The widespread consensus of former Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s testimony on Capitol Hill on Wednesday was that both political parties continued to see what they wanted to see.
For Democrats, that meant renewed calls for pursuing impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump—and a chance to raise some money ahead of the 2020 election.
As Mueller sat in a stuffy hearing room in Washington, D.C. taking questions from lawmakers, a large chunk of the 2020 Democratic field was in Detroit, appearing at the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People’s annual convention where they were asked about Mueller’s testimony. (The NAACP had voted to support impeachment a day before its presidential forum.)
“I understand that there are people who for political reasons say it’s not where we want to be, but in my view, some things are above politics,” said Sen. Elizabeth Warren, reiterating her support for pursuing impeachment charges. “Whether it would pass the Senate or not … this is a moment in history, and every single person in Congress should be called on to vote and then to live with that vote for the rest of their lives.”
Sens. Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, both of whom are also two of the leading candidates in the broad field of 2020 Democrats, said they hadn’t yet seen Mueller’s testimony when they each took the stage, but added that they understood that at that point it had matched what had been in his report.
In fact, the biggest piece of news that came of the Judiciary and Intelligence Committee hearings was likely early in Mueller’s testimony, when he refuted the President’s inaccurate claims that the special counsel’s report “totally exonerated” Trump. Mueller also raised concerns about future Russian election interference, and said the President’s receptivity to Wikileaks was “problematic.”
Other candidates also took the opportunity to build out listservs. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand tweeted out a link asking people to add their name if they agree Congress needs to start impeachment proceedings, which asked for a donation once they signed on. Rep. Seth Moulton sent an email doing the same.
“Everyone knew that this was what the news cycle was going to be. There was no penetrating it, and there was no sort of working around it, so if you want to be involved in the conversation, you could insert yourself into that conversation that was already happening,” said Matt Corridoni, an adviser to Moulton. “With this, it has the base so galvanized and so excited and also has mainstream individuals who might not follow politics on a daily basis tuned into it … and there are very few news occurrences that happen like that.” (Moulton has yet to qualify for any of the primary debates so far.)
It wasn’t just the 2020 Democrats who were hoping to capitalize off of the hearings. Trump tweeted about California Rep. Adam Schiff, the chair of the House Intelligence Committee who led the afternoon hearing, calling him “ShiftySchiff.” Just a little over an hour later, Schiff had a tweet out calling Trump “unhinged” asking for people to “let Adam know you have his back.” That link also led to a landing page asking for donations.
At least one Democratic lawmaker who had previously held back on calling for impeachment inquiry, Massachusetts Rep. Lori Trahan, announced she supported pursuing it after the hearings.
Some outside groups also took advantage of the opportunity to fundraise or push their agenda. Democracy For America, a progressive organization, sent out an email soliciting donations to “advance our movement to impeach the crook in the White House.” MoveOn, a political group originally born out of Bill Clinton’s impeachment, also used the opportunity to advance its calls to impeach Trump. Even Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit watchdog group, called for a formal impeachment inquiry based on its own report on Wednesday for the first time.
But not everyone saw it as an unfiltered positive for the Democratic party.
One Democratic strategist focused on House races said that while he thought it didn’t hurt Democrats, it also distracted from Democrats’ broader message. “I think it’s a wash because I think it’s not bad that people are hearing about corruption from Trump,” the strategist said. “But it’s also sucking up all the oxygen in the room, and they’re not hearing us talk about things like health care or raising wages.”
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