WASHINGTON — As House Democrats launch their impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, no state will play a more pivotal role in the process than California.
Two of the most important leaders of the drive to investigate Trump’s efforts to enlist Ukrainian assistance in his reelection campaign are Californians: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff.
And the state’s mammoth delegation — 46 of whom are Democrats — will probably account for close to a fifth of the votes for any articles of impeachment.
On the other side of the aisle, too, California Republicans represent a critical bulwark in the GOP effort to protect the president.
The senior House Republican — Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy — is a Californian, as is the ranking Republican on the Intelligence Committee, Devin Nunes.
It was Pelosi who had the final say on whether to begin the formal inquiry.
For more than a year, progressive House Democrats have prodded Pelosi to move toward impeachment, but she hesitated, saying the American public and the entire caucus needed to be on board. The allegations raised in a whistleblower’s complaint about Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy persuaded her to move forward.
Pelosi’s support was propelled by a cascade of House Democrats joining the progressive wing of their caucus in support of an impeachment inquiry.
“Now we are on this path. She is the clear captain of the ship. And I think that will help us to be succinct, clear, and serious about what is happening,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
As head of the House Intelligence Committee, which has jurisdiction over the whistleblower’s complaint, Schiff is going to be the public face of the inquiry.
Schiff, a former federal prosecutor, tussled with Trump repeatedly during special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s investigation into Russian attempts to interfere in the 2016 election.
“I’ve been very reluctant to go down this path. I think it’s only meant for extraordinary circumstances. But what has come to light in the last couple of weeks, for many of us, is just a bridge too far, and so we are going to have to consider whether an article or articles of impeachment should be brought. We have a lot of work to do, I think before we can reach that conclusion, and we don’t have an extended period of time to do it,” Schiff said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times.
As Democrats work to explain to the public why they are considering impeachment, Schiff’s ability to clearly and succinctly sum up the investigation will be critical, a senior Democratic aide said.
“His ability to take all of that and — precisely and in a very pithy way — tell the whole story of what we’re dealing with is masterful,” the aide said. Pelosi “thinks he’s brilliant. She thinks he’s a phenomenal prosecutor. He’s steeped in the substance of the work, and he’s passionate about it.”
Schiff has substantial California backup on the Intelligence Committee through Reps. Eric Swalwell and Jackie Speier, both of whom have legal backgrounds.
Schiff will square off with Nunes, who was one of the administration’s most vocal defenders during last week’s hearing with Joseph Maguire, acting director of the Office of National Intelligence.
In the past, Schiff and Nunes have managed to keep from devolving into screaming matches during high-profile hearings, unlike other chairmen and ranking members in recent years. Ross Baker, political science professor at Rutgers University, said that will get harder.
“You’re going to see a lot of fireworks between Schiff and Nunes. That’s just bound to happen. The stakes are very high for both sides,” Baker said. “Their conversations will take place between clenched teeth, but they will happen.”
Nunes will be backed up by McCarthy, another Trump ally, who will likely be Republicans’ main public face as the House moves forward in the coming weeks.
McCarthy criticized Pelosi for opening the impeachment inquiry last week and twice tried to force a House vote on a resolution disapproving of her decision, saying she owes the president an apology. It failed each time on a party-line vote.
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“What in this case rises to impeachment? This is a president of the United States that had a conversation with the leader in another country,” McCarthy told reporters Friday. “She opened an impeachment inquiry without even seeing one word of evidence. In what world is that responsible?”
In addition to these California lawmakers is the state’s massive 53-member congressional delegation, only seven of whom are Republicans.
About 20% of the entire House Democratic caucus hails from California, or 46 of 235 Democratic members.
All of them have now announced they support the inquiry, giving Pelosi a powerful well of support in her home-state delegation. Even swing-district Democrats said they recognize the force of the delegation standing together.
“We’re a big caucus. We’re 46 Democrats, seven Republicans. And obviously the speaker is a proud Californian, as is the minority leader. It’s good to be a Californian,” Rep. Mike Levin said. “The reality is that we will continue to fight in the courts, in Congress and ultimately at the ballot box next year.”
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