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Democrats face a dilemma on impeachment

First Read is your briefing from "Meet the Press" and the NBC Political Unit on the day's most important political stories and why they matter.
Image: Nancy Pelosi
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi walks off the stage after speaking at a weekly press conference in the US Capitol on Feb. 28, 2019.Mandel Ngan / AFP - Getty Images

WASHINGTON — Democrats have a problem on their hands.

How do they reconcile their growing belief that President Trump has committed crimes — especially after Michael Cohen’s testimony on Wednesday — with their hesitation/reluctance to consider impeachment?

“Impeachment is the most serious thing you can do in American democracy. So it’s not ever something that you can take lightly,” Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, told MSNBC’s Kay Tur yesterday. “It’s something that obviously you need a big number of members of congress to believe in and to buy into and really for the American people to believe in.”

Yes, going down Impeachment Road is a political risk. (Hello, Newt Gingrich and congressional Republicans!) And yes, Democrats want to wait for Mueller.

But if you believe that what President Trump has done is WAY WORSE than Clinton ever did, aren’t you tolerating/normalizing this kind of behavior if you don’t consider impeachment ASAP?

As Yoni Appelbaum wrote recently in The Atlantic, impeachment is a procedure the Founding Fathers spelled out to debate whether a president has committed crimes or lived up to his oath of office.

Bottom line: There’s no easy answer here for Democrats.

But here’s something to chew on: Has the impeachment process already begun (with Cohen’s testimony, more hearings, Mueller on the way), but Democrats just aren’t calling it that?

An emblematic week in Trump’s presidency

We’ve lost track of the number of times we’ve talked about “consequential” weeks in Trump’s presidency.

But this week was sure emblematic of his two-plus years in the White House. Consider:

  • Allegations of corruption and illegal activity not seen since the Watergate Era (Michael Cohen’s testimony)
  • A GOP base standing behind Trump no matter what (GOP reaction to Cohen)
  • A foreign policy full of grand statements but little substance (North Korea summit)
  • Chaos over domestic policy (House voting to reverse Trump’s emergency declaration)
  • Accusations of racism (Trump’s Spike Lee tweet, Mark Meadows vs. Rashida Tlaib)
  • A scandal involving security clearances and Trump’s family (Trump ordering his chief of staff to give Jared Kushner his security clearance).

And it’s just Friday morning!

Attention congressional investigators: John Kelly has notes!

That’s the big takeaway from last night’s New York Times piece on Jared Kushner getting his security clearance.

“Mr. Trump’s decision in May [to order for Kushner to have a security clearance] so troubled senior administration officials that at least one, the White House chief of staff at the time, John F. Kelly, wrote a contemporaneous internal memo about how he had been ‘ordered’ to give Mr. Kushner the top-secret clearance.”

“The White House counsel at the time, Donald F. McGahn II, also wrote an internal memo outlining the concerns that had been raised about Mr. Kushner — including by the C.I.A. — and how Mr. McGahn had recommended that he not be given a top-secret clearance.”

Remember, there was a reason why so many found it problematic that Trump was bringing family members to work with him in the White House…

2020 Vision: Inslee’s in, Sanders rallies

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee becomes the 11thmajorDemocratic candidate to jump into the 2020 presidential race, and he starts with this announcement video.

“I’m Jay Inslee and I’m running for President because I am the only candidate who will make defeating climate change our nation’s number one priority,” he says in the video. Inslee holds a press conference in Seattle at 1:00 pm ET.

This weekend, meanwhile, Bernie Sanders holds his first rallies of the 2020 campaign – in Brooklyn (on Saturday) and Chicago (on Sunday) to highlight the places that launched his activism in politics and on civil rights, NBC’s Alex Seitz-Wald writes.

And it’s that civil-rights component — including a visit to Selma, Ala.., on Sunday — that’s striking given his struggles with African-American voters in 2016, and given his often clumsy rhetoric when it comes to matters of race.

‘I think you know there are a lot of white folks out there who are not necessarily racist who felt uncomfortable for the first time in their lives about whether or not they wanted to vote for an African-American,”he said last November explaining why Democrats Andrew Gillum and Stacey Abrams lost.

On the trail

Today: Elizabeth Warren stumps in Iowa… Cory Booker and Sherrod Brown are in South Carolina… Kamala Harris remains in Nevada… And Julian Castro addresses the California Legislative Latino Caucus’s annual policy conference.

Saturday: Bernie Sanders holds his campaign-rally launch in Brooklyn, N.Y… Elizabeth Warren stays in Iowa… And Booker and Brown are still in South Carolina.

Sunday: On the anniversary of the Selma march, both Sanders and Booker are in Alabama… And then Sanders goes to Chicago for a rally.

Tweet of the day

Data Download: The number of the day is … 2.9 percent

That’s the annual GDP growth in 2018, according to the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Economic Analysis.

It’s (slightly) less than the 3- to 4-percent growth than Trump promised in 2016 or as president.

And it’s relatively on par with growth rates from Barack Obama’s second term in office, which Trump assailed on the ’16 campaign trail.

Annual GDP growth over the last five years:

  • 2018: 2.9%
  • 2017: 2.2%
  • 2016: 1.6%
  • 2015: 2.9%
  • 2014: 2.5%

SOURCE: Bureau of Economic Analysis

The Lid: Varsity Schoolhouse Rock

Don’t miss the pod from yesterday, in which we explain the procedural tactics House Republicans are using to create some mischief for Democrats.

ICYMI: This week’s overlooked stories

Michael Cohen! North Korea! The House reversing Trump’s emergency declaration! Kushner’s security clearance! Those were the top political stories this week. But here our weekly look-back at the news that didn’t get as much attention – but should have:

Other news today you shouldn’t miss…

Trump agenda: It’s been a tough week

NBC’s Jonathan Allen writes that this may have been one of the worst weeks of Trump’s presidency.

The House Intelligence Committee will call Trump Org. chief financial officer Allen Weisselberg to testify.

Immigrant advocates say Trump’s policies are creating more illegal crossings, not fewer.

Some Republicans are still trying to push Trump to back down on his national emergency declaration.

Dem agenda: Too shy shy

Democratic leaders are still shying away from impeachment talk in the wake of the Cohen hearing.

Tensions are getting high between Democratic moderates and liberals in the House.

Democratic support for Medicare for All appears to be slipping.

2020: Bernie’s bio

Alex Seitz-Wald writes on Bernie Sanders’ effort to talk a little more about his bio.

The chair of the RNC has this warning for potential Trump challengers: “Waste your money, waste your time, go ahead and lose.”

Pro-Trump super PAC America First Action is without a high-powered leader, POLITICO notes.

Joe Biden is walking back praise for Mike Pence after being criticized by Democrats.

Joaquin Castro may run against John Cornyn.

Amy Klobuchar will have a chance to take on stories about her bad behavior as a boss at the annual Gridiron Dinner.