On Thursday, two of the largest and most influential anti-Trump Resistance groups called for Congress to impeach President Donald Trump, giving financial means and organizing heft to an idea that started with a few angry voices on the fringe.
Most Democrats in Congress, however, did not echo the calls from their base to oust a sitting president — and even if they had, they have little power to do anything about it.
Following former FBI Director James Comey’s testimony to the Senate Intelligence Committee, in which he said he felt Trump pressured him to drop the bureau’s investigation into former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn, both MoveOn and Indivisible said Trump was guilty of obstruction of justice and called for impeachment proceedings to start “immediately.”
“MoveOn does not make this call lightly,” Director Anna Galland said in a statement, acknowledging that impeachment is different than disagreeing with legislation. “This is no longer about our opposition to Trump’s policies and rhetoric.”
Democrats on the Intelligence Committee were more restrained. Former chairwoman Dianne Feinstein of California told reporters after Comey testified that “Suspicion is one thing, evidence is another,” adding “we don’t have all the facts yet.”
And although Vice Chairman Mark Warner of Virginia and Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon had been dropping the word “Watergate” into statements and interviews in the lead-up to the hearing, they also stopped short of calling for impeachment.
But since Republicans control the House — a simple majority vote in the House can impeach a president; the Senate then tries him — Indivisible co-executive director Leah Greenberg said the group would be aiming its message at members of both parties.
“Grassroots pressure has been successful in convincing many Republicans to join the call for a special counsel,” she said in a statement, “and it will be key in getting Republicans to choose country over party and move the impeachment process forward.”
That may take a while. Republicans on Thursday mostly shrugged at Comey’s disclosures, acknowledging that Trump’s actions were inappropriate but rejecting the notion that they were criminal or impeachable.
In the meantime, incumbent Democrats may have reason to fear demands for impeachment from their base. Regardless of whether they think Trump should be impeached, without a majority in the House they’re all but helpless to spark impeachment proceedings. However, fair or not, inaction could inspire Democratic primary challenges in 2018.
MoveOn and Indivisible have been particularly effective in lobbying Democrats to oppose nearly every part of Trump’s legislative agenda, including pro forma nominations to cabinet and sub-cabinet positions. Some Democrats had initially signaled openness to working with Trump, but after facing town-hall protests, marches, die-ins, and phone calls, Democrats have almost uniformly opposed Trump and many of his nominees.
It’s unclear if the impeachment issue will play out the same way. Rep. Maxine Waters of California and Rep. Al Green of Texas have demanded impeachment, but House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi has said she’s trying to contain such calls until all the facts can be laid out for the American people.
There is a fear among establishment Democrats that calls for impeachment could alienate voters who oppose Trump’s policies but don’t think he deserves to be impeached. Resistance activists, on the other hand, argue that the establishment doesn’t realize the country is in the midst of a constitutional crisis and that normal political rules don’t apply.
But even the establishment may be slowly changing its tune. In May, members of the Democratic National Committee wouldn’t so much as say the word “impeachment”; one senior staffer told CNN that it amounted to “wasted breath.” But on Thursday, DNC Chairman Tom Perez suggested that Trump was guilty of a crime, tweeting: ”Trump knew exactly what he was doing. It’s called obstruction of justice.”