borne out, the remaining Democratic holdouts could face increasing pressure to support the impeachment inquiry — for one thing, Democrats are still short of the 218 votes they need for an impeachment resolution.
So how did we get here? The dramatic uptick in support for impeachment since July is due to two main shifts. First, during the August recess, a steady trickle of Democrats announced their support for impeachment, perhaps in response to pressure from people in their districts. And second, in just the past few days, dozens of Democrats have lined up in support of an impeachment inquiry for the first time, including a significant number from red and purple districts that Clinton either lost or won by 10 points. In fact, more than half of the Democrats who recently joined the pro-impeachment column come from districts that Democrats lost or won by less than 10 percentage points. These are the members who have the most at stake electorally if an impeachment inquiry backfires against Democrats, so their support is especially noteworthy.
|Name||Congressional District||Clinton’s Margin|
|Sean Patrick Maloney||NY-18||-2|
|Frank Pallone Jr||NJ-6||+16|
|Joseph D Morelle||NY-25||+16|
|A Donald McEachin||VA-4||+22|
|Susan A Davis||CA-53||+35|
|Elijah E Cummings||MD-7||+56|
|Alcee L Hastings||FL-20||+62|
|Gregory W Meeks||NY-5||+73|
This means the base of support for impeachment has become more ideologically diverse. For instance, if we look at the districts where House members now support impeachment, Trump lost these districts in 2016 by around 31 percentage points. But in July, his average loss in these pro-impeachment districts was 38 percentage points, showing that members from more moderate districts have joined the cause. (For reference, Trump lost the average Democratic-held seat by 28 percentage points, and he lost the districts of Democratic members who are currently not supporting impeachment by an average of 18 percentage points.)
And while some moderates have been careful to say their support is conditional on the allegations being true, some potentially vulnerable Democrats seem to be in favor of an impeachment inquiry regardless of what happens next. For example, Rep. Antonio Delgado, who represents a district in upstate New York that Trump won by 7 points in 2016, said that asking the Ukrainian president to investigate Biden was “in itself an impeachable offense.”
The new supporters for impeachment also include a significant number of Democrats from very liberal districts who had previously resisted calls for impeachment. As the table below shows, only 18 Democrats from very liberal districts continue to oppose (or remain undecided/refuse to comment) on impeachment — down significantly from the end of July:
|Frederica S Wilson||FL-24||+68|
|Eddie Bernice Johnson||TX-30||+61|
|Anna G Eshoo||CA-18||+53|
|Adam B Schiff||CA-28||+50|
|Sylvia R Garcia||TX-29||+46|
|Terri A Sewell||AL-7||+41|
|Linda T Sánchez||CA-38||+40|
|J Luis Correa||CA-46||+38|
|James E Clyburn||SC-6||+37|
|Robert C Scott||VA-3||+32|
|Steny H Hoyer||MD-5||+32|
Some recent switchers from the more liberal camp include Georgia civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis, a Pelosi ally who called for impeachment proceedings in a dramatic speech on the House floor on Tuesday, and Rep. Debbie Dingell of Michigan, who had previously argued that impeachment would “tear the country apart.” It seems that for many of these Democrats, the gravity and scale of the allegations against Trump finally outweighed concerns about whether an impeachment push without bipartisan support would be too divisive, or if it would be useless to impeach Trump given that Senate Republicans are highly unlikely to vote to remove him from office. (Although there was a flicker of bipartisan energy in the Senate on Tuesday evening, when a nonbinding resolution calling on the Trump administration to release the whistleblower complaint passed unanimously.)
Opposition to impeachment among Democrats from red and blue districts has also fallen over the past few days, but there are still a significant number who do not represent very liberal districts and who haven’t yet endorsed an impeachment inquiry. Of the 64 Democrats from districts that Hillary Clinton won or lost by 10 points or fewer in 2016, more than half now support impeachment. That’s more than twice as many than at the end of July, but a sizeable chunk still haven’t gotten on board. And as the table below shows, many of these Democrats hail from districts that Clinton lost:
|Collin C Peterson||MN-7||-31|
|Xochitl Torres Small||NM-2||-10|
|Jeff Van Drew||NJ-2||-5|
Some of these Democrats may remain wary of embracing impeachment — and that could be tricky for House leadership down the road, if they do decide to pursue an impeachment resolution. But the fact that Democrats like Delgado, Rep. Elissa Slotkin, and Rep. Abigail Spanberger, who are all from districts that Trump won by 7 points in 2016, are newly supporting impeachment could embolden other moderates to join them.
Regardless of what happens next, it’s clear that the political ground on impeachment has shifted dramatically among Democrats in a very short period of time. Even Biden, who previously said that impeachment proceedings would be a “giant distraction,” said that the House should move forward with impeachment if the Trump administration refuses to turn over information about the call with the Ukrainian president. And as FiveThirtyEight’s editor in chief, Nate Silver, wrote Tuesday, pursuing impeachment is a big risk for the Democrats, considering how unpopular it remained throughout the course of the Mueller investigation. But for the first time, the vast majority of House Democrats seem willing to take that risk.