WASHINGTON — Andy Kim had finally seen enough.
Until Tuesday, the freshman congressman from New Jersey’s 3rd district had kept a wary distance from the debate over whether to impeach President Trump. Kim, who is 37, won his South Jersey district by a few thousand votes in 2018, ousting a Republican incumbent and helping Democrats regain the majority in the House of Representatives. The Democratic Party has named him one of its so-called frontline members who are running for reelection in tough districts and whose campaigns will get extra help from the party.
For months Kim resisted calls to throw his support behind impeachment. People shouted at him at town-hall meetings in his district but Kim refused to budge. Let the oversight committees do their work, he told his constituents. Yes, he said, the process was moving too slowly and the White House was dragging it out, but the time wasn’t right.
That changed on Tuesday. Before he got elected to Congress, Kim worked on the National Security Council in the Obama White House. His job included setting up calls with foreign leaders, and he sat in the Oval Office for some of those calls. It was on that same kind of call that President Trump in July reportedly pressured the new Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate former vice president Joe Biden and whether years ago Biden pressured Ukraine to fire a prosecutor. Kim could never have imagined a sitting president putting personal and political gain over national security. He couldn’t stay on the sidelines any longer.
“By urging the Ukrainian government to take action to influence our Democracy, Trump has violated [the] power [of the presidency] and the trust of the American people,” Kim said in a six-paragraph statement released on Tuesday. “If the facts are corroborated, that violation, and my understanding of its implications, has led me to come to the conclusion that the President has committed an impeachable offense.”
Kim wasn’t alone. Dozens of members who had stayed away now threw their weight behind impeachment proceedings. Nearly 180 of the 235 House Democrats have announced they favor an impeachment investigation or formally drafting articles of impeachment against the president. Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA), never one to get out ahead of her caucus, announced Tuesday that the House would open a formal impeachment investigation.
Why the sea change? What led wavering Democrats to change their minds so fast? The answers differ depending on the Democrat. For many, the allegations regarding Trump and Ukraine were shocking and rose above the political fray in a way the Mueller report’s findings did not. For others, the allegations raised grave constitutional and national-security questions, making the unimaginable all too real. And almost certainly as more members joined the pile-on, it became easier for others to join the chorus of pro-impeachment Democrats.
“For me and many of us, that was really a massive change,” Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO), a freshman member, tells Rolling Stone. Crow and six other Democrats who had served in the military or intelligence community co-wrote an op-ed published Monday night that said Trump’s “flagrant disregard for the law” left no other choice but to demand an impeachment investigation. “We are dealing with a sitting president’s ongoing activity that is forward-looking, goes to the core of our national security and foreign policy, and needs to be addressed.”
“The events of the last two days have been a paradigm shift,” a House Democratic staffer who works for a freshman member tells Rolling Stone. “To see the gross abuse of power is just a complete shock to the system. That’s the big shift here. “Especially for those members who have dedicated their lives to the cause of national security, this is the absolute breaking point.”
From there, it was a cascade of announcements by House Democrats calling for Trump’s impeachment. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D-TX), who represents a battleground district outside Houston, said Trump’s “actions, which the President has admitted, represent a gross abuse of power and an abuse of the trust we the people have placed in the Office of the President.” Rep. John Lewis (D-GA), the voice of conscience in the Democratic Party, said on the House floor that “I truly believe, the time to begin impeachment proceedings against this president has come. To delay, or to do otherwise, would betray the foundation of our democracy.” Rep. Katie Hill (D-CA), a freshman representing a swing district in southern California, announced that if Congress confirmed the allegations related to Trump and Ukraine that she would go further than backing an impeachment investigation — she would vote to impeach Trump.
By Tuesday afternoon, the question wasn’t whether Democrats would proceed with an impeachment probe focused on Trump and Ukraine — it was a matter of how. Headed into their 4 p.m. caucus meeting, one of the best-attended such meetings this year, there were rumors of a bipartisan select committee devoted to impeachment. That didn’t bear out. Instead, as Pelosi announced, six Democratic chairmen will collect evidence of possible impeachable offenses and send that evidence to the House Judiciary Committee. The Judiciary Committee, led by chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler, will decide whether to draft articles of impeachment.
The scene outside the Democratic caucus’ 4 p.m. meeting was bedlam. Members of Congress walked a gauntlet of reporters and TV cameramen who lined the walkway that led to the HC-5 conference room. Some members stopped to field questions, others breezed past, and a few marveled at the crowd choking the Capitol’s underground tunnels.
Whether by choice or directive, House Democrats reemerged singing the same tune, one of unity and resolve in their decision to start the impeachment process against the president.
“Unlike any other caucus meeting, there was broad consensus,” Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi (D-IL) told reporters after leaving the caucus meeting. “I did not hear one word of dissent, and that’s the first time that I recall that’s occurred in a discussion of the president.”
The White House’s decision on Wednesday morning to release a readout of Trump’s conversation with the Ukrainian president reinforced Democrats’ decision to press forward with impeachment.
“My initial read just confirms the urgency around the issue,” Congressman Crow says. “There doesn’t need to be a quid pro quo. The president just asking a foreign leader to do this is shocking and unacceptable in my view. It underscores the urgency that we need to get all the facts so that we fully understand what happened and what we need to do as members of Congress to address this and secure our country.”