WASHINGTON — Some top Democrats vying for the White House in 2020 are clamoring for impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, but many of their congressional colleagues — who would have to manage such efforts — are far more wary.
The same day House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urged rank-and-file Democrats to proceed with caution following the release of special counsel Robert Mueller's report detailing 10 areas of potential obstruction of justice, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren doubled down on her impeachment call.
"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.
At the same event, California Sen. Kamala Harris said Congress should "take the steps towards impeachment." Former Obama administration housing chief Julian Castro has also said he'd back such efforts.
The split reflects tensions that could emerge in coming months between Democrats on Capitol Hill and those seeking the party's presidential nomination. While the White House hopefuls are trying to rally their base with ambitious proposals and bold calls to take on Trump, those in Congress are tasked with the more arduous task of governing.
The dynamic has already been on display with proposals such as the Green New Deal, which many presidential candidates have embraced to prove their progressive bona fides even as it goes nowhere in Congress. But the debate over impeachment is particularly explosive, and Democrats — including those seeking the White House — are divided over whether it would distract from besting Trump at the polls.
Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders said at Monday's town hall that Congress should do a "hard investigation" to see if the president obstructed justice. But "if, for the next year, year and a half — going right into the heart of the election — all that the Congress is talking about is impeaching Trump and Trump, Trump, Trump, Mueller, Mueller, Mueller," then "what I worry about is that works to Trump's advantage," Sanders said.
The Democrat-controlled House could begin impeachment proceedings, but the party doesn't have the votes in the Senate to secure a conviction without Republican support. Another presidential contender, Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar, sidestepped questions of whether Congress should push forward on the issue, saying at the town hall: "I believe that I am the jury here, so I'm not going to predispose things."
Impeachment calls in Congress run counter to the effort by top Democrats there, who are still struggling with what to do with the Mueller report's unexpectedly detailed account of Trump's efforts to thwart the investigation. Many would like to see a more deliberate approach that may eventually lead to impeachment but will focus for now on numerous investigations.
Pelosi has been adamant that impeachment is impossible without bipartisan public sentiment for the House to formally charge Trump. Speaking Tuesday at the Time 100 summit, she called bringing such an action "one of the most divisive paths that we can go down."
"If the fact-finding takes us there, we'll have no choice," Pelosi said. "But we're not there yet."
There's division, meanwhile, inside the House Democratic caucus. Rep. Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., on Tuesday retweeted Warren's call for impeachment, saying, "I agree! We must begin impeachment proceedings and investigate if the president committed impeachable offenses."
Disagreement can be found on the presidential campaign trail, too.
Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand of New York said she wants an unredacted version of Mueller's report to be released to Congress, saying of impeachment: "I haven't decided yet because I want more information."
"I would frankly like to beat Trump at the ballot box myself," she said by phone.
Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, said at the town hall that Trump "has made it pretty clear that he deserves impeachment," but that it was up to Congress to attempt it. He said he is focused on delivering the president "an absolute thumping at the ballot box."
Former Rep. Beto O'Rourke said while running for Senate in deeply conservative Texas last year that he'd vote to impeach Trump. Since then, he noted that the 2020 election will ultimately decide the president's fate. Spokesman Chris Evans said Tuesday that O'Rourke believes "beyond a shadow of a doubt" that Trump sought to obstruct justice and that he would vote for impeachment if he were still in Congress.
Republicans who have been critical of Trump have also urged caution on impeachment. Appearing in New Hampshire on Tuesday, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan said he didn't believe such an effort "would be productive."
"I think most people in America are sick of this whole two-year investigation," said Hogan, who is considering a potential primary challenge of Trump. "I don't think there should be Democratic overreach."
House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., has subpoenaed former White House counsel Don McGahn , and others have vowed to move ahead investigating Trump-related matters ranging from potential obstruction to his personal and business taxes.
That, though, may not ultimately be enough for longtime advocates of Trump's impeachment.
"Are you going to set a precedent that the president is above the law?" asked Tom Steyer, a billionaire liberal activist who spent millions on a campaign urging Trump's impeachment even before the Mueller report.
Associated Press writers Holly Ramer in Manchester, N.H., and Laurie Kellman in Washington contributed to this report.