With House Democrats in charge, will they move to impeach Trump?

House Democrats now have the power to impeach Trump. Will they use it?

Despite cries from some in their party, House Democrats made it clear during the campaign: impeaching President Donald Trump is not high on their agenda.

Now that they have the power to do so after winning a majority Tuesday, the impeachment question will be asked again. 

“Nothing is going to happen right away,” said Jim Manley, a former aide to then-Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev.

“If they are to make such a move, the House leadership will only do so after a long, drawn-out investigation and numerous hearings. In the meantime, I expect them to move through the bulk of their domestic legislative agenda while conducting oversight of the administration.”

From House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi on down, most of the party’s congressional candidates focused on pocketbook issues, not on removing the president from office if they regained the majority. Pelosi, D-Calif., told CNN last year: “It’s not some place that I think we should go.”

What the Democrats are certain to do with their majority is take steps to protect special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into whether Russian officials during the 2016 elections.

The new Democratic majority also is expected to hold hearings on the Trump administration, including trying to get his income tax returns. Trump is the first president in 40 years to refuse to disclose his returns.

“To me, oversight does not mean political fishing expeditions,” said New Jersey Rep. Bill Pascrell Jr., a Democrat from New Jersey’s 9th District.

“Oversight means pursuing the facts wherever they lead, and from that toiling to make American government healthier – that includes any discussions of impeachment or presidential censure.”

While Trump and Republicans warned of impeachment should the GOP lose its congressional majorities, Democratic candidates laser-focused on issues such as health care. Republicans tried and failed to replace the Affordable Care Act with legislation that would have left as many as 32 million more Americans uninsured.

That was the topic of two-thirds of all commercials run by Democratic House and Senate candidates last month, according to the Wesleyan Media Project, which tracks advertising.

“We have to focus on the most important things in people’s lives, health care and making sure they have the dignity of a good job,” said Rep. Donald Norcross, a Democrat from New Jery’s 1st District.

“It’s about our focus on why we’re asking America to trust us,” Norcross said. “It’s about jobs, making sure the wages are raised for those who are making less than $1 million a year. Education has to be affordable. And health care, health care, health care.” 

Granted, there will be some pressure to act quickly. Billionaire investor Tom Steyer has spent more than $8 million of his own money to urge Congress to impeach Trump, and some progressives have joined the cause.

Americans were divided on the question in a September CNN poll, with 47 percent supporting impeachment and 48 percent opposing it. 

“Lots of other priorities before the ‘I’ word,” said Israel Klein, a West Orange native and former aide to now-Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer of New York, who runs a lobbying firm in Washington. “Democratic leadership has said that unless there are 67 votes (in the Senate) for impeachment, it won’t be on the table.” 

They’ve learned a lesson from House Republicans, who insisted on impeaching President Bill Clinton, largely along party lines, after he lied about having an extramarital affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The Senate, which has the power to remove an impeached president, acquitted Clinton. 

The GOP lost seats in the 1998 midterm election, an almost unheard-of failure for the party out of power, and House Speaker Newt Gingrich, who was carrying on his own affair at the time, was forced out of his leadership position.

“Impeachment should not be partisan,” incoming House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said in September at a forum sponsored by Crain’s, a business publisher.

“You have to be in a situation to undertake impeachment where you believe that once all the evidence is public, not a majority but a good fraction of the opposition voters who supported the president would say, ‘Well, they had to do it. It was the right thing to do.'”

In addition, as the Republicans learned two decades ago, two-thirds of the Senate would have to remove Trump from office no matter what the House does.

“There is no way he would ever be convicted in the Senate,” said Matthew Hale, a political science professor at Seton Hall University. For Democrats, “running that fool’s errand would hurt them in the long run,” he said.

Jonathan D. Salant may be reached at jsalant@njadvancemedia.com. Follow him on Twitter @JDSalant or on Facebook. Find NJ.com Politics on Facebook.

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