Battle lines are drawn: Racists against socialists

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., holds a news conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, July 17, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

With tweets and a vote, President Donald Trump and House Democrats established the sharp and emotionally raw contours of the 2020 election campaigns.

In the process, they have created a fraught political frame: “racists” vs. “socialists.”

Trump’s aggressive condemnation of women of color in Congress has allowed House Democrats to mend, for now, their own political divisions as they put the president on record with a resolution condemning his words as racist.

But by pushing the House majority into the arms of the squad of liberal freshman women, Trump also adds to his narrative that Democrats have a “socialist” agenda, a story line he started to bring into focus during his State of the Union address.

Political triumphs are being claimed on all sides. Yet it’s unclear whether either approach is what’s needed to sway independent-minded voters who typically determine congressional and presidential elections. And at a time when polling shows Americans sense a worsening of racial attitudes, the searing attacks along Pennsylvania Avenue are tapping potentially explosive emotions.

On Wednesday, it was all set to escalate as Trump was jetting off for a campaign rally in Greenville, North Carolina, and the House prepared a symbolic vote on impeachment, though it was not expected to pass.

The state of affairs offers “a very clear choice,” said Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican National Committee on Wednesday.

“The Democrat party is now a socialist party, and these four women have become the de facto speakers of the Democrat House,” she said on Fox. “So he’s saying, do you want socialism or do you want what we’re delivering with higher jobs, higher wages, more jobs, a strong economy.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested that Americans have already heard enough from Trump, with his “disgusting” remarks “denigrating” the nation’s values.

“The president knows the arguments that are being made against him and therefore he wants to distract from them,” Pelosi said. “Let’s not waste time on that,” she said. “We’re talking about what we’re going to do to help the American people.”

The four freshmen, in their own appearance together, portrayed the president as a bully who wants to “vilify” not only immigrants, but all people of color. They’re fighting for their priorities to lower health care costs, pass a Green New Deal addressing climate change, they say, while his thundering attacks are a distraction and tear at the core of America vales.

“America has always been about the triumph of people who fight for everyone versus those who want to preserve rights for just a select few,” said Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, perhaps the most recognizable of the newcomers.

“And there is no bottom to the barrel of vitriol that will be used and weaponized to stifle those who want to advance rights for all people in the United States,” she said on “CBS This Morning.”

Taking a fresh dig at the group, Trump on Wednesday tweeted a new slogan — “One ‘squad’ under God” — with a video featuring clips of him meeting with law enforcement and military personnel juxtaposed with patriotic scenes, set to Lee Greenwood’s “Proud to be an American,” which often serves as a soundtrack to his campaign rallies.

The action middled out a week that has already been extraordinary, even by the new standards of the Trump presidency.

In a political repudiation, the Democratic-led U.S. House voted Tuesday to condemn Trump’s “racist comments” against the congresswomen of color after he told them to “go back” to their own countries .

The women, Ocasio-Cortez and Reps. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, all were born in the U.S. except for Omar, who became a U.S. citizen after fleeing Somalia as a refugee with her family.

Democrats eased the resolution through the chamber by 240-187, joined by four Republicans and one Republican-turned-independent congressman.

Trump accused the women of “spewing some of the most vile, hateful and disgusting things ever said by a politician” and added, “If you hate our Country, or if you are not happy here, you can leave !”

Republican operatives swiftly dispatched their own attacks on nearly 30 of the House Democratic freshmen who helped take the majority in 2018 by winning seats from areas that Trump also won in 2016. They are seen as the front liners needed to retain control of the House, and many face tough re-election races in 2020.

“Deranged,” read the missives from the National Republican Congressional Committee. The committee is raising money off Ocasio-Cortez as the face of the “socialist” agenda and drawing links to the party’s presidential contenders, including Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and other liberal front-runners.

“This wasn’t what people in the Trump districts elected them to do,” said Bob Salera, a spokesman for the GOP’s campaign committee.

Democrats believe Trump’s attacks will have the opposite effect, turning off the suburban voters, particularly women, who helped elect Trump but also turned out for Democrats in last fall and are tiring of it all. Trump tried a similar approach last fall, invoking fearful warnings of “caravans” of immigrants pouring into the U.S., but voters tuned him out to give Democrats control of the House. The party will try again to persuade voters away from Trump’s vision of America.

But Democrats also know they now need to return to their core campaign messages — lowering health care costs, conducting oversight of the administration — or risk having Trump define them and the 2020 candidates.

Behind closed doors Wednesday, party leaders laid plans for reviving those issues, starting with an event next week to mark their accomplishments so far on the 200th day of the House Democratic majority, and into the summer August recess campaigns.

“I’m trying to represent my district, a very diverse district,” said Tlaib. “This is a distraction.”

When asked if they, as the four newcomers, were also a distraction, Omar, a Muslim-American, objected to the question: “He wants you to focus on that, and you should be asking, Why is it that we are being criticized?”

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Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Zeke Miller and Darlene Superville contributed to this report.

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Copyright © 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved

Trump’s actions reveal an ‘unreliable partner’

President Donald Trump. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

President Donald Trump’s abrupt decision against military strikes may have prevented open military conflict with Iran, but it also showed him anew to be an unpredictable, unreliable, partner at home and abroad.

Trump won his job partly on his claims to be a great dealmaker. But the celebrity businessman-turned-president’s negotiating style — repeatedly pushing toward a brink only to pull back at the moment of action — leaves the U.S. lurching from crisis to crisis. On trade tariffs, immigration raids and now the standoff with Iran, his course reversals confound allies as well as adversaries, and his own party in Congress.

As fallout from Trump’s actions reverberated around the globe on Monday, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo jetted to the Middle East in search of a coalition of allies against Iran, the president offered a fresh round of equivocation, defending his decision not to attack Iran even while issuing new threats.

“I think a lot of restraint has been shown by us. A lot of restraint. And that doesn’t mean we’re going to show it in the future, but I felt that we want to give him this chance,” Trump said.

“We would love to be able to negotiate a deal if they want to. If they don’t want to that’s fine too.”

His backing off on military strikes that were about to be launched in retaliation for the shootdown of an unmanned U.S. drone was just one of several recent tactical shifts by the White House on significant issues. Over the weekend, Trump changed course over immigration raids that had stoked fear among people and families living in the country illegally. He postponed steep tariffs he had announced on Mexico earlier this month, giving immigration talks more time.

The Iran standoff, however, is perhaps the most dangerous, as the two countries escalate rhetoric and actions that raise concerns in Congress and the world at large that Iran and the U.S. could stumble into broad military conflict.

When lawmakers asked the president last week how he would be making his decision on Iran, he responded, “My gut.”

While that decision not to order military strikes appears to have calmed tensions with Iran, at least somewhat, Trump’s messages leave uncertainty about next steps.

“We’ve never seen anything like it,” said Rep. Tom Malinowski, D-N.J., a newly elected freshman who served as an assistant secretary of state in the Obama administration.

“I’m glad that he changed his mind about the strike, made the right decision, but he made it in the worst possible way,” Malinowski said in an interview Monday. “I don’t think anyone has any clue what our policy is.”

GOP defense hawks, including Rep. Liz Cheney of Wyoming, the former vice president’s daughter, warn against Trump’s approach, too. She told a radio host that “weakness is provocative” when it comes to confronting Iran and other adversaries.

Other Republicans say Trump is merely keeping his options open as he pushes Iran to negotiate. That’s different, they say, from his predecessor, Barack Obama, who drew a red line against Syria, but then wavered against taking military action.

Ohio GOP Rep. Mike Turner, a member of the Armed Services Committee, said in an interview Monday that Trump’s style is more like one you’d see from a litigator trying to get an outcome in talks. “It sort of sends a signal to Iran that if you continue, do expect a military response,” he said.

Trump’s shifting tactics have drawn mostly silence from U.S. allies across the globe, who have declined to publicly assess the president’s decision making or his ”maximum pressure” campaign that is using economic sanctions in an effort to force Iran to the negotiating table over nuclear issues.

The tensions with Iran come amid deepening divisions between the United States and its European allies over foreign policy and trade, with the allies appearing to talk past each other on a matter that all view as a crucial security issue.

While European leaders have been careful not to criticize Trump’s actions, they’re also cool toward U.S. talk of building a global coalition against Iran.

German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told ZDF television over the weekend, “The strategy of maximum pressure can’t be the right one, because one of the consequences is that we are all talking about how serious the situation is, and that there is a danger of war.”

Germany, France and Britain, as well as Russia and China, remain part of the nuclear deal that Trump abandoned last year as he tries to cut a new accord that would further curtail Iran’s nuclear capability.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, a close friend of the president, has welcomed Trump’s tough line toward Iran, including last year’s U.S. pullout from the nuclear deal. But the Israeli leader has said little in public during the recent crisis, apparently wary of being seen as pushing the U.S. toward war.

Yoel Guzansky, a former adviser on Iran policy in the prime minister’s office and now a senior fellow at the Institute for National Security Studies in Israel, said the administration’s decision against a strike essentially sent Iran the message that “if you don’t kill Americans you can do whatever you want in the Gulf.”

But Tzachi Hanegbi, a Cabinet minister close to Netanyahu, played down Trump’s last-minute decision to call off last week’s airstrike.

“The real big story is that the American policy toward Iran, which has changed to our delight in the last two, three years, is a policy that completely serves the world’s and Israel’s interests, to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons,” he told Israeli public radio on Sunday.

That’s a sentiment shared by Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, which are also supportive of Trump’s tough talk on Iran. The Gulf allies have not commented on Trump’s about-face. Indeed, they have been reluctant to publicly criticize him over any of his policies.

Danielle Pletka, a senior vice president at the conservative American Enterprise Institute, said Trump has made his decisions all about himself, and that means some allies will stick with him while others will have concerns. “That would be the case if he bombed Iran or if he didn’t bomb Iran.”

“For Donald Trump, he’s damned if he’s does, damned if he doesn’t,” she said by phone from a security conference in Hamburg. “He’s so personalized everything in terms of Donald Trump.”

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Associated Press writers Shahar Golan in Jersualem, Geir Moulson and Frank Jordans in Berlin and Deb Riechmann and Kevin Freking in Washington contributed to this report.

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Impeach or not? That is the question for Democrats

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

For Democrats, the decisions being made of whether to support impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump are personal, gut-wrenching and, at times, starkly political, with fallout in 2020 and beyond.

Some lawmakers worry impeachment will benefit the president, energizing Trump’s supporters and solidifying his campaign, much the way the proceedings against Bill Clinton ended up costing Republicans in 1998.

Others warn that failing to impeach Trump risks deflating Democratic voters they need to turn out in 2020.

And still others envision a “nightmare” scenario: The House votes to impeach, but the Senate declines to convict, Trump survives to win a second term and Democrats lose majority control.

The arguments, being made out loud and behind closed doors, show the depth of the discussions among Democrats and could set the party on a path toward — or away — from an impeachment proceeding, with lawmakers and the party’s voters anxious to get it right.

“Literally all I get when I get home is, ‘Get rid of him. We got to get rid of him,’” said Rep. John Yarmuth, D-Ky., the chairman of the Budget Committee, who represents Kentucky’s liberal stronghold in Louisville and supports impeachment.

But Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson, a member of the Judiciary Committee, from the Atlanta suburbs, is holding back. He’s worried impeachment will put his colleagues, including many freshmen, in a tough position that could cost Democrats their majority and leave Congress with no checks on Trump’s second term.

“I think we have to pay close attention to what’s going on in the 30 or so swing districts, what are those people thinking,” he said. “I’m thinking beyond my district and I’m thinking beyond the here and now.”

While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi says Congress shouldn’t impeach for political reasons or not impeach for political reasons, Democrats acknowledge that political considerations overhang the decision making.

Nearly 60 House Democrats now favor launching an impeachment inquiry, but many of them come from politically safer Democratic strongholds, not the swing districts that gave Democrats the majority. Pelosi has resisted their push, and instead is nudging the House forward on a slow if steady “path,” as she calls it, digging into special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, investigating Trump’s finances and running of the government, and engaging in court battles with the administration.

“I don’t think there’s anything more divisive we can do than to impeach a president of the United States, and so you have to handle it with great care,” Pelosi said in a recent interview at the Council on Foreign Relations. “It should by no means be done politically.”

At the same time, impeachment is nothing but a political process, say those who favor the proceedings, a path for removing the president that’s embedded in the Constitution and deliberately placed beyond the reach of the ballot box.

Erza Levin, co-founder of Indivisible, a liberal advocacy group, acknowledges it’s “at best unclear” what impact impeachment would have on the coming elections.

There’s the risk of impeaching, he and others say, but also the risk for Democrats of doing nothing. And even if the House votes to impeach Trump and the Senate declines to convict, he said, it may be politically worthwhile to force the Republican senators who are up for re-election in Colorado, North Carolina and other swing states to vote.

Besides, if the political fallout is unclear, Levin said, “then we should do what’s right.”

And so the conversations go. Against these blunt political calculations are the personal ones, as lawmakers consider what’s at stake for constituents, the country and their own what-did-you-do-when moment in history.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the party’s rising star from New York who supports starting an inquiry, said the decisions shouldn’t be about elections or polls.

“Impeachment is incredibly serious,” she said on ABC’s “This Week.” ″This is about us doing our jobs. And if we’re talking about what’s going to be a victory for Trump and what’s not going to be a victory for Trump then we are politicizing and we are tainting this process, which, again, should be removed from politics.”

Rep. Karen Bass, D-Calif., worries what happens if the House votes to impeach but Trump remains in office. “If we did impeachment today, we would make my constituents very happy — and then they would be angry,” she said. “My concern always is suppressing the desire to vote.”

Advocates for impeachment held rallies in several cities over the weekend, the start of what they say will be a long summer of educating the public about the process. Turnout was nowhere near the levels needed to shift the debate. But some new supporters did emerge.

New York Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney announced her decision in favor of impeachment at a Foley Park rally “after doing as much soul-searching as I’ve ever done in my life.”

She said impeachment would be “a painful ordeal for our already divided nation.” But in going forward, she said, she hoped “we will emerge stronger than before.”

David Sievers, the campaign manager at the liberal group MoveOn, which helped organize the rallies, expects more lawmakers will come forward.

But where the conversation goes remains uncertain.

“We have 234 members,” said Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the No. 2 House Democrat, in a briefing with reporters. “So I think there are a multiplicity of things running through our members’ heads and Americans’,” he said, on what to do.

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Associated Press writer Laurie Kellman contributed to this report.
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Top Dems still wary of impeaching Trump

Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

The threat of impeachment hangs over the White House, but it also vexes House Democrats wary of taking next steps against President Donald Trump without broader public support.

Leading Democrats provided a snapshot Sunday of the party wrestling with the impeachment questions posed by special counsel Robert Mueller’s findings in the Russia investigation. One top leader, Rep. Jim Clyburn of South Carolina, the Democratic whip, said the president may well face an impeachment inquiry in the House. Another, Rep. Adam Schiff of California suggested it’s not likely soon, if at all.

“We’re not there yet,” Schiff said on ABC’s “This Week.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi has stopped short of pursuing an impeachment inquiry against Trump despite an increasing number of lawmakers, including some 2020 presidential contenders , clamoring to do so. She’s wary of embarking on a politically divisive debate that she worries would all but drown out the House’s policy agenda and campaign promises. Lawmakers heard mixed views during a recess week back home and Pelosi faced those favoring impeachment during the weekend California Democrats’ party meeting.

Instead, six House committees are probing deeply into Trump’s business dealings, his running of the government and whether or not the president obstructed Mueller’s investigation.

“What I have said time and time again is, Mueller has developed the grounds for impeachment. The House has to determine the timing for impeachment. There’s a big difference,” Clyburn said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”

“We are trying to take our time and do this right,” Clyburn said. “So I don’t see this as being out of whack with what the people’s aspirations are.”

Schiff, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee, signaled the House may ultimately decline to pursue impeachment.

“I think if it is a close call, close calls go against putting the country through that,” he said.

Schiff still wants Mueller to testify, saying he has a “final duty” to appear before Congress, even though the special counsel indicated in a rare public statement last week he would prefer to simply have the report speak for itself.

“It’s my hope that he will do so, and it’s my hope that he will do so voluntarily,” Schiff said. He did not indicate whether the House would try to compel Mueller’s testimony with a subpoena.

The House is poised to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt for failing to comply with a subpoena for a fully unredacted version of Mueller’s report. Barr has separately been given new authority by Trump to disclose documents and information on the origin of the Russia probe, a top priority of the president and his Republican allies on Capitol Hill.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, the top Republican on the Oversight Committee, said he, too wants Mueller to testify so Republicans can pursue their own line of questioning about the Russia investigation.

“I know this, I got questions for him,” Jordan said on ABC. “Why did you wait almost two years before you told the country there was no conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the election?”

Trump says the case is closed on the Russia matter, tweeting Sunday, “NO COLLUSION, NO OBSTRUCTION, NO NOTHING.”

Mueller’s report confirmed that Russia did seek to tilt the 2016 election in favor of Trump, but the special counsel could not establish evidence of a criminal conspiracy with the president’s campaign. Mueller said while Justice Department guidelines indicate a sitting president cannot be charged with a crime, the special counsel said he could not clear Trump on the question of whether he obstructed justice.

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Republicans scramble from fallout of Trump’s trade war

Vice President Mike Pence, left, talks with Sen. Todd Young, R-Ind., as they enter a Senate Republican policy luncheon at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, May 14, 2019. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

President Donald Trump’s allies on Capitol Hill are scrambling to soften the blow from his trade war with China amid mounting anxiety from farm-state lawmakers that the protracted battle and escalating tariffs could irreparably damage their local economies.

Vice President Mike Pence met privately Tuesday with Senate Republicans for a second week in a row and urged them to stick with the White House. Senators were working with the administration to craft a relief package for farmers and ranchers, some $15 billion that Trump announced this week would be coming soon. Details of the package remained in flux.

“One thing I think we all agree on is that nobody wins a trade war,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said after the private lunch meeting.

McConnell said there was hope that the tough negotiating tactics being used by the administration “get us into a better position, vis-à-vis China, which has been our worst and most unfair trading relationship for a very long time.”

Pence heard an earful from senators last week as uncertainty mounted.

The administration on Friday launched a fresh round of tariffs on some $250 billion of Chinese goods; China retaliated this week with tariffs on $60 billion on American goods on top of those already hurting U.S. markets.

The tariffs risk spiking prices for U.S. consumers while leaving growers with commodities they cannot sell to the Chinese markets. Already soybean and hog farmers are among those home-state interests senators say are struggling under Trump’s trade policies. With China talks stalled, senators pushed the White House to wrap up the negotiations and resolve the standoff.

“There’s a lot of concern,” said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, a member of GOP leadership.

“If this is what it takes to get a good deal, I think people will hang in there, but at some point we’ve got to get it resolved,” Cornyn said. “If this goes on for a long time, everybody realizes it’s playing with a live hand grenade.”

On Tuesday, though, senators appeared more reserved, and largely held their fire as they tried not to undermine the president’s negotiating hand and worked to shore up their home-state communities with a new round of federal aid.

Pence told them that talks on another trade front, a new U.S.-Mexico-Canada deal to replace the North American Free Trade Agreement, were progressing. Senators said they were hopeful those talks were at the finish line and would open new markets for commerce, but the deal would need approval from Congress, which remained uncertain.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., the chairman of the agriculture appropriations subcommittee, is working with the administration on the latest aid package. Last year, Congress gave the Agriculture Department some $30 billion annually that can be tapped to provide up to $15 billion Trump wants to offer as aid. Congress could advance some of the money by tucking it into a disaster aid package that’s expected to be voted on next week.

The federal aid could go toward existing government programs, including those that provide market payments for certain agricultural producers or that fight hunger in poorer or war-torn countries abroad. Last year, the Trump administration made some $12 billion available to domestic producers of soy, corn, dairy, hogs and others hit hard by the retaliatory tariffs.

“We’re stepping forward with more assistance,” Hoeven said. “The goal is to get a trade agreement.”

Senators said they were hopeful that talks would resume before the latest Chinese tariffs kick in on June 1. Trump is expected to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping in late June at the G-20 summit in Japan.

Trade is the rare issue in Congress that cuts across party lines. Several top Democrats, including Sen. Chuck Schumer of New York, the Democratic leader, want the president to stay tough on China.

Schumer said that while Trump’s tariff fights with other countries “make no sense,” he thinks the president should work with U.S. allies to confront China. “We have to have tough, strong policies on China,” he said.

Other Democrats, though, doubt Trump’s ability to negotiate a good deal for Americans. “The president is essentially betting the farm — somebody else’s farm,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

GOP Sen. Ron Johnson said agricultural and business interests back home in Wisconsin “really feel a lot of short-term pain.” But he said they also “really want the president to succeed on this.”

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Associated Press writer Matthew Daly contributed to this report.
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Is Trump ‘self-impeaching’ as a political ploy?

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has introduced a new concept into the debate over President Donald Trump’s actions: “self-impeaching.”

As Trump all but goads Democrats into impeachment proceedings, viewing the showdown as potentially valuable for his 2020 re-election campaign, Democrats are trying to show restraint. Their investigations are both intensifying but also moving slowly as Democrats dig into the special counsel’s Trump-Russia report and examine Trump’s finances and governance.

The more they push, the more Trump resists, the president making what Pelosi says is his own case for impeachment with his stonewalling of Congress.

“The president is self-impeaching,” she told her colleagues last week during a private caucus meeting, echoing comments she also aired in public. “He’s putting out the case against himself. Obstruction, obstruction, obstruction. Ignoring subpoenas and the rest.”

She added, “He’s doing our work for us, in a certain respect.”

There is no actual process for self-impeachment. It’s a thought bubble more than a legal term. A pure Pelosi-ism, one that an aide says she coined herself.

But as a device, it’s a way for Pelosi to frame the often complicated idea of the White House refusing to engage with Congress in the traditional process of checks and balances.

“Sometimes people act as if it’s impeachment or nothing,” Pelosi told reporters. “No, it’s not that. It’s a path that is producing results and gathering information.”

In the aftermath of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation, the slow drip of congressional oversight also serves a dual purpose politically. It allows Democrats to keep impeachment proceedings at bay, despite calls to push ahead by the liberal flank, while stoking questions about Trump going into the 2020 presidential election.

They note the Watergate investigation dragged on two years before the House Judiciary Committee opened impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon. By the time articles of impeachment were drawn up, the third entry was Nixon’s obstruction of Congress.

Rather than viewing Mueller’s report as the end of the debate, Democrats in Congress have taken his findings as a green light to dig in with their oversight role.

So far, House committees have issued multiple subpoenas for executive branch information, including for an unredacted version of the Mueller report and some million of pages of underlying evidence; for testimony and documents from former White House counsel Don McGahn; for information on Trump’s business dealings; and for Trump’s tax returns.

Others subpoenas have been issued over the administration’s policies on migrant children and on citizenship questions on the census.

“My Democratic colleagues seem to be publicly working through the five stages of grief,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell mused in a floor speech. The Kentucky Republican scoffed at their “laughable threats of impeachment.”

As McConnell declared the “case closed,” he noted that the final stage of grief is acceptance. “For the country’s sake, I hope my Democratic friends get there soon,” he said.

Except Mueller’s 448-page report left Congress with questions. While the special counsel found no evidence the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to swing the 2016 election, Mueller did not render a decision on the question of whether the president obstructed justice in the investigation. “It also does not exonerate him,” the report says.

At least one Republican, Sen. Richard Burr of North Carolina, chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee, appears to have questions, too. His committee issued a subpoena for testimony from one of the president’s sons, Donald Trump, Jr. The move sparked fierce blowback among allies of the White House and divided Senate Republicans into two camps: those who backed his oversight role and those who panned it.

Trump, during remarks at the White House, said he was “very surprised.”

What his supporters want to know, the president said, is how the whole question of Russian interference first started. A top Trump ally in Congress, Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., is starting his own investigation into the investigation, picking up where House Republicans, when they controlled the committees before the lost he majority last year, left off.

House Democrats want Mueller to testify. His report notes that Congress has the ability to “apply the obstruction laws” as part of “our constitutional system of checks and balances and the principle that no person is above the law.” The Democrats want Mueller to more fully explain what he found and what, if anything, he intended for them to do about it.

“Our strategy right now is just to get to the truth and the facts,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., a member of the House Judiciary Committee.

Raskin said he kept a little chart on his notepad during a hearing last week, when the committee voted to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt of Congress for refusing to turn over the full Mueller report, and it was the Republicans who most mentioned impeachment.

“The Republicans would love us to begin impeachment process,” he said. “If we get to impeachment, we’re going to get there on our own schedule and for our own reasons, not because they need to throw some red meat to their base.”

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Jail for all the president’s men?

Whether fact or folklore, this small space in the basement of the Capitol with steel bars is sometimes referred to as the old “House jail,” but it used today to protect the cherished Lincoln Catafalque, the pedestal for caskets used during state funerals, in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

They’re talking about jailing people at the Capitol. Imposing steep fines. All sorts of extraordinary, if long-shot measures to force the White House to comply with Democratic lawmakers’ request for information about President Donald Trump stemming from the special counsel’s Russia investigation.

This is the remarkable state of affairs between the executive and legislative branches, unseen in recent times, as Democrats try to break through Trump’s blockade of investigations and exert congressional oversight of the administration.

“One of the things that everybody in this country needs to think about is when the president denies the Congress documents and access to key witnesses, basically what they’re doing is saying, Congress you don’t count,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings, chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee.

“We cannot — we simply cannot — have a presidency that is run as if it were a king or a dictator in charge,” said Cummings, D-Md.

Trump’s blanket refusal to engage in oversight — and Democrats’ unrelenting demand that he do so — is testing the system of checks and balances with a deepening standoff in the aftermath of Robert Mueller’s investigation.

Trump derides the oversight of his business dealings and his administration as “presidential harassment” and has the backing of most Republicans in Congress. With Mueller’s work completed, Trump wants closure to what he has long complained was a “witch hunt.”

“No more costly & time-consuming investigations,” Trump tweeted.

Stunned by the administration’s refusal to allow officials to testify or respond to document requests, lawmakers have been left to think aloud about their next steps against the White House.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler, the House Judiciary Committee chairman, has given Attorney General William Barr a Monday deadline to comply with a subpoena demanding a redacted version of Mueller’s report, along with its underlying evidence, or face a contempt charge.

Barr could face another subpoena to appear before Nadler’s committee after skipping a hearing Thursday in a dispute over the rules for questioning him. Nadler, D-N.Y., also has subpoenaed testimony from former White House counsel Don McGahn.

Cummings is considering what to do on several fronts, including about testimony from Carl Kline, the White House’s personnel security director. Cummings said Kline declined last week to answer specific questions in a closed-session hearing about the security clearances granted for White House advisers Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump, the president’s son-in-law and daughter. Also, the House Ways and Means Committee is being refused access to Trump’s tax returns.

Republicans are largely declining to join Democrats in pursuing the investigations any further.

“It is over,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, as Barr testified last week before the committee. Graham, R-S.C., has asked Mueller to respond to Barr’s testimony, particularly after the disclosure of a letter the special counsel sent Barr complaining about attorney general’s summary of the 400-plus page Russia report.

The rejection of oversight is the latest and perhaps most high-profile example of the new normal in the Trump era. Gone are the daily White House press briefings, once a fixture in Washington. Administration vacancies go unfilled, leaving fewer officials to respond to congressional requests. Agencies across the government seem more insular than before.

Princeton professor Julian E. Zelizer said what’s unfolding between the White House and Congress “fits in a long history of bad moments when the branches clash over vital information.”

While other presidents, including Barack Obama, have resisted congressional oversight in certain situations, including during Attorney General Eric Holder’s blockade of the “Fast and Furious” gun-running investigation, Zelizer said “Trump is going further by saying no to everything.”

To Zelizer, “certainly there are echoes of Watergate when the administration did everything possible to stonewall Congress as they undertook legitimate investigations and hearings into presidential corruption.”

He said presidents with “too much power” can easily make decisions that undermine government operations in everyday lives. “Should citizens care? Of course, the restraint of presidential power is an essential part of our Constitution and the health of our democracy,” Zelizer said.

Impeachment is being shelved, for now. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and her leadership team are taking a step-by-step approach to the White House standoff, declining any rush to impeachment proceedings, as some in her party want, for a more incremental response.

Pelosi did note this past week that obstructing Congress was one of the articles of impeachment against President Richard Nixon.

“Impeachment is never off the table, but should we start there?” Pelosi said Friday. “I don’t agree with that.”

Short of that, lawmakers are considering options for Barr and others. There’s a long history of lawmakers holding officials in contempt. They can sue for compliance with the threat of fines. Some lawmakers are suggesting censuring the attorney general or impeaching him. Others have called for Barr to resign.

And then there’s talk of jail time.

Capitol Hill has been buzzing about the unlikely prospect of using a jail that some say exists somewhere in the Capitol and that was used in the past to detain those in contempt of Congress.

But the House and Senate say no such facility exists.

“No evidence suggests that any room in the Capitol was ever designated for use as a jail,” says an entry on the House website’s historical pages.

During the Civil War, some Confederate soldiers and others were held at a brick building on the site of what’s now the Supreme Court, across the street from the Capitol, that was often referred as the “Capitol Prison” or “Old Capitol Jail,” according to the history page.

Otherwise, those found in contempt “were almost certainly held temporarily in the offices of the Sergeant at Arms, locked in committee anterooms, or put under guard at local hotels,” it says.

Senate Historian Betty Koed said in the past, the District of Columbia’s jail facility has also been used for detentions. “There is no Senate jail,” she said.

Lawmakers remain undeterred. Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., a member of party leadership, said lawmakers have “a whole range of options.”

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