Cold feet? Michigan Democrat who voted for impeachment inquiry now prefers censuring Trump instead; Update: Reverses

If you asked me to predict which House Democrat would be the first to back off impeachment, I … would not have bet on a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus from a D+30 district in Detroit. Yet here we are:

“You can censure, you don’t have to remove the president,” [Rep. Brenda] Lawrence said Sunday on No BS News Hour with Charlie LeDuff. “Sitting here, knowing how divided this country is, I don’t see the value of kicking him out of office, but I do see the value of putting down a marker saying his behavior is not acceptable.”

“I’ll be g-damned,” the host said at one point in response to Lawrence’s remarks. “To hear you say, and you are a Democrat, and you are a liberal minded person; I know you don’t like Trump For the betterment of all of us, in an election year, it’s unwise to tear him from the chair. Is that how you think?”

“Yeah,” Lawrence responded.

“I want to censure,” she continued, according to the Examiner. “I want it on the record that the House of Representatives did their job and they told this president and any president coming behind him that this is unacceptable behavior and, under our Constitution, we will not allow it.” But, er, a censure vote ain’t gonna cut it for many House Democrats, particularly on the left side of the caucus. Pelosi probably won’t even offer censure as an option, knowing that some centrist Democrats who are nervous about the politics of impeachment will view it like Lawrence does, as an attractive “moderate” alternative to the nuclear option. Suddenly leftist and centrist Dems would be at each other’s throats and Trump would chuckle his way through the disarray, tweeting hourly that Schiff’s plan for public hearings had only succeeded in dividing his own party.

So for Pelosi, it’s impeachment or bust. And note that Lawrence never says that she won’t vote to impeach if that’s the only option presented to her. She wants censure on the menu, but if she can’t get that — and she probably can’t — then she may yet vote to impeach. As she says in the excerpt, she feels obliged to rebuke Trump formally in some way. If forced to choose between going nuclear and letting him off scot-free, presumably she’ll go nuclear.

But this is not an encouraging soundbite for Pelosi, needless to say. In fact, it’s so surprising that a Democrat from a deep blue district rather than a purple one would be the first to float censure in lieu of impeachment that I wonder if someone in leadership asked Lawrence to do it as a favor, to put out a trial balloon. If so, though, then who? Like I say, an “impeachment or censure?” debate is bad for the caucus insofar as it’ll pit Dems against each other and signal that some members of their own side have come to doubt the strength of Schiff’s evidence. That may drive impeachment polling further towards Trump, which is the way it’s been trending.

Speaking of which, two new surveys are out today gauging how the public feels about impeachment after absorbing two weeks of hearings. Verdict: Virtually no change in anyone’s views. CNN finds Americans support impeaching Trump by exactly the same margin as they did in October, 50/43. Morning Consult likewise finds no increase in support for impeachment, although opposition did drop two points to produce a split of 48/43. Yesterday’s YouGov poll also found little change in support before and after last week’s “bombshell” Gordon Sondland testimony. All of which is qualified good news for Trump: Insofar as the point of public hearings was to try to galvanize the public in favor of removing him from office and give Senate Republicans something to think about, they’ve failed. What now for Pelosi and Schiff?

A thought: Could Pelosi try to get out of her impeachment jam by slowing things down? There’s nothing stopping that from happening except politics, as Byron York notes today. She could say, “Look, we *must* hear from John Bolton and Mick Mulvaney to know what happened here. It’d be irresponsible to proceed without all the available facts. If that means we need to suspend impeachment while we fight them for months in court to compel their testimony, so be it.” That would give Democrats a chance to put the process aside and get back to health-care messaging. If they’re lucky, the courts will drag their feet and not resolve the Bolton/Mulvaney matter until after the election, which might moot the result by tossing Trump out of office. Progressives would be angry to see impeachment slow down but somewhat placated by the prospect of potentially forcing Bolton and Mulvaney to testify and the fact that Schiff and Pelosi just spent two weeks embarrassing Trump by giving his own diplomats an opportunity to criticize the Ukraine process in front of microphones.

But slow-walking impeachment would be tough politically for other reasons. With every day that passes, the GOP argument that we’re close enough to the election to let voters resolve the dispute gets stronger. Suspend the process now and that argument may be insuperable when it resumes. At the very least, it’d give Senate Republicans an easy reason to acquit. (“I defer to the voters.”) The fact that impeachment polling has been trending away from Dems also raises the possibility that the public will further sour on it while it’s been “suspended.” Imagine voters forgetting about it and moving on, only to have a court rule next summer that Bolton has to testify. Suddenly Pelosi would be stuck having to resume the process in the middle of the presidential campaign, throwing the Democrats off their message. And what would result from Bolton’s testimony? If he exonerated Trump, it’d be a political debacle for Democrats. If he incriminated him, Pelosi would have to move to impeach even though (a) many voters would view it as a cynical campaign stunt so close to the election and (b) the resulting Senate trial might force the Democratic presidential nominee (if it’s Warren or Sanders) to stop campaigning and head back to Washington to attend.

*If* they’d never held a formal vote authorizing the impeachment inquiry, I think Pelosi would have more options. She could slow things down at this point and say that all Democrats are doing is gathering evidence and holding hearings. They haven’t done anything official to suggest that impeachment is the remedy they have in mind. As it is, having held that authorization vote, expectations are too high on the left that they’ll go nuclear. She’ll follow through, whether it’s good or bad for the party on balance. And whether it makes Brenda Lawrence unhappy or not.

Update: I guess Nancy found Lawrence’s censure suggestion unhelpful.