Washington – Even as Minnesota Democrats in Congress press for a full airing of the special counsel report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential race, only one has called for moving ahead immediately to impeach President Donald Trump, a question that could divide the party as it lurches toward the 2020 elections.
The exception is U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar, an outspoken Minneapolis lawmaker and recent target of conservative media attacks and Trump tweets accusing her of downplaying the 9/11 terrorist attacks.
“We must begin impeachment proceedings and investigate if the president committed impeachable offenses,” Omar tweeted this week.
While her statement has distanced her from Democratic House leaders striving for a unified front against Trump, Omar argues that her position is not out of line with much of the Democratic base.
“This is not a radical position,” she said in a follow-up statement to the Star Tribune. “It is our responsibility as lawmakers.”
The debate is likely to intensify as the Republican president’s legal confrontation with the Democratic-led House escalates. Minnesota’s three Republican congressmen are opposed to impeachment proceedings, and the other four Democrats in the delegation say they want more investigation first.
That includes Minnesota U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democratic candidate for president with several competitors who have called for impeachment.
“That is going to be up to the House,” Klobuchar said in an interview. She added that “there must be accountability” and said Congress must keep investigating.
The fallout from last week’s release of special counsel Robert Mueller’s redacted report on Russian tampering in the 2016 election has consumed an already divided Washington. Even as House Democrats expand probes into Trump, Speaker Nancy Pelosi is pushing back on members like Omar who believe the report compels Congress to enact the ultimate check on the presidency.
Some Minnesota Democrats want to apply the brakes as well.
“I believe the House should wait. I believe there’s more to learn,” said Rep. Dean Phillips, a Democrat from a formerly Republican district in the western Twin Cities suburbs. Rep. Betty McCollum, a St. Paul Democrat, echoed that caution, even if she is confident that the ongoing House investigations could ultimately lead to impeachment proceedings.
“The evidence will be in front of us and the American people, and if we need to, I’m prepared when the time is right to work on articles of impeachment,” McCollum said.
Federal lawmakers have been back in their districts for the last few weeks for a spring recess, meeting and mixing with constituents. But several in Minnesota’s delegation say the Mueller report rarely comes up.
“Not one person has mentioned it,” said Rep. Jim Hagedorn, the Republican who represents southern Minnesota. Said Sen. Tina Smith, a Democrat: “I’ve seen hundreds of people and not a single person has asked me about it.”
That tracks with public polling. A national Politico/Morning Consult poll conducted the week after the release of the Mueller report found just 34% of voters believe Congress should begin impeachment proceedings. A near majority — 48% — were opposed. But the poll wasn’t all good news for Trump. The president registered a 39% approval rating, with 57% disapproving.
Smith was quick to add that Congress must respond to the Mueller report even if it’s not top of mind for most voters.
“My view is that we need to take this step by step, and it’s too soon to be talking about impeachment,” Smith said. “There are many open questions that remain to be answered.”
Smith said she wants to know more about Mueller’s view “around issues of obstruction of justice” by Trump. Like most Democrats, she said Congress needs to see the unredacted report and review the details of more than a dozen ongoing investigations that stemmed from the inquiry.
Two leading Democratic candidates for president, Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Kamala Harris, have joined the impeachment calls. But even if the Democratic House were to impeach, the Senate’s Republican majority guarantees an uphill fight for Democrats in winning a subsequent vote to remove Trump from office.
Some Democrats worry that the effort could not only be futile but also could backfire by mobilizing Trump’s loyal base before the 2020 presidential election.
Apart from the question of impeachment, Klobuchar said the parts of the Mueller report she found most jarring were the details about election interference. Russia “attacked our country’s democracy,” she said. She has since renewed her call for Congress to authorize and fund more aggressive election security efforts to prevent it from happening again — particularly with the Democratic primary race heating up and the next national election approaching.
So far, however, cybersecurity efforts have hit a roadblock in Washington and Minnesota as Republicans turn their attention to alleged domestic voter fraud. At the same time, Trump sees discussion of Russian meddling as central to a Democratic effort to undermine his legitimacy.
Klobuchar argues that what Russia did in 2016 should be a major issue in next year’s presidential election.
Republicans remain skeptical. Hagedorn said allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Russia “seem to be something that the Hillary Clinton campaign and world officials in the government perpetrated against us.”
Asked if he believes the Mueller report’s conclusion that Russia did interfere in 2016, Hagedorn said: “I believe that every adversary of the United States in every possible way since the beginning of time tries to do anything they can to hurt our country. It could be influencing our elections, it could be trying to influence our economy.”
Minnesota’s other two Republican congressmen, Reps. Tom Emmer and Pete Stauber, expressed similar sentiments. “It is time to close this chapter and move forward, together, as a nation,” Stauber said in a prepared statement. Emmer said Trump has been subject to “politically motivated vendettas.”
Democratic Rep. Angie Craig, who unseated Republican Jason Lewis in 2018, also called for more investigation. But she said it’s too early to begin impeachment. The office of Rep. Collin Peterson, a centrist northwestern Minnesota Democrat who represents a district that went for Trump in 2016, did not respond to several requests for comment.
Even as he left open the door on impeachment proceedings, Phillips — a freshman Democrat in a swing district — said Democrats might do better to leave Trump’s future to voters.
“I think ultimately it might be best to let 150 million Americans serve as judge and jury in November of 2020 with all the facts at that time,” he said.