2020 Democratic candidates' Trump impeachment push grows

"If we allow a president to get away with shredding the United States Constitution, that will last forever," said former Vice President Joe Biden.
Image: Joe Biden
Joe Biden speaks to local residents during a community event, in Burlington, Iowa, on Aug. 7, 2019.Charlie Neibergall / AP file

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By Allan Smith, Ben Kamisar, Melissa Holzberg and Jonathan Allen

Former Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday said President Donald Trump and his administration must comply with congressional investigations or face impeachment hearings over allegations that Trump sought to pressure Ukraine to investigate Biden's family.

The allegations center around phone conversations Trump had with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which the president reportedly pressured Zelensky to probe Biden's son, who had business dealings in Ukraine.

In a Tuesday speech, Biden repeatedly said Trump's actions were "not the conduct of an American president" and said they amounted to an "abuse of power" that "violates his oath of office" and "strikes at the sworn responsibility of an American president."

"I can take the political attacks," he said. "They’ll come and they’ll go, and in time they’ll soon be forgotten. But if we allow a president to get away with shredding the United States Constitution, that will last forever."

If Trump and his administration does not comply with congressional probes, Biden said it will leave Congress with "no choice but to initiate impeachment," saying that would be a "tragedy, but a tragedy of his own making."

He said the allegations regarding Trump's actions toward Ukraine rise above being a Democratic or Republican political issue.

"We know who Donald Trump is," Biden said. "Now we need to show the world who we are."

Later on Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who had for months resisted impeachment calls, announced a formal impeachment inquiry. More than two dozen Democrats have come out in favor of impeachment action since the Ukraine reports came to light last week, with many of them announcing support within the past 24 hours. At least 180 House Democrats — over three-fourths of the caucus — now support some sort of impeachment action against the president.

Biden was far from the only presidential candidate to address impeachment on Tuesday, though many of his Democratic counterparts simply reasserted their calls for impeachment that stood before the latest Ukraine allegations.

Billionaire presidential candidate Tom Steyer, who ran a pro-impeachment advocacy group before running for office, told NBC News Tuesday of Trump: "If we don't hold him accountable now, he will get worse."

Asked whether he thought the House Democrats were capable of presenting a compelling case against Trump to the public, Steyer said that's a challenge.

"I think it’s clear that this president, that this Justice Department, will do anything they can inside or outside the law to protect this president," he said. "It will be a fight."

Other 2020 candidates have long called on the House to begin impeachment hearings, mostly based on the findings from former special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into questions about obstruction of justice and collusion with Russia's interference into the 2016 election. Many of them renewed their calls over the weekend in Iowa, where most were gathered for the state party's steak fry event.

"The House must impeach," Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., tweeted Tuesday. "It must start today."

Other candidates calling for impeachment now had already supported it prior to the latest allegations.

Former Housing and Urban Development Secretary Julián Castro told Iowa Steak Fry visitors Saturday it was time for House Democrats to "do your job and impeach Donald Trump." Sens. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Cory Booker, D-N.J., as well as former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, D-Texas, and Rep. Tim Ryan, D-Ohio., have all reiterated their calls for the House to act.

While South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg has also said he supports impeachment, he tempered that call with skepticism that Republicans would follow through with removing Trump from office.

"I support the House in taking on impeachment proceedings. I also think that the only real resolution to this will be defeating this president and his enablers in the Congressional Republican Caucuses," Buttigieg said Monday.

Several of the remaining 2020 holdouts, including self-help guru Marianne Williamson, former Maryland Congressman John Delaney, and entrepreneur Andrew Yang came out in support of an inquiry on Tuesday.

"I have decided that impeachment is the only responsible way that we, as citizens, can take a stand against the president’s egregious overreach and careless use of the powers of the presidency," Williamson said in a statement.

Sen. Michael Bennet, D-Colo., called for more investigations into the president's conduct but stopped short of calling for impeachment proceedings to begin in the wake of the Ukrainian allegations. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, who has not supported impeaching Trump, did not change her position during a Tuesday appearance on Fox, saying impeachment would be "terribly divisive for the country."

For his part, Trump has denied the allegations and called the growing push for impeachment a "ridiculous witch hunt."

"I’m leading in the polls. The only way they can stop me is impeachment," he said Tuesday while attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York.

Earlier on Tuesday, Trump announced he would declassify and release the full transcript of his late July phone call with Zelensky. So far, the administration has refused to turn over his complaint to Congress.

Biden finds himself at the center of the president's Ukraine ordeal as Trump and his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani have for months tried to get Ukraine to probe the Bidens — an effort which was aided by the State Department.

The push centers on Biden's 2016 call — widely backed by the international community — for Ukraine to crack down on corruption, including removing a Ukrainian prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, who was seen as ineffective and was later removed by the country's parliament. Shokin was investigating Burisma Holdings, a natural gas company whose board then included Biden's son.

But, as Bloomberg News reported earlier this year, the Burisma investigation had been dormant for more than a year by the time Biden called for the crackdown on corruption. And the then-Ukrainian prosecutor general told the news agency that he found no evidence of wrongdoing by Biden and his son. PolitiFact, meanwhile, reported that it found no evidence to "support the idea that Joe Biden advocated with his son's interests in mind."

Amanda Golden contributed.