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Democrats Weigh The Political Risks Of Calling For Trump's Impeachment


This week, Texas Congressman Al Green stood on the House floor and introduced something that sounded pretty dramatic. It was a pair of articles...


AL GREEN: Impeaching Donald John Trump, president of the United States.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: The Democrat's motion was quickly followed by a broad bipartisan vote to table the effort. But as NPR's Scott Detrow reports, Green's push was the latest and most visible escalation yet of a growing debate among Democratic politicians and voters.

SCOTT DETROW, BYLINE: To impeach or not to impeach - that's a question a lot of Democrats are asking and debating. Of course, the argument is purely theoretical. Republicans control the House where the impeachment process begins. They support Trump and have zero interest in that sort of vote. But Trump is deeply unpopular among Democrats, and an investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller has already led to charges against four Trump aides. So the question is out there.


RAUL GRIJALVA: And the sooner we start talking out loud and say the I-word, the better we're all going to be.

DETROW: Arizona Congressman Raul Grijalva is one of 58 Democrats who voted to debate Green's impeachment articles this week. Green's impeachment articles - it's worth noting - had nothing to do with the Russia investigation. Instead, they focused on divisive statements, actions and tweets Trump has made. Grijalva says the details of this week's motion were kind of beside the point.


GRIJALVA: Is this the right vehicle? What's good timing? I don't know. But, for me, on a personal level, I need to be prepared and honestly tell the constituents that I represent I think this man is not fit to be president, and we should start looking at that.

DETROW: This is still a minority view within the House's minority party. Most Democrats voted against the motion. That included leaders like Steny Hoyer, the House's number two Democrat. Hoyer hears the argument that Trump's day-to-day behavior is threatening. But he says...


STENY HOYER: Well, outside the norm of a regular president - very frankly, he was outside the norm of a regular candidate, and he was elected.

DETROW: And Hoyer says the results of a presidential election are something Democrats in Congress need to respect until a very high bar of proof indicates otherwise. But a lot of Democratic voters, particularly Democratic activists, are eager to have that fight now and to have it on grounds beyond the Russian collusion and obstruction of justice questions Mueller is investigating. California megadonor Tom Steyer is one of them.


TOM STEYER: He's brought us to the brink of nuclear war, obstructed justice at the FBI. And in direct violation of the Constitution, he's taken money from foreign governments and threatened to shut down news organizations that report the truth.

DETROW: Steyer has spent $10 million running ads and promoting an online petition urging Congress to impeach Trump. Steyer has already collected more than 3.3 million signatures. But since he takes a starring role in the ads and in them sometimes talks about policy like the Republican tax plan, many people wonder whether Steyer's also interested in raising his profile ahead of a statewide or national run for office.


STEYER: This is much more than that. This is a statement that this president is a danger to the American people, that he has met the criteria for impeachment.

DETROW: Right now, most of the Democrats in Congress just don't agree. California Congressman Ro Khanna explains why he's with Democratic leadership on this one.


RO KHANNA: If a Republican were to say that they were never going to vote to impeach Trump no matter what Bob Mueller found, we would say that's totally unreasonable. You have to look at the evidence. Similarly, there is no way we should be saying that we could vote for impeachment without the end of Mueller's findings.

DETROW: And since no one knows when that could happen, many Democrats say they should focus on a definite opportunity they'll have to remove Trump from office - the 2020 presidential election. Scott Detrow, NPR News.

(SOUNDBITE OF AQUILO'S "HUMAN (MARIAN HILL REMIX)") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Detrow is a White House correspondent for NPR and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast.