Only a few dozen of the 235 Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives have publicly called for the impeachment of President Trump, or even for Congress to launch a formal impeachment investigation. And that number hasn’t meaningfully changed — so far, at least — even after former Special Counsel Robert Mueller gave a closing public statement Wednesday in which he all but said his investigation concluded that Trump obstructed justice regarding the probe of potential Russian interference in the 2016 election.
But the relatively small number of Democrats calling for impeachment doesn’t mean the vast majority of House Democrats oppose impeachment — or, more precisely, that they would vote “no” on impeachment. In fact, it’s likely the overwhelming majority of House Democrats would vote to both the launch of an impeachment inquiry and for impeachment itself if either or both came up for a vote.1
That’s why the dynamics of impeachment are so interesting and complicated. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seems reluctant to allow Democrats to really even start the impeachment process. That may be because she understands that once it gets going, Democrats wary of impeachment, even Pelosi herself, are going to feel a lot of pressure to take pro-impeachment votes.
So it’s worth thinking about House Democrats and impeachment by basically dividing the party’s members into four blocs, rather than simple “for” and “against”:
1. Publicly in favor of starting the impeachment process now (About 40 members)
These are the Democrats who have called for Congress to start a formal impeachment process. Some of them have already said Trump should be impeached, while others have emphasized they simply favor starting the process. (News organizations are using slightly different standards to define “pro-impeachment” and some members of Congress are making statements that aren’t totally clear on this issue, so that’s why we are using ranges instead of precise counts.)
This group includes recently elected lawmakers like Michigan’s Rashida Tlaib but also some veterans like House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth of Kentucky. It’s clear they would vote to start the impeachment process. And if actually impeaching Trump came to a vote, these members almost certainly would vote in favor.
2. Generally known to oppose starting the impeachment process but likely to support it in a formal vote (five to 10 members)
Pelosi, No. 2 Steny Hoyer and Hakeem Jeffries of New York, the No. 5 ranking Democrat, have all been publicly resistant to impeachment. Illinois’ Cheri Bustos and Connecticut’s Rosa DeLauro, two other members of the party’s leadership, have argued against pushing impeachment in private meetings of senior Democrats, according to Politico and the Washington Post. (Neither congresswoman has denied those characterizations.)
Other Democrats who have publicly downplayed the idea of beginning an impeachment inquiry include Connecticut’s Jim Himes and civil rights icon Rep. John Lewis of Georgia.
The general argument from this bloc is that impeachment serves little purpose because the GOP-controlled Senate is unlikely to seriously consider removing the president from office. Moreover, these lawmakers argue, impeachment proceedings might result in a political backlash against Democrats. (That the Senate would not vote to remove Trump is almost certainly true; I have some doubts about whether the public would necessarily turn against Democrats because of impeachment.)
But here’s the thing about these members: Nearly all of them represent heavily Democratic-leaning districts and almost never take the president’s position in key votes, according to our Trump Score. It’s simply hard to imagine, if a vote on either starting an impeachment inquiry or impeaching Trump actually occurred, that these members would vote “no.”
For one, polls suggest a majority of Democratic voters support impeachment, and many of the party’s activists are pushing the idea hard. So there would be strong political pressure for a “yes” vote in many of these members’ districts. Secondly, Pelosi, in particular, has argued she believes Trump has committed impeachable offenses — so she would have a hard time defending a “no” vote on the substance.
Pelosi, of course, has a lot of control over what gets to the House floor for a formal vote.2 So she can create all kinds of impediments to an impeachment vote happening in the first place. But if a vote on impeachment occurs, I think Pelosi herself would vote in favor.
3. Not publicly for impeachment but likely to vote for it (about 150 House members)
This is the “silent majority,” so to speak, among House Democrats — the rank-and-file members. So far, they haven’t been clamoring for impeachment — either because they broadly agree with Pelosi’s view that impeachment is bad politics for the party or because they’re simply deferring, at least for now, to the political judgment of the Californian who House Democrats have chosen as their leader since 2002.
These members haven’t quite been utterly silent, to be sure.
“Special Counsel Mueller made clear today that it is up to Congress to take further action,” Rep. Cedric Richmond of Louisiana said in a statement Wednesday after Mueller’s remarks. “It is the responsibility of Congress to respond to numerous cases of misconduct described in the Mueller report and to ensure that no one is above the rule of law.
See what he did there? I’m not sure exactly if Richmond is calling for impeachment or not — and I assume that was the point.
In any case, just like the “publicly opposed to impeachment” group, these members largely represent safe Democratic districts — districts that are blue enough to withstand an impeachment backlash even if it did occur. And with polls suggesting that a majority of Democrats overall favor impeachment, that’s likely the position held by the majority of these members’ constituents. As Richmond’s statement suggests, I would therefore be surprised if the average Democratic representative voted against impeachment if it came up for a vote.
4. Conservative and swing-seat Democrats who might actually vote “no” (30 to 50 members)
There are 31 House Democrats who represent districts that Trump won in 2016. Many of those Democrats are also members of the Blue Dog Coalition, a bloc of the Democrats’ most conservative members, but 15 of the Blue Dogs are not from Trump districts.
These are the Democrats with the clearest incentives to vote against some kind of impeachment resolution — their constituents voted for the president, opted to back a moderate for the House or both. Jim Cooper of Tennessee, a Blue Dog, and Anthony Brindisi of New York, a Blue Dog and from a Trump-won district, are among those in this bloc who have recently spoken out against impeachment.
Even this group would face some pressure in their districts to back an impeachment resolution, since I would assume the kinds of activists who donate money and volunteer for even conservative Democrats are still fairly anti-Trump. And that fact, maybe more than anything, explains why the Democratic leadership has resisted the impeachment push.
Democrats have 235 votes in the House, so at least some members who represent the 31 districts that supported Trump in 2016 would have to back an impeachment resolution for it to pass by simple majority (218). And that could hurt their re-election prospects in 2020, perhaps jeopardizing Democrats’ majority. Pelosi is aware of the cross pressures these members would face from an impeachment vote and is trying to take that on her herself instead of leaving these members in a tough position.
If impeachment came up for a vote, there is almost certainly a pro-impeachment majority among House Democrats. There is likely a pro-impeachment majority in the House overall, because even some members in districts that backed Trump may not be able to vote against impeachment, considering the details described in Mueller’s report and the demands of their more liberal constituents. So expect the kabuki dance between Pelosi and the pro-impeachment bloc to continue. The pro-impeachment group probably has the votes, if there is a vote. But Pelosi can probably stop a vote from ever taking place — particularly if the silent majority of House members never really pushes for one.
From ABC News: