Georgia’s five Democratic U.S. House members are treading cautiously on one of the most consequential questions currently facing their caucus: whether to open impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.
Less than a week after the Justice Department released a redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia report, they’re following the lead of Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has urged House Democrats to focus on gaining access to the full report and pursuing their own investigations before taking further action.
"As we proceed to uncover the truth and present additional needed reforms to protect our democracy, we must show the American people we are proceeding free from passion or prejudice, strictly on the presentation of fact,” Pelosi, D-Calif., wrote in a letter to colleagues on Monday.
While no Georgia incumbents have publicly joined the gaggle of 2020 presidential contenders and progressive U.S. House members loudly pushing for impeachment, none have ruled it out either. And almost all have suggested they’re deeply troubled by the contents of the report.
Several Democratic challengers running for GOP-held U.S. House and Senate seats have adopted a similar tone, although others appear more open to removing the president.
“Impeachment is definitely not off the table,” said Nabilah Islam, an activist running for the Democratic nomination in the 7th Congressional District. “Here's one thing I know: by the time I'm part of the next Congress, Donald Trump won't be president anymore.”
As Mueller pursued his two-year investigation, none of Georgia’s Democratic U.S. House members –Sanford Bishop of Albany, Hank Johnson of Lithonia, John Lewis of Atlanta, Lucy McBath of Marietta and David Scott of Atlanta – were willing to speculate about impeachment. All signaled they were waiting for Mueller to complete his work before jumping on the bandwagon, and they were shielded by House Democratic leaders focused on maintaining their majority in 2020.
Over the last several days, many of sitting lawmakers have continued to avoid the “I” word and instead pushed for the release of an unredacted version of the report and testimony from Mueller.
“Until Congress has the entire, unredacted Mueller report and the underlying evidence, we are still in the information gathering phase,” said McBath, who would be at the epicenter of any impeachment proceedings as a member of the House Judiciary Committee.
McBath’s role in any inquiries will almost certainly become a campaign issue: she’s running for reelection in the hyper-competitive 6th Congressional District, which narrowly backed Trump in 2016.
The caution has extended from the delegation’s more centrist Democrats – Bishop says voters “deserve to know all the facts about Russian interference in the 2016 elections” – to its progressives. Johnson, another member of the Judiciary Committee, has trained his recent criticism on Attorney General William Barr’s rollout of the report and what he sees as the White House’s inadequate cooperation with Mueller’s investigators.
“While the President begins his false victory lap and yells ‘no collusion,’ our fight for the truth continues until the full—unredacted—Mueller report is released, or we can hear from Robert Mueller in the halls of Congress,” Johnson said.
The only Democrat who has yet to weigh in on the report in any way is centrist Scott. His office did not respond to requests for comment. Lewis, a prominent critic of Trump’s, has yet to publicly comment since the report was released on April 18.
Candidates weigh in
Impeachment is a tricky proposition for Democrats.
Vocal members of the base are pushing hard for it, and they’ve won loud backers in billionaire megadonor Tom Steyer and presidential hopefuls Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris. But party leaders would need to woo at least 20 Senate Republicans to remove Trump, an extremely high bar given the president’s overwhelming popularity with GOP voters.
Democrat Carolyn Bourdeaux, who is running for a second time in the 7th Congressional District, didn’t mention impeachment in her statement pushing for further congressional oversight and investigations following the release of the Mueller report.
Marqus Cole, an attorney and first-time candidate also vying for the 7th District Democratic nomination, said, “if Congress finds evidence that the President may have committed a crime, it is the Constitutional and moral obligation of the House of Representatives to start impeachment proceedings.”
Possible Democratic U.S. Senate candidate Teresa Tomlinson went a step further. The attorney and ex-Columbus mayor, who spoke at an impeachment event with Steyer last year, said the actions laid out in the Mueller report “fall within the scope of high crimes and misdemeanors” and “warrant an impeachment inquiry.”
“If the hearings reveal grounds of impeachment, then Congress must proceed in a timely manner unimpeded by the election calendar,” she said.
Tomlinson’s opponent should she enter the race, U.S. Sen. David Perdue, has joined other senior Republican lawmakers urging Congress to move on to other issues.
“Two years and millions of taxpayer dollars have been spent on a wild goose chase. However, Democrats are still pushing a false narrative. They only want to investigate. They do not want to legislate,” he wrote in a Facebook post.
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