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Subpoena Fight Splits Virginia Democrats in Congress

Benjamin Chan / Creative Commons

A growing number of House Democrats have now joined the chorus calling to begin impeachment proceedings against President Trump.

But most Virginia Democrats aren’t singing the same tune. 

More than 50 Democrats in the House are now calling for impeachment proceedings to begin. But some Virginia Democrats don’t even want to talk about it. 

"I am not gonna talk to you about this. I’m just gonna go in and vote,”  northern Virginia freshmen Democrat Jennifer Wexton said when asked about the issue.

But in a district next door Democrat Don Beyer is ready to talk.  He’s the only Democrat in the Commonwealth who wants to move forward with impeachment proceedings. But that doesn’t mean he’s actually calling for Trump to be impeached just yet.  “Which is trying to set the stage so if that impeachment is truly called for, we’re ready to go. It just becomes harder everyday not to move to impeachment,” Beyer says.

Beyer argues the Trump administration can’t be allowed to refuse simple document requests on things like its security clearance process, let alone congressional requests to interview key players in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.  “It’s become a dictatorship rather than the third branch of government. It’s incredibly frustrating when the White House basically says the Legislative Branch is irrelevant [and] does not need to need to be obeyed.”

Still, Beyer doesn’t do so lightly, knowing impeachment proceedings will distract from his party’s agenda.  “We have a big agenda of really constructive forward moving things and we know impeachment is going to interfere with that. It will certainly interfere within terms of the [inaudible]. On the other hand, if we let this president go [and] we don’t try to hold him accountable for totally ignoring the rule of law, what precedent does that set for future presidents of either party?”

But for another northern Virginia Democrat-- Gerry Connolly-- impeachment is the wrong route right now.  “I believe that would set a precedent we don’t need," Connolly says. "I don’t want courts believing that the only way subpoenas by the Legislative Branch can be enforced is by elevating it to the highest constitutional penalty, namely impeachment. I think that’s the wrong road to go and a very bad precedent.” 

Connolly serves on the Oversight Committee and has been upset with the administration, but he wants to formally revive a measure called inherent contempt.  It’s been used in the past to physically arrest witnesses or to levy fines against those who refused to comply with congressional investigations. 

“When we have an administration and a president that has decided recklessly to defy every subpoena, the Legislative Branch has no recourse but to use all of the powers at its command to insist a compliance for the sake of the Constitution, for the sake of our government.”

That means Connolly is prepared to be patient and to allow the courts to work the stalemate out.  “Subpoenas are important tools of Congress. They are absolutely something that have legal validity, courts have so found and I don’t think impeachment inquiry for that purpose makes any sense at all. In fact, I think it would be very deleterious to the powers of Congress.” 

Even as most freshman Democrats want to focus on what they say is the positive agenda they ran on, the talk of impeachment isn’t going away anytime soon.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.