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New York Dems shy away from calls for Trump's impeachment

WASHINGTON – Progressives want the House to try to impeach President Trump, but the Democrats who represent Western New York in Congress aren't eager to agree.

All three of those Democrats – Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, Sen. Kirsten E. Gillibrand and Rep. Brian Higgins of Buffalo – reacted cautiously to Special Counsel Robert Mueller's report last week, which suggested President Trump might have obstructed justice.

Schumer, Gillibrand and Higgins all want Congress to do more digging before deciding whether to go down the politically perilous route of trying to remove Trump from office.

“It is imperative that the rest of the (Mueller) report and the underlying documents be made available to Congress and that Special Counsel Mueller testify before both chambers as soon as possible," Schumer said in an uncharacteristically bland statement that didn't even mention impeachment.

Meanwhile, Gillibrand – a Democratic presidential candidate – has refused to join primary rivals such as Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts in calling for the House to begin impeachment proceedings.

As for Higgins, he called the Mueller report "inconclusive" and said Congress should do its own investigations into possible Trump administration misdeeds before even considering impeachment.

All of this stands in stark contrast to both what the Democratic base and the loudest voices on the political left want.

Some 51 percent of Democrats questioned in the wake of the Mueller report said beginning impeachment proceedings should be one of the party's top priorities, a Politico/Morning Consult poll found. Another 20 percent of Democrats called impeachment an important but lower priority.

Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer. (Mark Wilson/Getty Images file photo)

In other words, the Democratic base seems aligned with outspoken progressive Democrats such as Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of the Bronx, who vowed last week to sign onto an impeachment resolution, and Rep. Maxine Waters of California.

''At this point, Congress's failure to impeach is complacency in the face of the erosion of our democracy and constitutional norms,'' said Waters, who chairs the House Financial Services Committee. ''Congress's failure to impeach would set a dangerous precedent and imperil the nation as it would vest too much power in the executive branch and embolden future officeholders to further debase the U.S. presidency, if that's even possible.''

That's far afield from what Schumer has been saying. He's hardly mentioned Mueller's report in public since its release a week ago, reacting to it instead in joint statements with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. In those statements, the two Democratic leaders lashed into Attorney General William Barr for supposedly whitewashing the Mueller report.

“We believe the only way to begin restoring public trust in the handling of the Special Counsel’s investigation is for Special Counsel Mueller himself to provide public testimony in the House and Senate as soon as possible,” Pelosi and Schumer wrote. “The American people deserve to hear the truth.”

Michael Caputo plays a cameo role in Mueller's report

The Pelosi/Schumer joint statements don't even mention impeachment, which could be a sign that Schumer quietly agrees with Pelosi's argument that the House should delve deeper into Trump's activities before starting impeachment proceedings.

"If the fact-finding takes us there, we'll have no choice," Pelosi said Tuesday at a Time magazine event. "But we're not there yet."

That's clearly not what Warren or two other Democratic presidential candidates -- Sen. Kamala Harris of California and former Housing Secretary Julian Castro of Texas -- think. All three have said the House should begin impeachment proceedings in light of Mueller's finding that Trump might have tried obstructing justice 10 times in trying to hamper the investigation into Russian election meddling.

"If any other human being in this country had done what's documented in the Mueller report, they would be arrested and put in jail," Warren said Monday at a CNN town hall in New Hampshire.

Gillibrand reacted to Mueller's report in a far more nuanced way, saying she wants to see an unredacted version of the Mueller report before deciding for sure on impeachment.

Speaking with MSNBC's Andrea Mitchell on Tuesday, Gillibrand said: "Having read parts of the report, I believe there is a basis for obstruction of justice, and to proceed to impeachment proceedings, based on what we know. But I would like to have the rest of the report fully known before we proceed."

The New York senator cited another reality for proceeding with caution regarding impeachment while campaigning in Iowa last weekend.

"It's certainly not at the top of mind of most voters around the country," Gillibrand told the Des Moines Register. "They're concerned about their families, and that's why I've put together a huge platform of really robust ideas and bold visions on how we're going to get stuff done."

Similarly, Higgins said in an interview that he worried that moving toward impeachment too quickly could distract the Democrats who control the House from focusing on important issues such as health care and infrastructure improvements.

Rep. Brian Higgins. (Mark Mulville/News file photo)

He said the House, through its committees, should probe the Trump administration's operations and then act accordingly.

"The impulse may be to just move on impeachment right away, but I think we have to explore those 10 areas that that the Mueller report left open-ended relative to whether or not the president committed obstruction of justice," Higgins said.

Any Democratic attempt to impeach Trump would be complicated by strong Republican opposition. And since the GOP controls the Senate, it's likely that even if the Democratic House were to impeach Trump, the Senate would acquit him.

The entire process would likely turn off the general public, said Rep. Tom Reed, a Corning Republican.

"I firmly believe that if you're going to focus on impeachment, if you're going to focus on this obstruction perspective as your priority in Congress, the American people are going to reject that," he said. "I believe what they want us to do as elected officials is solve problems for them that they face back home on a day-to-day basis."

While impeachment is popular with Democrats, the Morning Consult poll taken April 19-21 showed it's not especially popular with the larger electorate. Only 41 percent of registered voters favored impeachment. A mere 7 percent of Republicans strongly backed impeachment, while independents were divided on the issue.

That being the case, Higgins acknowledged that it's probably politically wiser for Democrats to take their time investigating the president before deciding to impeach him.

"Leadership is sometimes about exercising responsible restraint," he said.

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