WASHINGTON — Three Jewish-American lawmakers were among the small group of moderate Democratic representatives whose shifting positions allowed Speaker of the Nancy Pelosi to open an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump on Tuesday.
Until this week, Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, Elaine Luria of Virginia and Max Rose of New York were strongly opposed to starting impeachment proceedings against Trump. All three were part of the “blue wave” that handed Democrats control of the House of Representatives for the first time in almost a decade last year.
However, they changed their minds in light of the news about Trump’s attempts to recruit the government of Ukraine to assist his 2020 reelection campaign. Their decision to take another look at impeachment helped make it possible for Pelosi to finally “cross the Rubicon” and announce the beginning of an inquiry.
Pelosi had been in no hurry to open up an impeachment inquiry against the president. In fact, she fought against dozens of Democratic members of Congress for months, pushing back against representatives from the party’s most liberal wing over the impeachment issue. But then came this week’s change of heart.
Slotkin is a former CIA analyst and Pentagon official, who served under Republican and Democratic administrations; Luria is a retired navy officer who served for two decades on combat ships; and Rose is an army veteran who served in combat roles in Afghanistan. The three of them all won districts that were previously held by Republican representatives and, more importantly, that were captured by Trump in the 2016 presidential election.
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Over the past months, when Pelosi was under criticism from the left wing for not moving along with impeachment, she pointed to representatives like Slotkin, Luria and Rose — and the 37 other Democrats who “flipped” seats previously held by Republicans in the midterms — as the reason for her cautious approach.
Pelosi explained that it was easy for liberal legislators from “deep blue” seats in urban centers, where Republicans offer no real competition, to call for immediate impeachment. But it was legislators from swing districts that gave the Democratic Party the congressional majority, and they would be the ones likelier to pay the political price of a polarizing impeachment battle.
When asked about impeachment, moderate Democrats of the Slotkin-Luria-Rose camp would often reply that this was not their top priority. Rose said earlier this year he wants Democrats to remain focused on issues like health care and education. This was the line espoused by most moderate Democrats with regards to impeachment, especially after the publication of the Mueller Report earlier this year: “Let’s focus on other things.”
Pelosi, despite the constant impeachment talk from lawmakers such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, stuck with the moderates and refused to make any moves toward impeachment during the summer. Public opinion polls seemed to justify her approach: a majority of the American public in most surveys was against impeachment, and even a significant chunk of Democrats were against it.
All options on the table
The scandal revealed last week regarding Trump’s attempt to use the Ukrainian government in order to hurt the presidential campaign of former Vice President Joe Biden, changed the calculation of the moderate Democrats. In this story, unlike in the case of Russia’s intervention in the 2016 election, Trump was portrayed as actively seeking the help of a foreign government — and, according to some reports, even conditioning U.S. aid to that government based on that political involvement.
Still, even after the headlines of the past week, Pelosi was hesitant regarding impeachment. But this time, the new moderates in Congress took the initiative. Seven Democratic lawmakers with national security background, who were all elected in the 2018 “wave,” published a joint article in the Washington Post on Monday that opened the door for the impeachment discussion.
The article, which was co-authored by Slotkin and Luria (along with Reps. Gil Cisneros of California, Jason Crow of Colorado, Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania, Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia), didn’t explicitly call for impeachment. Rather, the lawmakers wrote that Trump’s “flagrant disregard for the law cannot stand.”
They added that in order “to uphold and defend our Constitution, Congress must determine whether the president was indeed willing to use his power and withhold security assistance funds to persuade a foreign country to assist him in an upcoming election.”
“If these allegations are true, we believe these actions represent an impeachable offense,” the members wrote. “We do not arrive at this conclusion lightly, and we call on our colleagues in Congress to consider the use of all congressional authorities available to us, to address these new allegations, find the truth and protect our national security.”
Rose, for his part, put out a statement on Tuesday explaining that while he is still not calling for impeachment, it was important for Congress to keep “all options on the table.” He explained his position by stating that “a president attempting to blackmail a foreign government into targeting American citizens is not just another example of scorched earth politics. It would be an invitation to the enemies of the United States to come after any citizen so long as they happen to disagree with the president.”
All of this doesn’t yet mean, however, that these moderate, first-term Democrats will necessarily vote to impeach Trump, if such a vote eventually comes before Congress. The change in their position gave Pelosi the ability to begin an impeachment inquiry. But it remains to be seen whether these politicians, who represent parts of the country where Trump won a majority of the votes just three years ago, will eventually vote to remove him from the Oval Office.