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CAMBRIDGE, Mass. — If you like your politics orderly and by the numbers, and if you can’t stand having to come to terms with people of very different views and backgrounds, here’s a piece of advice: Don’t bother being a Democrat.

Normally, Democrats wear their diversity as a badge of honor, even as they feud and scuffle. But with House Democrats in the heat of an impeachment inquiry into President Trump, the habits of political lifetimes collide with the imperatives of discipline and focus.

And Democrats being Democrats, they are even arguing about who deserves credit for the decision to open an impeachment inquiry.

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E.J. Dionne Jr. | The Washington Post

When CNN posted a feature about how moderates moved the House to act, champions of the party’s outspoken progressives, who had long endorsed this step, asked why they did not get more credit for being there all along.

Rep. Katherine Clark, D-Mass., the vice chair of the House Democratic caucus, might be seen as representing something close to the exact center of her party, which is one reason I spoke with her here this week. She didn’t think much of the debate over who deserves praise for what.

A member of the Progressive Caucus, she came out for impeachment early, on July 25 — the very day, it turns out, when Trump had his conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky asking him to dig up dirt on Joe Biden.

Yet she also spent a lot of time helping moderate members win in 2018 as the co-chair of the Democrats’ “Red to Blue” program. She thus hopes the party can quickly work its way by past feuds and get on with the job.

“I don’t think it is a matter of credit, or who was right, or vindicating the timing of it,” she said. “I certainly understand members of Congress who say, ‘Wasn’t it enough with the racist policies? Wasn’t it enough with the lies and contortions and the willingness to engage with Russia in trying to get dirt on Hillary Clinton? Wasn’t it enough with the separation of children at the border?’ But we are here now and we are pursuing this ... with urgency, as expeditiously as we can.”

And she vigorously defended the moderate Democrats with “national security backgrounds” who saw Trump’s “abuse of power” in the Ukraine conversation as “an affront to them.” Her fellow progressives, she added in a lesson she never tires of preaching, should “always remember that we don’t get to a majority without the more moderate and conservative members.”

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You sense from Clark and others among her colleagues that, despite the usual Democratic fractiousness, something important changed inside the party once the Gordian knot of impeachment was cut.

For one thing, as House Intelligence Committee Chair Adam Schiff made clear at a news conference on Wednesday with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democrats will no longer allow the Trump administration to bog them down — and make them look hapless — by tying requests for witnesses in court.

Now, Trump’s delaying ploys “will be considered further evidence of obstruction,” Schiff said. Thus has impeachment shifted the balance of power between Congress and the White House.

At the same time, Democrats are determined to challenge Trump every time he claims that impeachment is getting in the way of action on prescription drug prices, guns and other issues that helped elect the new moderates.

Pelosi went out of her way to open the news conference by focusing on these questions, not impeachment. She said that if the president used the House’s investigation as an excuse for governing sloth, “the ball is in his court.”

Pelosi was speaking directly to the frustration of her colleagues, especially with the media (“Does anybody in this room care about the cost of prescription drugs?” she asked at her news conference) that Clark channeled in our chat.

“I talk about helping end the epidemic of gun violence, I get asked about impeachment,” Clark said. “I talk about pay equity, I get asked about impeachment. I talk about raising the minimum wage, I get asked about impeachment.”

The reality of impeachment will only make this problem worse, yet it has an additional effect: Because things have suddenly become so serious, Democrats just might learn to behave differently.

“We have this fragile majority and right now we are all that stands between these attacks by the president and his enablers across the aisle on the fundamentals of our democracy,” Clark said.

If this responsibility doesn’t concentrate the mind of a party that adores brawling, nothing will.

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E.J. Dionne is a columnist for The Washington Post.

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(4) comments

Jobaba

The impeachment inquiry is a function of law under the Constitution. All the pertinent facts and data must be gathered. Something conservatives don't believe in. A vote before the facts are in is not required nor desired. Running off emotionally is something Trump and his supporters love to do. Not this time. The Constitution is on the side of all Americans. Calls to ignore it should be ignored.

new2Lax

I think credit for impeachment goes to Al Green , Maxine Waters and the one’s who wanted impeachment when Trump announced his running. Let’s just get on with it, they got the votes in the house, so they say, what’s the holdup. The Democrats think Trump should be removed from office and Republicans do not let son’t Just talk about it. Doing an impeachment inquiry without knowing on the record who is for it and who is not is not the correct way to get it done. Putting your political concerns above doing what you think should be done is not showing the voters much about your credibility. That’s a big reason why Trump was elected in the first place, he does what he says.

oldhomey

I wasn't aware there was a holdup in the house on the impeachment proceedings, new2. Perhaps you could tell us about it. The talking is now up to Trump and his coterie, both through the records they must produce and the testimony they will be called upon to give. We will see who is stalling soon enough. Trump is indeed is in trouble now for admitting that he has done what he says he has done, and it is demonstrably a betrayal of his office and his country. That is why he is being impeached.

martian2

oh fox news nut newt, putting your political concerns ahead of the law and your oath of office is not admirable, but simply stupid and an abuse of power. That is what Trump did, no denying that. Credibility has to do with ability, with competence, with knowing how government works(this government not Putin's or NK). You trying to defend the indefensible is laughable.

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