Congress

These Democrats helped launch the impeachment inquiry. What’s their next move?

Pelosi called for probe after op-ed by seven freshmen with national security backgrounds

From left, Reps. Abigail Spanberger, Chrissy Houlahan and Elissa Slotkin face Mikie Sherrill at a meeting in September. The four among a group of freshman Democrats who called for an impeachment inquiry that month. (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call file photo)

Two months ago, seven freshman Democrats in the House published an op-ed column in The Washington Post that helped launch the impeachment inquiry. Now that the inquiry’s over, the freshmen are not saying what they will do next.

The op-ed made clear the writers, who all have national security backgrounds, thought it would be “an impeachable offense” if reports were true that President Donald Trump pressured the Ukrainian president to investigate a political rival while withholding aid to the country.

So far, however, the seven aren’t saying whether they will support the articles of impeachment released Tuesday, which accuse Trump of abusing the power of his office in dealing with Ukraine and obstructing Congress by blocking the release of subpoenaed information and testimony.

One of the op-ed authors said he did not expect the piece to snowball the way it did. Most have been the target of attack ads and other efforts by Republican groups to pressure them in their districts, though some are using those efforts to try to rally supporters — and contributors — to their sides.

Yet with the House likely to vote next week for just the third time in history on whether to impeach a president, they have been careful to say they were reviewing the evidence.

“It’s probably the most serious consideration I’ll give anything that I considered [in] my one year in Congress,” Michigan Rep. Elissa Slotkin told reporters on Tuesday.

A catalyst

As they weigh their next steps, the lawmakers have also had time to reflect on the impact of their 428-word op-ed, which they wrote in a shared Google document.

Colorado Rep. Jason Crow said in an interview Tuesday that he was not looking to have a broader effect on impeachment when he contributed to the writing. He started to realize the power of the statement, he said, when the group held a conference call with Speaker Nancy Pelosi after they sent it to the Post and she thanked them for their leadership.

“I didn’t know what to expect in a response” from Pelosi, Crow said. “But it certainly struck me as maybe it would have a broader impact than we originally intended.”

The group of seven included Crow, an Army veteran; two lawmakers with CIA experience, Slotkin and Abigail Spanberger of Virginia; three Navy veterans, Elaine Luria of Virginia, Mikie Sherrill of New Jersey and Gil Cisneros of California; and Air Force veteran Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania. All seven flipped Republican-held House seats in 2018.

Their missive sent a signal that moderates from competitive districts — the kind of members Pelosi had been working to protect from the ambitions of more zealous colleagues from safer seats — could support an impeachment inquiry. The day after it published, scores of other Democrats went public with their support for an investigation, and Pelosi announced the Democrats’ formal inquiry.

After meeting during the 2018 campaign and bonding over their similar backgrounds, the writers had all become friends, and they have stayed in touch since the op-ed published.

“We’ve been talking pretty regularly throughout the entire process,” Crow said.

Next steps

Five of the seven said in interviews that they have not yet decided how they will vote. Luria declined to answer reporters’ questions Wednesday. Sherrill’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Crow said some of them have discussed another joint statement, but he did not know if that would happen.

“Coming together, I think, did send a powerful message,” the Colorado Democrat said. “And I’m not sure to what extent that’s going to bear on any future decisions.”

Spanberger cast doubt on another group statement, telling CQ Roll Call on Wednesday, “We work together quite frequently, but I think every individual, as it relates to something so monumental as this, is going to be making his or her own decision.”

Spanberger and Houlahan are members of the Foreign Affairs Committee, one of three House panels that deposed witnesses in a secure hearing room before public hearings began. According to deposition transcripts, they both appear to have attended one of the 17 sessions.

Houlahan said she watched the later public testimony before the Intelligence and Judiciary committees when she could, but she and other lawmakers also noted they hadn’t been able to watch all of it. They said they are closely reviewing relevant documents and transcripts.

Crow’s staff printed out the Intelligence Committee’s 300-page report, which he has been reading in a binder. Spanberger is also reading the report, as well as the GOP rebuttal. Slotkin told reporters she’s reviewing all of the information as phone calls flood her office. 

“I’m not going to be pushed one way or another,” the Michigan Democrat said. “I have lots of people lobbying me, but I’m going to be doing what I was trained to do as a national security professional, as an intelligence officer, which is [to] make my own decision based on what I think is right.”

Political fallout?

These lawmakers have said politics will not factor into their decision. But since most of them are facing competitive reelections, politics will be unavoidable.

All seven are being targeted by the National Republican Congressional Committee. Luria, Sherrill, Slotkin and Spanberger are running in districts Trump won in 2016. Inside Elections with Nathan L. Gonzales rates five of their races competitive, while Crow and Houlahan’s reelections are rated Solid Democratic.

Impeachment may inspire at least one GOP challenger to take on a member of the group. Former Virginia Rep. Scott Taylor, who has been running for Senate, could instead challenge Luria, who unseated him in 2018. Taylor’s campaign said he has received an “outpouring of calls” urging him to seek his old seat after Pelosi announced last week she would move forward with impeachment. Luria defeated him by 2 points last fall. 

Luria has leaned into her stance on the impeachment inquiry more than some of the other op-ed authors, with multiple media appearances and a campaign video featuring her reciting the oath of office. On the eve of the articles’ release, her campaign sent an email to supporters stating that “calling for impeachment wasn’t a decision Elaine made lightly.”

Luria and others have had mixed responses from constituents at town halls since their op-ed was published. Crow said some of his constituents have questioned him about the impeachment process. Spanberger faced pushback at a town hall over the weekend, according to CNN.

The lawmakers, particularly the four in Trump districts, have also faced an onslaught of television and digital ads on impeachment from Republican outside groups.

“We need to fight back,” Sherrill wrote in a campaign fundraising email Wednesday. “Washington Republicans have spent millions to spread misinformation about the impeachment inquiry and falsely attack my record.”

Some members of the Democratic Caucus have raised concerns about the GOP ads this early in the campaign cycle.

“We should never write off the impact of early spending in these races,” one Democratic strategist said Wednesday, while also adding that the political impact of impeachment remains unclear with 11 months to go until Election Day.

“There’s a lot we don’t know,” the strategist said.

Todd Ruger, Simone Pathé, Stephanie Akin and Lindsey McPherson contributed to this report.

Get breaking news alerts and more from Roll Call on your iPhone.