LAS VEGAS — Former Senate majority leader Harry Reid, who as recently as last month cautioned Democrats about the perils of pursuing President Trump’s impeachment, now says the House should open an impeachment inquiry that might or might not lead to a formal effort to remove him from office.
“It’s not the right thing to do nothing,” Reid said in an interview Monday with USA TODAY. “It’s not the right thing to jump into impeachment without doing an inquiry.”
The most important goal, he said, would be to “give the American people a view of what’s going on.”
The House could establish an impeachment panel to investigate the allegations that some say amount to the “high crimes and misdemeanors” necessary under the Constitution to remove a president from office. But such a panel wouldn’t necessarily vote to impeach Trump — that is, to approve Articles of Impeachment that would send the process to the Senate for a trial.
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The change in opinion by one of the nation’s most senior Democrats, a former five-term senator from Nevada who led Senate Democrats for a decade, reflects growing momentum within Democratic ranks behind some sort of impeachment effort.
Democrats have been frustrated by White House efforts to block testimony by current and former administration officials before several House committees. And last week former special counsel Robert Mueller, in his first public comments, discouraged calls for him to testify.
Some analysts say an impeachment inquiry would have more standing to demand documents and testimony and to command public attention.
Reid’s comments are also notable because he had what he called “a front-row seat” at the nation’s last impeachment trial, when Reid was Senate minority leader. Then, the Republican-controlled House voted to impeach Clinton, but the Senate didn’t convict him in the trial that followed.
That impeachment effort rebounded politically against GOP candidates in the 1998 midterm elections.
Reid acknowledged the potential political blowback and the likelihood that the current GOP-controlled Senate would never vote to remove Trump from office.
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“That has been one of the big arguments against the impeachment,” Reid said. “Why make Trump a hero by saying ‘they couldn’t impeach me?’” And remove him from office. But Reid called that “all the more reason why the inquiry is the right thing to do.”
In the end, he said, “I just think that Republicans are going arm-in-arm with Trump, right over the cliff.” But he said public opinion might be affected by a systematic effort to explore allegations that Trump tried to obstruct the special counsel’s investigation and engaged in other wrongdoing.
“I think that that’s one reason an inquiry should go forward, to find out how the public reacts to this,” he said.
At the end of the hour-long interview, Reid said he was likely to reach out to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to tell her his thoughts, and a Reid spokesman said Tuesday that the former senator had talked with her office. Reid, who stays in regular touch with Pelosi, heaped praise on her and her leadership.
Reid, 79, uses a wheelchair after back surgery that was necessary because of complications from chemotherapy. But the pancreatic cancer he has been battling is in remission, and he was energetic and upbeat. “It doesn’t mean it’s cured,” he said, “but I feel pretty good.”