Nancy Pelosi, Democrat of California, leaving a House Democratic Caucus meeting Wednesday on Capitol Hill.CreditErin Schaff for The New York Times
WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi made a private appeal on Sunday to Democrats not to squander their chance to build public support for a full-scale impeachment inquiry into President Trump, pressing lawmakers to maintain a simple and somber message as she declared “we are ready” to push forward with a politically divisive process.
“The polls have changed drastically about this,” Ms. Pelosi, Democrat of California, told her colleagues during a private conference call, according to a Democratic aide who listened and described the private conversation on condition of anonymity. “Our tone must be prayerful, respectful, solemn, worthy of the Constitution.”
After months of murky messaging around a confusing investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election, and Mr. Trump’s efforts to derail that inquiry, Democrats believe the new push, centered on Mr. Trump’s efforts to pressure the leader of Ukraine to dig up dirt on a political rival, gives them a fresh start with the public — a chance to make a clear-cut case that the president deserves to be removed.
Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the Democrat who leads the Intelligence Committee, told CBS’s “60 Minutes” that more subpoenas in the inquiry would be coming as soon as early this week, including one for Rudolph W. Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer whom he deputized to follow up with the Ukrainians on investigating former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr.
Congress is now on a two-week recess, and most lawmakers are back home in their districts. Party leaders sent the rank and file home on Friday with instructions and talking points cards aimed at emphasizing the gravity of the moment. They contained two central messages for lawmakers to deliver to constituents: Mr. Trump abused his office, and Democrats would follow the facts.
“We want to keep this simple,” said Representative David Cicilline of Rhode Island, who heads the party’s messaging arm, clutching talking points cards headlined “No One Is Above the Law.” He added: “This is not complicated. This is misconduct that the president has admitted to.”
Only a month ago, Ms. Pelosi told Democrats in another confidential conference call that the public support for an impeachment inquiry simply did not exist. But in an interview with CBS’s “60 Minutes” that aired Sunday evening, she said changed circumstances had altered her calculus.
“We could not ignore what the president did. He gave us no choice,” she said, adding: “I always said we will follow the facts where they take us, and when we see them, we will be ready. And we are ready.”
More than half of Americans — and an overwhelming number of Democrats — say they approve of the inquiry, according to a CBS News poll released Sunday. But the survey found a partisan split, with most Democrats calling the president’s handling of Ukraine illegal and most Republicans calling Mr. Trump’s actions proper — or, if improper, at least legal.
The week-old inquiry is barreling forward, even with lawmakers out of town for a two-week recess. Mr. Schiff, appearing on the ABC program “This Week,” said Sunday that the whistle-blower who triggered the inquiry would testify “very soon.”
But Mr. Schiff hinted the committee might not call Mr. Giuliani, the bombastic former New York mayor who was essentially running a shadow foreign policy in Ukraine on behalf of Mr. Trump. Interviewed on ABC shortly before Mr. Schiff, Mr. Giuliani at first said he “wouldn’t cooperate with Adam Schiff,” then said he “will consider it.”
Sunday night was only the latest effort by Ms. Pelosi to try to strike a dignified tone for the process with her appearance on “60 Minutes.” In a series of interviews, she has been making the case that Mr. Trump engaged in “a cover-up,” calling this moment a “sad day for our country.”
But the carefully coordinated messaging campaign may be upended before it starts. Liberals are reveling in news of an inquiry that they believe should have been opened long ago. The campaign of Representative Rashida Tlaib, Democrat of Michigan, whose profane cry for impeachment made news on her first day in office, is already selling T-shirts emblazoned with the slogan using a two-letter abbreviation for the expletive she used back in January.
And on the presidential campaign trail, Democrats are talking up impeachment, which poses a danger that the public will think the party is prejudging the outcome of the inquiry and politicizing a solemn task that has grave implications for the future of the nation.
“We need to make sure this is fact-driven and evidence-based, “ said Representative Josh Gottheimer, a centrist Democrat from New Jersey who had resisted calls for the inquiry until now. “You can’t prejudge something that is so solemn and obviously could have a big historical impact on our country, and you need to keep the country together.”
On Friday, three congressional committees issued a subpoena to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, demanding that he produce documents and a slate of witnesses that could shed light on Mr. Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to pursue investigations into his political opponents, including Mr. Biden.
And while Ms. Pelosi has said the House would continue to investigate other aspects of the Trump presidency, it is becoming increasingly clear that Ukraine is the central focus and that Mr. Schiff, a former prosecutor, is its de facto leader. Although Mr. Trump has repeatedly called on Mr. Schiff to resign, many Democrats believe he presents a good face to the public.
Representative Cheri Bustos, Democrat of Illinois, who runs the party’s campaign arm, told colleagues on the call that her committee would begin polling voters in key swing districts on impeachment and the House’s inquiry, according to three Democrats on the call.
Mr. Schiff has scheduled a closed briefing on Friday with the inspector general of the intelligence community, who conducted a preliminary investigation of the whistle-blower complaint and found it credible.
“We have to flesh out all of the facts for the American people,” Mr. Schiff wrote in a letter to colleagues. “The seriousness of the matter and the danger to our country demands nothing less.”
For moderates in Trump-friendly districts — many of whom opposed opening an inquiry just a week ago — this moment is fraught with political peril. Some vulnerable freshmen who now support the inquiry are already saying that they are aware that they may become one-term members of Congress as a result. Some are bracing for a backlash at home.
“I’m going to tell my constituents that this is a decision I never wanted to have to make, that the president left us no choice but to open an impeachment inquiry,” said Representative Angie Craig, a freshman from Minnesota who flipped a Republican seat in a district won by the president. She added, “I didn’t come here to impeach the president.”
Ms. Craig and other moderates met privately with Ms. Pelosi on Thursday, seeking guidance on how to talk about impeachment back home. She writes a weekly newsletter to her constituents, and said she intended to use it to invite constituents to draw their own conclusions, and will ask them to read relevant documents, including the whistle-blower’s complaint.
Democrats believe the facts are on their side. The president has acknowledged talking to Ukraine’s new president, Volodymyr Zelensky, about investigating Mr. Biden. The transcript of their July 25 call and the whistle-blower’s complaint back that up. It is an easy-to-understand, digestible narrative, unlike the other inquiries Democrats have been pursuing, including the Russia investigation, hush money payments and Mr. Trump’s business dealings.
“I still believe in story,” said Representative Anna G. Eshoo, Democrat of California and a close ally of Ms. Pelosi. “There’s clarity to this Ukraine story.”
But it will be a hard conversation for vulnerable moderates like Representative Dean Phillips, Democrat of Minnesota, who also resisted an inquiry until recently.
“I come from a very engaged district that is thoughtful, respectful for the most part and believes in accountability,” he said. “I am grateful to those Republican constituents of mine and throughout the country who recognize this isn’t about an individual president or politician, this is about process, principle and the rule of law.”
His message to voters who ask him what he is doing? “I’m doing my job.”
Nicholas Fandos contributed reporting from Washington, and Jonathan Martin from Austin, Tex.
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