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 overt racism erupts against U.S. citizens

A member of the March to Confront White Supremacy holds a sign during a rally behind the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial in Washington on Sept. 6, 2017. (Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Bulletin to Congress.  Is overt racism and bigotry enough to impeach the corrupt thug who now occupies the White House?  If not, why?  Maybe we should work even harder to get rid of you, along with Trump.

Donald Trump’s morning tweet:

So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe, the worst, most corrupt and inept anywhere in the world (if they even have a functioning government at all), now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came. Then come back and show us how….

Not one of the members of Congress slammed by Trump is white, but only one was actually born outside of the United States. All are American citizens.

They are Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ayanna S. Pressley of Massachusetts.

“These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough,” Trump said in his attack. “I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”

Responds Ocasio-Cortez:

Mr. President, the country I ‘come from,’ & the country we all swear to, is the United States. But given how you’ve destroyed our border with inhumane camps, all at a benefit to you & the corps who profit off them, you are absolutely right about the corruption laid at your feet.”

You are angry because you can’t conceive of an America that includes us. You rely on a frightened America for your plunder. You won’t accept a nation that sees healthcare as a right or education as a #1 priority, especially where we’re the ones fighting for it. Yet here we are.

But you know what’s the rub of it all, Mr. President? On top of not accepting an America that elected us, you cannot accept that we don’t fear you, either. You can’t accept that we will call your bluff & offer a positive vision for this country. And that’s what makes you seethe.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is also seething, not at her colleagues in Congress, but at the racist at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue:

When @realDonaldTrump tells four American Congresswomen to go back to their countries, he reaffirms his plan to “Make America Great Again” has always been about making America white again.

Our diversity is our strength and our unity is our power.

Rep. Ray Lujan of New Mexico fired back at Trump on Fox News:

That is a racist tweet. Telling people to go back where they came from — these are American citizens elected by voters in the United States of America to serve in one of the distinguished bodies in the U.S. House of Representatives. I think that’s wrong.

Tweets Representative Brendan F. Boyle, Democrat of Pennsylvania:

Like some of my Democratic colleagues, I’m young, from an immigrant family, also very critical of Trump. Funny thing though, he never tells me to ‘go back where I come from.’ Hmm I wonder why?

That’s easy to answer, Rep. Boyle:  You’re white.

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Democratic libs aren’t backing down

Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)

Days after tensions with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi boiled over publicly, several House Democrats sent a message to Washington: We’re not backing down.

Three members of the “squad” — the cadre of liberal freshman lawmakers who are struggling with their party’s more centrist members over impeachment, immigration and other issues — defended their approach Saturday while appearing on a panel at the annual Netroots conference. All are young women of color, a fact not lost on supporters who have bridled at the criticism thrown their way.

“We never need to ask for permission or wait for an invitation to lead,” Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota said when asked what she would say to women of color who are frustrated or hurt by comments that seek to minimize their impact or vilify them. She said later that there’s a “constant struggle oftentimes with people who have power about sharing that power.”

Omar added: “We are not really in the business of asking for the share of that power. We’re in the business of trying to grab that power and return it to the people.”

Rep. Rashida Tlaib of Michigan joined Omar and Rep. Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass., on the Netroots panel. The “squad” member with the highest profile, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., did not attend.

“I think you have to be unapologetically you,” Tlaib said. “Sometimes that means — I know for me and a number of my sisters, we represent our districts and we focus on the things that matter in our districts and to bring them into this space. And that does sometimes — that does mean I have to vote no on detaining children at the border.”

Infighting between liberal and centrist House Democrats was highlighted last week by Pelosi’s seemingly dismissive words aimed at the freshman women. Pelosi told The New York Times that “they’re four people, and that’s how many votes they got,” a remark that brought criticism that Pelosi was marginalizing women of color.

“The women of color who have entered Congress, they’re more than four votes,” said Aimee Allison, the founder of She the People and the panel’s moderator. “For millions of us, these women of color in Congress represent generations of blood, sweat and tears and struggle.”

Pelosi has cast the sniping among House Democrats as a threat to achieving common goals, one of them to defeat Trump’s bid for reelection. Ocasio-Cortez has complained about the consolidation of power in Congress and wants Democrats to be bold about their priorities.

Pressley quoted the late Rep. Shirley Chisholm’s feminist mantra in saying that rather than bringing her own chair to the proverbial table, “this is the time to shake the table, this is the time to redefine that table.” Chisholm was a pioneering African American who sought the Democratic presidential nomination in 1972.

“Moving forward, I’m just appealing to all of you to recognize that our destinies and our freedoms are tied. Please do not feed any scarcity mindset,” Pressley said. “Now is not the time to be territorial about oppression and trauma. Because this is a coordinated systemic attack and we are all losing.”

Asked whether she still believes Trump must be impeached, Tlaib reprised her controversial statement — minus the overt profanity — made just hours after she was sworn into office last January.

“We’re going to impeach the MF-er,” she said. “Don’t worry.”

Adding to the Democratic discord was a tweet Friday from the House Democratic Caucus criticizing Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, Saikat Chakrabarti, after he tweeted criticism of Rep. Sharice Davids, a Kansas Democrat and Native American. “Who is this guy and why is he explicitly singling out a Native American woman of color?” the House Democrats’ tweet read in part.

A group of progressive organizations issued a statement Saturday saying they were concerned that senior Democratic Party leaders and their aides “have been escalating attacks on new leaders in the party who have been rightfully advocating a stronger approach to holding the Trump administration accountable to human rights abuses being committed on the border and against immigrants.”

“With ICE raids occurring this weekend, deaths of children at the border camps, and a continued blank check for the administration’s racist deportation machine, we will be focusing on the real crisis at hand and we urge Democratic leadership to do so as well,” the statement said. “Democratic leaders must fight to close the camps and hold ICE and CBP accountable.”

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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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Are Democrats ready to impeach Trump?

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., left, and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., inform reporters about their failed meeting with Trump. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

An increasing number of House Democrats say they want an impeachment inquiry. But most of them say they aren’t ready to seek President Donald Trump’s removal from office.

Confused? You aren’t alone. The two-dozen or so Democrats who support the move are working overtime to explain to the public that they, at this point at least, see impeachment hearings as a route to combat Trump’s stonewalling of their investigations. If the House Judiciary Committee opens an impeachment inquiry, they will immediately have better standing with courts as they try to enforce various subpoenas.

Whether voters will understand — or support — that distinction is uncertain. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has been cool to the idea, telling rank-and-file members of her caucus in a meeting Wednesday morning that they needed to be patient, yet persistent as they investigate Trump’s White House.

A look at what it would mean if Democrats were to open an impeachment inquiry:

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ARE DEMOCRATS IN CONGRESS IMPEACHING TRUMP?

Not yet. But the steps they are already taking — broad investigations, subpoenas for administration officials and publicly questioning Trump’s leadership — aren’t that different from what official impeachment proceedings would look like. The House Judiciary Committee is focused on getting special counsel Robert Mueller’s full report and talking to people who were mentioned in it, the House Ways and Means Committee is going after Trump’s tax returns, and several panels are looking at Trump’s business dealings.

But there is one critical difference: Without impeachment, there is no process to remove Trump from office.

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WHAT’S AN IMPEACHMENT INQUIRY?

The word “inquiry” doesn’t appear in the Constitution related to impeachment, but it’s become the latest buzzword among Democrats who want to distinguish the investigative phase from officially charging the president. And it’s long been precedent that the House Judiciary Committee will do a thorough investigation before a vote to determine whether a president has committed “high crimes and misdemeanors.” The committee could then vote on articles of impeachment, sending those articles to the full House.

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IF THERE’S AN IMPEACHMENT INQUIRY, DOES THE HOUSE HAVE TO VOTE ON WHETHER TO REMOVE THE PRESIDENT?

No. Democrats say they could use the formal process to conduct their investigation, and decide later on whether to approve articles of impeachment. And even if the House were to approve charges against the president, it’s up to the Senate — now controlled by Republicans — to hold an impeachment trial. A two-thirds vote in the Senate would be required to convict and remove Trump from office, an outcome Democrats acknowledge is unlikely.

But some Democrats stress that an impeachment inquiry does not have to lead to charges and a trial. They say the process would boost House lawmakers’ standing in court as they move to enforce subpoenas for documents and witnesses.

They acknowledge this strategy is difficult to explain. New York Rep. Kathleen Rice, one of the Democrats who supports opening up the impeachment process, said this week that she knows there is work to do in educating the public on that idea.

“This is what I’m going to spend my time doing,” Rice said. “Trying to explain to people that this is a process.”

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HOW MANY DEMOCRATS ARE SUPPORTIVE OF OPENING AN INQUIRY?

More than two dozen members have spoken in favor of starting impeachment, and there are likely more in the caucus who would support the idea. Many of the most outspoken are members of the House Judiciary Committee, including Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin and Rhode Island Rep. David Cicilline. Both men were part of a group who pushed Pelosi on the idea in a meeting Monday evening, to no avail.

Several other members have said it’s not time for impeachment, yet. But many predict it will be inevitable.

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WHY THE INCREASED PUSH FOR IMPEACHMENT?

The calls have ramped up as Trump has broadly stonewalled almost all of the Democrats’ investigations. The debate reached a pitch on Tuesday after former White House counsel Don McGahn, acting on Trump’s directions, defied a Judiciary Committee subpoena and didn’t show up at a hearing.

The Democrats say they want to protect the institution of Congress, warning that the balance of powers is at stake. There is also some pressure at home for lawmakers who represent the most liberal districts. Several polls conducted in late April found a majority of Democrats are in favor of impeachment, though no more than about 4 in 10 people overall were supportive.

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SO, WHY AREN’T THEY DOING IT YET?

The two most important people in the process — Pelosi and House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler — are still reluctant, and have emphasized early successes in court. Pelosi has said she believes Trump is “goading” Democrats into impeachment and that lawmakers need to take a step-by-step approach.

Both lawmakers were in Congress during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment and are wary of its political drawbacks. They have each said they would like to have bipartisan support to move forward.

Neither has ruled out impeachment, however. At the Wednesday morning meeting, Pelosi repeated her message of patience but also made it clear Democrats won’t let up on the president.

Hours later, at an event at the Center for American Progress, Pelosi said, “The fact is in plain sight in the public domain: This president is obstructing justice and is engaged in a cover-up — and that could be an impeachable offense.”

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Associated Press writers Lisa Mascaro and Emily Swanson contributed to this report.

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Pelosi says no-show Barr is a liar

Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., placed a prop chicken on the witness desk for Attorney General William Barr after he does not appear before a House Judiciary Committee hearing on Capitol Hill. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

Attorney General William Barr skipped a House hearing Thursday on special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia report, escalating an already acrimonious battle between Democrats and President Donald Trump’s Justice Department. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi suggested Barr had already lied to Congress in other testimony and called that a “crime.”

Barr’s decision to avoid the hearing , made after a disagreement with the House Judiciary Committee over questioning, came the day after the department also missed the committee’s deadline to provide it with a full, unredacted version of Mueller’s report and its underlying evidence. In all, it’s likely to prompt a vote on holding Barr in contempt and possibly the issuance of subpoenas, bringing House Democrats and the Trump administration closer to a prolonged battle in court.

Democrats convened a short hearing that included an empty chair with a place card set for Barr. Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler of New York said that if the attorney general doesn’t provide the committee “with the information it demands and the respect that it deserves, Mr. Barr’s moment of accountability will come soon enough.”

Shortly afterward, Pelosi increased the tensions further. In a reference to the attorney general’s testimony last month, Pelosi said Barr “was not telling the truth to the Congress of the United States — that’s a crime.”

Attorney General William Barr skipped a House hearing Thursday on special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia report, escalating an already acrimonious battle between Democrats and President Donald Trump’s Justice Department. (May 2)

At a hearing on April 9, Florida Rep. Charlie Crist asked Barr about reports that members of Mueller’s team believed he had failed to adequately portray their findings in a four-page memo that was released before the full report.

Crist asked at the hearing, “Do you know what they are referencing with that?” Barr responded, “No, I don’t,” and went on to say Mueller’s team probably wanted “more put out” about what they had found.

Democrats have raised questions about that testimony since it was revealed this week that Mueller had written Barr two weeks earlier, on March 27, complaining that the attorney general’s memo “did not fully capture the context, nature and substance” of his work.

Barr said Wednesday his answer was not misleading because he had been in touch with Mueller, rather than members of his team, and that the concerns were mostly about process and not substance. Within minutes of Pelosi’s comments, Justice Department Spokeswoman Kerri Kupec called her words “reckless, irresponsible and false.”

Pelosi also said the administration’s refusal to respect subpoenas by a House committee is “very, very serious” and noted that ignoring congressional subpoenas was one of the articles of impeachment against former President Richard Nixon.

As Democrats portrayed Barr as untruthful, they sought to speak to Mueller. Nadler said the panel hoped the special counsel would appear before the committee on May 15 and the panel was “firming up the date.”

It’s unclear whether Barr will eventually negotiate an appearance with the House panel. Nadler said he wouldn’t immediately issue a subpoena for Barr’s appearance but would first focus on getting the full Mueller report, likely including a vote holding Barr in contempt of Congress.

While a contempt vote would make a strong statement, it is unlikely to force the Justice Department to hand over the report. A vote of the full House on contempt would send a criminal referral to the U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia — a Justice Department official who is likely to defend the administration’s interests. But even if the U.S. attorney declines to prosecute, Democrats could pursue other avenues in court or even issue fines against witnesses who fail to appear.

“In the past they had a House jail,” said Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., a member of the Judiciary panel. “I don’t think we’re going to go that far, but courts have upheld that.”

At Barr’s no-show hearing, Democratic members of the committee had fun with the spectacle, passing around fried chicken and placing a prop chicken by Barr’s unused microphone to underscore their contention that he was afraid to appear. One lawmaker jokingly looked under the desk to make sure Barr wasn’t there.

Republicans were not amused by the antics or Nadler’s tough talk.

“The reason Bill Barr isn’t here today is because the Democrats decided they didn’t want him here today,” said the top Republican on the panel, Georgia Rep. Doug Collins. Nadler had demanded that staff attorneys, in addition to lawmakers, be allowed to question Barr. Barr said he wouldn’t attend under that condition.

The attorney general’s cancellation meant he would avoid another round of sharp questioning after testifying Wednesday before the Senate Judiciary Committee. Democrats on the panel contended that Barr was protecting Trump after he assessed Mueller’s report on his own in the early memo and declared there wasn’t enough evidence that the president had committed obstruction of justice. Mueller didn’t charge Trump with obstruction but wrote that he couldn’t exonerate him, either.

Barr strongly defended himself against those criticisms and also Mueller’s, saying at one point that Mueller’s March letter to him was “snitty.”

The attorney general’s confrontational approach is in line with the White House, which argued in an April 19 letter that Trump has the right to instruct advisers not to testify before congressional oversight probes. The letter from White House legal counsel Emmet Flood to Barr, which was obtained by The Associated Press on Thursday, argues that Trump would, if necessary, assert executive privilege to prevent advisers from testifying.

Trump has vowed to battle “all of the subpoenas” as multiple committees have sought to speak with administration officials or obtain documents relevant to his policies and finances. The president, his business and his administration have already filed lawsuits to prevent the turning over of Trump’s financial records and have declined to comply with a deadline to provide his tax returns.

Democrats have signaled they won’t back down and will take steps — including in court — to get the White House to comply.

But advisers to the president have suggested that any legal fight, even one that ends in defeat, would likely extend well into the 2020 campaign and allow them to portray the probes as political.

In the April letter, Flood blasted the Mueller report as defective and political. He called the 448-page report a “prosecutorial curiosity — part ‘truth commission’ report and part law school exam paper.”

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Associated Press writers Jonathan Lemire, Alan Fram, Michael Balsamo, Eric Tucker, Laurie Kellman, Jill Colvin and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.

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