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House blocks maverick Democrat’s Trump impeachment effort

(AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

WASHINGTON — The House easily killed a maverick Democrat’s effort Wednesday to impeach President Donald Trump for what people are calling racial insults against lawmakers of color, a vote that provided an early snapshot of just how divided Democrats are over ousting him as the 2020 presidential and congressional campaigns rev up.

Democrats leaned against the resolution by Texas Rep. Al Green by 137-95. That showed that so far, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has successfully prevented a Democratic stampede toward impeachment before additional evidence is developed that could win over a public that has so far been skeptical about ousting Trump.

Even so, the roll call also showed that the number of Democrats open to impeachment remains substantial and may be growing. About two dozen more conversions would split the party’s 235-member caucus in half over an issue that could potentially dominate next year’s elections. Until now, just over 80 Democrats had publicly said they were open to starting an inquiry over removing Trump.

“There’s a lot of grief, from a lot of different quarters,” Green, speaking to reporters after the vote, said of the reaction he received from colleagues. “But sometimes you just have to take a stand.”

Democrats voting in favor of the impeachment resolution included some of the party’s most outspoken freshmen, like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, and leaders of House Democrats’ black, Hispanic and liberal caucuses.

As some Democrats feared, the measure’s lopsided 332-95 defeat — the House’s first vote on removing Trump since Democrats took control of the chamber this year — also opened the door for him to claim vindication.

“You see the overwhelming vote against impeachment and that’s the end of it,” Trump told reporters as he arrived in North Carolina for a campaign rally. “Let the Democrats now go back to work,” he said, calling the effort the “most ridiculous project I’ve ever been involved in.”

Green’s resolution did not mention special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether Trump’s 2016 campaign conspired with Russia to influence that year’s congressional election or whether the president obstructed Mueller’s probe. That inquiry and the questions it raised over Trump’s actions have been the main reasons some Democrats have backed impeachment.

Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters that six House committees are investigating Trump, adding, “That is the serious path we’re on.”

Democrats are eagerly awaiting Mueller’s scheduled public testimony next week to two House committees.

Democrats rejected Trump’s claim that the vote showed he’d been absolved of anything.

“It’s not vindication,” said Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Fla. “It’s that we believe in an orderly process. We’re putting our faith in the Judiciary Committee and the hearing they’re going to hold,” she said.

Every voting Republican favored derailing Green’s measure.

With Democrats preparing to defend their House majority in next year’s elections, Green’s measure put incumbents in closely divided districts in a difficult spot. Democrats owe their House majority to 39 challengers who won in 2018 in what had been GOP-held districts, places where moderate constituents largely predominate. Many of those voters have little interest in removing Trump from office.

“It’s not ideal for a lot of people to have to take that vote right now,” one of them, Rep. Katie Hill, D-Calif., said of impeachment. She said “if and when” the House votes on impeaching Trump, it should happen when “we can make sure our constituents understand and can get behind” the move.

Recent polling has shown solid majorities of the public oppose impeachment. Even if the Democratic-run House would vote to impeach Trump, the equivalent of filing formal charges, a trial by the Republican-led Senate would all but certainly acquit him, keeping him in office.

Efforts by party leaders to dissuade Green from forcing vulnerable incumbents to take what they viewed as a perilous and divisive vote fell flat. The vote also risked enflaming Democrats’ already raw rift over impeachment, with dozens of the party’s most liberal lawmakers long itching to oust Trump, and Republicans used it to denigrate Democrats’ impeachment talk as an obsession.

“This is all they’ve ever wanted to do from the day of the election” in 2016, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said in a brief interview.

Green’s measure cites Trump’s recent “racist” comments imploring Democratic congresswomen of color to go back to their native countries. The House voted Tuesday largely along party lines to condemn those statements . His targets were Ocasio-Cortez and Reps. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.

All are American and all but Omar were born in the U.S. They’ve also been among the party’s most outspoken advocates of impeachment.

Trump is “unfit to be President, unfit to represent the American values of decency and morality, respectability and civility, honesty and propriety, reputability and integrity, is unfit to defend the ideals that have made America great, unfit to defend liberty and justice for all,” Green’s resolution said.

Mueller’s 448-page report detailed several episodes in which Trump tried to influence his investigation. Mueller said he could not exonerate Trump on obstruction and indicated in a May news conference that it was up to Congress to decide what to do.

Those who support an impeachment inquiry have argued that it would accelerate the process and bolster their arguments in court. Some Democrats are frustrated with the slow pace of their party’s investigations of the president. Democrats have had little success so far in their attempts to investigate beyond what Mueller detailed, as the White House has blocked several witnesses from answering questions.

Green, an eight-term veteran, also forced impeachment votes in 2017 and 2018 and spurned leadership entreaties to hold off both times.

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