Two House Democrats on Thursday joined activists at the US Capitol who presented Congress with signatures of 10m people calling on lawmakers to begin impeachment proceedings against US president Donald Trump.
“We are holding in our hands 10m reasons for being here today,” progressive congressman Al Green said, as he and first-term congresswoman Rashida Tlaib held up a flash drive.
Dozens of cardboard boxes featuring the signatures, gathered on petitions from groups such as MoveOn and the annual Women’s March, were delivered to Tlaib, who has introduced legislation that would direct the House judiciary committee to begin proceedings to investigate whether Trump has committed impeachable offences.
“In the face of this time, this remarkably dark time in our country, this to me is a moment of light,” she said.
Trump has proclaimed he was fully exonerated by special counsel Robert Mueller’s recently released report on Russian election interference.
But some Democrats argue that the document lays out multiple occasions in which the president may have obstructed justice, including senator Elizabeth Warren, a 2020 presidential candidate who has called for impeachment proceedings.
Other senior Democrats including House Speaker Nancy Pelosi have cautioned against such a move, stressing it could deeply divide the nation of about 325m people.
They warn it could backfire politically in the run up to the 2020 election, especially with the Republican-controlled Senate likely to acquit the president in the event of impeachment by the House of Representatives.
But Green framed the action as a constitutional necessity. “I say moral imperative always trumps political expediency,” he said. “You can’t say you have a constitutional crisis and then do nothing.”
The remark appeared to be a direct challenge to Pelosi herself, who said on Thursday that Trump’s refusal to comply with congressional inquiries into his actions has brought the country to the brink.
“Trump and his administration’s decision to ignore the oath of office has triggered a constitutional crisis,” Pelosi said, although she herself has stopped short of calling for Trump’s ouster.
The number of Americans who said Trump should be impeached rose 5 percentage points to 45 percent since mid-April, while more than half said multiple congressional probes of Trump interfered with important government business, according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll released on Thursday.
The opinion poll, conducted on Monday, did not make clear whether investigation-fatigued Americans wanted House of Representatives Democrats to pull back on their probes or press forward aggressively and just get impeachment over with.
The question is an urgent one for senior Democratic leaders in the House, who are wrestling with whether to launch impeachment proceedings despite likely insurmountable opposition to it in the Republican-controlled Senate.
On Thursday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi re-emphasised that the leaders of the investigative committees in the Democratic-controlled House were taking a step-by-step approach.
“This is very methodical, it’s very Constitution-based,” Pelosi said. “We won’t go any faster than the facts take us, or any slower than the facts take us.”
In addition to the 45 percent pro-impeachment figure, the Monday poll found that 42 percent of Americans said Trump should not be impeached. The rest said they had no opinion.
In comparison, an April 18-19 survey found that 40 percent of all Americans wanted to impeach Trump.
The latest poll showed stronger support for impeachment among Democrats and independents.
It also showed that 57 percent of adults agreed that continued investigations into Trump would interfere with important government business. That included about half of all Democrats and three-quarters of all Republicans.
The poll also found that 32 percent agreed that Congress treated the Mueller report fairly, while 47 percent disagreed.
Trump’s popularity was unchanged from a similar poll that ran last week – 39 percent of adults said they approved of Trump, while 55 percent said they disapproved.