YORKTOWN, Va. (AP) – In suburban Philadelphia, it took a little over eight minutes into the question-and-answer session at freshman Rep. Madeleine Dean’s town hall for someone to ask about impeachment.
The topic was broached in Southern California, as Rep. Katie Porter fielded other questions on health care, homelessness, border security and the minimum wage.
After House Democrats swept to power from all different parts of the country, the seams of their big tent majority are being stretched over the difficult issues surrounding whether to start impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.
In town hall sessions back home, the visits revealed how much, or how little, impeachment is on the minds of voters. Lawmakers fanned out the same week as special counsel Robert Mueller delivered his first and potentially last public statement on the matter. The differing opinions they heard offer a snapshot of the challenges facing Speaker Nancy Pelosi, and the many conversations still to come.
“I actually wondered whether anybody would bring it up,” Dean told the crowd of about 150 in a Montgomery County Community College auditorium.
It was Wednesday, the night after Mueller’s rare public address, and Dean drew applause and whistles and hoots of support as she laced into Trump, calling him “the most indecent president of our lifetime.”
Dean serves on the Judiciary Committee, which is steeped in the impeachment debate, and she is among those calling for an impeachment inquiry. But the new congresswoman also acknowledged that in other conversations with voters around the district recently, they did not raise the subject.
The night before Mueller’s address, Luria said she, too, was only asked about impeachment at one of her three stops Tuesday, during a visit with seniors at a retirement community.
The former Naval officer, who is also new to Congress, said it came up as more of a question, asking what she makes of it all.
“I talked about how I think Congress has an important duty, oversight, and we have a big responsibility to get to the bottom of the facts,” she recalled in an interview later that evening after the town hall in Yorktown.
Luria said she also brought the question back to the seniors for their advice. “‘I wasn’t alive when Watergate happened… I understand it was very divisive as a country,’” she recalled telling them, “and kind of asked them, ‘How do you feel about it?’”
The seniors nodded in agreement, she said, responding, “Yes, it’s something that would be very divisive.”
These are the considerations Pelosi is taking into account as she weighs the House’s next moves. Despite increasingly vocal voices within the caucus calling for the start of an impeachment inquiry – proceedings would start in the House before the case moves to the Senate – Pelosi has made it clear she’s in no rush to impeach.
The speaker prefers a more measured approach, saying she wants to have the country’s support, whatever the House’s ultimate decision. Having won the majority in so many districts that voted for Trump – largely running on promises of lowering health care costs, creating jobs with infrastructure investment and cleaning up government – Pelosi is wary of taking on an impeachment inquiry that would overpower that agenda. Pelosi worries impeachment would split the country. She remembers how the proceedings against Bill Clinton helped propel Democrats, and warns it could help Trump’s re-election.
But that might not be enough for some voters.
About 15 people waited at a library in Memphis to meet with Rep. Steve Cohen, a Democrat, and one of the earliest House proponents of impeachment
One constituent, Lloyd Brown, 62, told The Associated Press that he is watching the impeachment process closely.
“I do think that Congress should proceed with impeachment hearings, because I believe that will bring out some of the facts that haven’t become public yet,” said Brown.
Cohen, also a member of the Judiciary panel, discussed the possibility of impeachment, expressing his hope that Mueller will yet testify before the House. The congressman said that even if Trump is impeached by the House, he does not think that the president will be convicted in the Republican-majority Senate.
“But I do think he should have his day of reckoning,” Cohen said, adding later that Trump “makes Richard Nixon look honest.”
At a town hall in western Michigan on Tuesday, a woman told Rep. Justin Amash – the only Republican to accuse Trump of impeachable conduct – that she has been calling Pelosi’s office nearly every day because “we need to change her mind” about an impeachment inquiry.
Amash agreed it’s time to start an inquiry, but the Republican, who has drawn deep criticism from his party, said Pelosi’s “sort of playing it both ways.”
On Thursday, about 100 people packed into a small room at a library in Tustin, California, as Rep. Porter spoke briefly then drew from random questions attendants had written down on cards.
They covered various topics including one about what should happen to those who refuse to appear for testimony before a congressional committee, leading Porter to briefly address the issue of impeachment.
The new congresswoman from what had been a Republican-held district told the crowd her goal is to do her job, not stoke a crisis. But she said the refusal to comply with the subpoenas was a turning point, in her view.
“You didn’t hear me ever talk about impeachment. It’s not why I went to Washington,” she said. “But I will not shirk my duty if the time comes, and the time is nigh.”
After the event, Barbara Colter, 66, said the last time she saw Porter speak the congresswoman didn’t seem to want to move in that direction. But her comments on Thursday made Colter think that’s changed. And she agrees.
“After yesterday, I think that we need to move in that direction,” Colter said.
Mascaro reported from Yorktown, Va., Levy from Blue Bell, Pa., Sainz from Memphis, Tenn., and Taxin from Tustin, Ca. Associated Press writer David Eggert contributed from Grand Rapids, Mich.
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