Majority of House Democrats now support impeachment inquiry. Does it matter?

I’m just a simple unfrozen caveman, but isn’t this kabuki? Posturing by Dems, or at least many Dems, with no real intention of following through?

The majority of the House Democratic caucus now supports an impeachment inquiry against President Trump, with Rep. Ted Deutch (D-FL) becoming the 118th Democrat in the chamber to support moving to such proceedings.

“[President Trump] seems to think that Mueller’s performance wasn’t enough to trigger an impeachment inquiry,” the congressman wrote in an op-ed in the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Sorry, Mr. President, the question is no longer whether the House should vote to proceed with a formal impeachment inquiry. The inquiry has already begun.”

Eliot Engel, chairman of the Foreign Affairs Committee, endorsed impeachment a few days ago, a notable addition to the ranks given his leadership within the caucus. Emanuel Cleaver, a senior caucus whip and an influential black Democrat, also now backs it. Are House Dems about to twist Pelosi’s arm and force her to go nuclear?

I’m guessing … uh, no. The recent post-Mueller “dam break” of Dems backing impeachment reeks of a calculation Pelosi has made. She may have put the word out to her caucus to this effect: “If you think it’ll help you next fall to back impeachment, or if you feel strongly as a matter of conscience that impeachment is called for, go ahead and support it. I’m going to continue to block it. If your constituents complain, feel free to blame me.” That’s all upside for her caucus: Lefty reps get to virtue-signal to progressive voters by calling for Trump’s ouster while centrists get to keep their heads down. Plus, with each passing day, we get closer to the primaries and to the general election. Pelosi may be calculating, probably correctly, that left-wing ardor for trying to remove Trump before his term is up will cool accordingly as we get closer to his term expiring naturally. And once a presidential nominee is crowned, even reps who are gung ho to impeach will think twice about throwing the nominee off-message with an X factor like impeachment.

But the kabuki theory is premised on the idea that Pelosi maintains a chokehold on her caucus. Does she? If you’re a conservative who lived through the daily process of passing ObamaCare, you’ll remain forever convinced that Pelosi can move mountains legislatively. If she could convince 218 House Dems to jump off a cliff for that, she can surely convince 218 not to jump off a cliff for this.

But Politico isn’t so sure:

The lawmakers quietly working to organize support for Trump’s impeachment said there are two important figures to watch in the coming weeks. Assistant speaker Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.), who is running for an open Senate seat against a primary opponent who has embraced impeachment proceedings, and Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.), a civil rights icon who has questioned the legitimacy of Trump’s election but so far deferred to Pelosi on impeachment.

Though there’s no indication he’s changing his tune, Luján’s support for impeachment proceedings could help unlock the backing of a slew of freshman Democrats who Luján helped get elected in 2016, when he ran Democrats’ campaign arm, pro-impeachment lawmakers said. And Lewis’ support would carry significant sway with members of the Congressional Black Caucus who have remained on the fence so far. Lewis has repeatedly been asked for his opinion on impeachment proceedings but has repeatedly indicated that he’s deferring to Pelosi.

Pelosi has the most influence of any Democrat within her caucus but she’s not the only legislator with influence. If Lujan and Lewis ignore her and break for impeachment, maybe there’s a domino effect. There are other pressures that might contribute to a domino effect too, as Perry Bacon noted in a piece for FiveThirtyEight a few days ago. Every Democrat hailing from a district that went lopsidedly blue in 2018 — and there were a lot of those — will obviously come under pressure to join the growing pro-impeachment ranks, especially as Dems from not-so-blue districts join the pack. How would a rep from a D+30 district justify holding out if a rep from a D+1 district is ready to risk alienating Republicans by voting to impeach? We’re at 118 Dems in favor now but we could end up at 150 or more quickly, particularly if Lewis comes out in favor and other black reps follow his and Cleaver’s lead.

And yet, even if that happened, so what? Al Green’s impeachment resolution a few weeks ago drew just 95 yes votes. Granted, that was before Mueller’s testimony and before Trump’s war of words with Elijah Cummings, but even if you doubled that number you’d still be a few dozen votes short of 218. There must be 20 or so Democrats in the caucus who are so loyal to Pelosi, or whose reelection bids would be so fraught otherwise, that they’d roadblock impeachment even if the rest of the caucus were in favor. It’s kabuki.