The House easily killed a maverick Democrat's effort Wednesday to impeach President Donald Trump for his recent racial insults against lawmakers of color, a vote that provided an early snapshot of just how divided Democrats are over ousting him as the 2020 presidential and congressional campaigns rev up.
Democrats leaned against the resolution by Texas Rep. Al Green by 137-95. That showed that so far, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has successfully prevented a Democratic stampede toward impeachment before additional evidence is developed that could win over a public that's so far skeptical about ousting Trump.
Even so, the roll call underscored that the number of liberal Democrats open to impeachment remains substantial and may be growing. About two dozen more conversions would split the party's 235-member caucus in half over an issue that could potentially dominate next year's elections. Until now, just over 80 Democrats had publicly said they were open to starting an inquiry over removing Trump.
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"There's a lot of grief, from a lot of different quarters," Green, speaking to reporters after the vote, said of the reaction he received from colleagues. "But sometimes you just have to take a stand."
Democrats voting in favor of the impeachment resolution included some of the party's most outspoken freshmen, like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, but were mostly veteran liberals, including leaders of House Democrats' black, Hispanic and progressive caucuses. With party leaders looking to give the effort as little oxygen as possible, there was no debate.
As some Democrats feared, the measure's lopsided 332-95 defeat — the House's first vote on removing Trump since Democrats took control of the chamber this year — opened the door for him to claim vindication.
"You see the overwhelming vote against impeachment and that's the end of it," Trump told reporters as he arrived in North Carolina for a campaign rally. He called the effort the "most ridiculous project I've ever been involved in."
Green's resolution didn't mention special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into whether Trump's 2016 campaign conspired with Russia to influence that year's congressional election or whether the president obstructed Mueller's probe. That inquiry and the questions it raised over Trump's actions have been the main reasons some Democrats have backed impeachment.
Pelosi, D-Calif., told reporters that six House committees are investigating Trump, adding, "That is the serious path we're on."
Mueller is scheduled to testify next week to two House committees.
Democrats rejected Trump's claim that the vote showed he'd been absolved of anything.
"It's not vindication," said Rep. Donna Shalala, D-Fla. "It's that we believe in an orderly process. We're putting our faith in the Judiciary Committee and the hearing they're going to hold."
Every voting Republican favored derailing Green's measure.
With Democrats preparing to defend their House majority in next year's elections, Green's measure forced those in tight districts to choose between upsetting liberals eager to remove Trump and moderates leery of that. Democrats owe their House majority to 39 challengers who won in 2018 in what had been GOP-held districts, places where centrist constituents often predominate.
"It's not ideal for a lot of people to have to take that vote right now," one of them, Rep. Katie Hill, D-Calif., said of impeachment. She said "if and when" the House votes on impeaching Trump, it should happen when "we can make sure our constituents understand and can get behind" the move.
Recent polling has shown solid majorities of the public oppose impeachment. Even if the Democratic-run House would vote to impeach Trump, the equivalent of filing formal charges, a trial by the Republican-led Senate would all but certainly acquit him, keeping him in office.
Trump is "unfit to be President, unfit to represent the American values of decency and morality, respectability and civility, honesty and propriety, reputability and integrity, is unfit to defend the ideals that have made America great, unfit to defend liberty and justice for all," Green's resolution said.
The measure cites Trump's recent "racist" comments imploring Democratic congresswomen of color to go back to their native countries. The House voted Tuesday largely along party lines to condemn those statements . His targets were Ocasio-Cortez and Reps. Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts, Ilhan Omar of Minnesota and Rashida Tlaib of Michigan.
All are American and all but Omar were born in the U.S. They've also been among the party's most outspoken advocates of impeachment, and all backed Green's measure.
Mueller's 448-page report detailed episodes in which Trump tried to influence his investigation. Mueller said he could not exonerate Trump on obstruction and indicated in a May news conference that it was up to Congress to decide what to do.
Some Democrats are frustrated with the slow pace of their party's investigations of the president, and impeachment supporters say it would accelerate House probes and bolster their arguments in court. The White House has blocked several witnesses from answering questions.
Efforts by party leaders to dissuade Green from forcing the divisive roll call fell flat, as they did when he forced votes on similar impeachment resolutions in 2017 and 2018.