Impeachment Debate Splits Democrats, Putting Pressure on Speaker Pelosi President Trump's efforts to block congressional oversight into his administration and special counsel Robert Mueller's report is ratcheting up impeachment talk among House Democrats.

Democrats' Impeachment Divide Tests Pelosi

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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has tried to guide Democrats away from starting impeachment proceedings against President Trump since she picked up the gavel this year. But the White House continues to block congressional efforts to investigate the administration and to see the evidence underlying special counsel Robert Mueller's report. And more and more Democrats are starting to sound like Representative John Yarmuth of Kentucky.

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JOHN YARMUTH: There's a growing realization in the caucus that impeachment's inevitable. So it's not a question of if but when.

CORNISH: The House speaker will hold a special meeting tomorrow morning to hear from Democrats over whether or not to move forward with impeachment. NPR congressional correspondent Susan Davis joins us now. And, Susan, are Democrats at a tipping point?

SUSAN DAVIS, BYLINE: You know, the needle is certainly moving closer in that direction. They're still divided. It's unclear where they will land. But tomorrow's meeting is a reflection of the fact that Pelosi's sort of slow and steady strategy isn't holding up for a lot of Democrats. They admit they were unprepared for the level of defiance they've seen from the Trump administration to their oversight demands.

The latest came today in the House Judiciary Committee, where former White House counsel Don McGahn refused to appear after the administration exerted executive privilege over his testimony related to the Mueller report. Democrats say it's not just about Mueller. The administration is fighting Congress on a lot of fronts. They're also refusing to turn over the president's tax returns. The cumulative effect of all this is you have more and more Democrats saying, look. We didn't want to have to consider impeachment, but we increasingly feel like we have no choice. And it may be the only way to get what we want from this administration.

CORNISH: How would impeachment do that - help them in their struggle to get the testimony and documents and things like that?

DAVIS: It's a really interesting debate inside the party. And I think the people that are hesitant to move forward with impeachment will argue the end game hasn't changed one bit. The Senate's still controlled by Republicans. President Trump is almost certainly not going to be removed from office via impeachment, so you're going to spend a lot of time on something that will not ultimately happen.

But I think Democrats think that opening a formal impeachment investigation could change some calculations. I talked to one Rhode Island Democrat, David Cicilline. He's on the Judiciary Committee. He supports moving forward with impeachment. And he said it's really about sending a message. This is what he said.

DAVID CICILLINE: I think the principal reason to do it is that it will communicate this heightened level of seriousness, and it will be a direct response to an administration that is attempting to cover up and impede and obstruct Congress's role in conducting an investigation.

DAVIS: Other Democrats on Judiciary also will argue that since impeachment is technically a legal proceeding - it's sort of like a trial - that it would strengthen their legal hand in getting the administration to cooperate. There's, obviously, no certainty that they would. But defying subpoenas in an official impeachment inquiry would take this confrontation to a whole new level.

CORNISH: Speaker Pelosi has often said that the threshold for impeachment is overwhelming and bipartisan. Are they there yet?

DAVIS: Well, Democrats - it may be becoming overwhelmingly clear, but the country isn't; at least that's what polls tell us. So it's not overwhelming yet, and it's not quite bipartisan. Although, we should say that one Republican, Michigan's Justin Amash, came out in favor of impeachment proceedings over the weekend, although he's a bit of a contrarian in the party not a reflection of the broader mood.

One big thing to watch for, Audie, is when Robert Mueller testifies. There's concern on Capitol Hill that he might try to speak to the Judiciary Committee in private. I've talked to Democrats on the committee that say that won't fly. It needs to be in public, and they want it to happen soon.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Susan Davis. Thanks so much.

DAVIS: You're welcome.

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