Congress may not be ready to launch impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump, but a growing number of cities and towns are trying to push members in that direction.
Brookline, Mass., became the 10th and latest local government Thursday to pass a resolution calling for impeachment, a step designed to add pressure on the state’s congressmen to launch a formal investigation that could ultimately lead to the president’s removal from office.
The Massachusetts towns of Cambridge, Amherst, Pelham and Leverett have already made the call, and Newton has a proposal up for consideration.
California is another hotbed of impeachment. The Los Angeles city council in early May overwhelmingly passed a measure asking for impeachment proceedings to begin. Richmond, Alameda and Berkeley did the same.
In Chicago, the city council drafted an ordinance that quickly drew 31 sponsors. Alderman Ameya Pawar, who introduced the resolution, said Trump’s firing of FBI Director James Comey was the tipping point.
“Donald Trump is a racist, a bigot, and a misogynist, and he is attempting to enact policies around his beliefs. But that’s not why I introduced the resolution calling on Congress to begin impeachment proceedings,” Pawar said. “I introduced this resolution because President Trump continues to obstruct the investigation into Russian influence over his administration, in his business dealings, and the alleged collusion during the 2016 election. It is time for a full and thorough investigation led by the United States Congress.”
The goal behind the local government movement, which has no authority in the matter, is to convince Congress to take the first step toward impeachment — launching the investigation necessary to determine if impeachment charges are warranted. If Congress concludes they are, the articles of impeachment are drafted and voted on by the House. A simple majority vote in the House sends the articles to the Senate, which holds a trial and needs two-thirds agreement to convict.
Just as in Washington, there is an element of politics in the budding local impeachment movement. Pawar is running for governor, and his opponents in the Democratic primary — including Chris Kennedy and state Sen. Daniel Biss — have made similar calls, as has billionaire J.B. Pritzker, who cited a story about an Israeli intelligence leak to Russian officials.
“I feel a grave sense of urgency to get to the bottom of this threat to our democratic process and national security,” Pritzker said.
The blue state cities and small towns driving the resolutions also tend to be left-leaning places that voted against Trump in the first place.
The initial organizing force was a group known as Free Speech for the People, a small but noisy liberal group in Amherst, Mass. that asserts Trump violated the Foreign Emoluments Clause in the Constitution because he failed to divest from his private business interests before he was sworn into office.
The group has accumulated hundreds of thousands of signatures for impeachment — without even investing in digital ads or a real campaign, according to John Bonifaz, a constitutional lawyer who heads Free Speech for People. The signatures soared to more than 1 million after Texas Democratic Congressman Al Green’s recent call for impeachment proceedings from the House floor.
“We’re calling on members of Congress to support and introduce the impeachment process in House of Representatives,” said Bonifaz, whose group is behind impeachdonaldtrumpnow.org, which gives local communities a how-to guide on passing a resolution backing impeachment.
Bonifaz said asking the House to investigate is not in lieu of the special counsel investigation, which would explore whether there were violations of criminal statute. It’s intended to run on a parallel track.
“The only way a president can be held accountable for abusing the public trust is via the impeachment process,” Bonifaz said. “It is at this point unclear on the law whether a sitting president can be indicted.”
The House of Representatives has impeached two U.S. presidents: Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. Both were acquitted by the Senate.
The local government efforts to spur Congrees to action on impeachment aren’t unprecedented. In 2006, a group of towns in Vermont, and later the state’s Senate, passed resolutions calling for George W. Bush’s impeachment, saying he misled the country before going to war in Iraq.
Trump supporters contend talk of impeachment proceedings just five months into the president’s tenure is pure politics.
“I believe that calling for impeachment this early is a form of hyper-partisanship,” said Illinois state Sen. Sam McCann, a Republican who backed Trump and is considering a 2018 run for Illinois governor. “If we find out that he is guilty of a crime that is worthy of removing him from office, I’ll be one of the first to call for it. But in this country we’re innocent until proven guilty … let’s give it a chance to play out.”
So far, most Democratic leaders in Washington have demonstrated similar caution, pointing to the special counsel investigation as enough right now.
Despite the number of calls for impeachment coming from Massachusetts communities, U.S. Rep. Joe Kennedy avoided discussing it when asked about the issue on Friday.
“Congressman Kennedy is grateful for the input of his constituents,” an office spokeswoman said. “He continues to push Republican leadership in Congress to pursue an aggressive, independent investigation into President Trump’s business ties, Russian connections, and any other alleged violations of US law.”
And even in the liberal bastion of Chicago, a resolution calling for impeachment wasn’t a slam dunk. In fact, it was buried, according to Pawar.
The resolution is stuck in the Rules Committee, where the powerful Alderman Ed Burke is vice chair.
Trump and investors had hired Burke’s law firm in an effort to lower property taxes owed at Trump Hotel and Tower in Chicago. According to a Sun-Times report last year, Burke’s firm helped cut property taxes by 39 percent over seven years, saving $11.7 million.
“The idea that one alderman would put a brick on this and send it to the Rules Committee to try to bury it is really disappointing and sends a really bad message,” Pawar told POLITICO. “It’s really disappointing and sends a terrible message to not just Chicagoans but also major cities.”
A Burke spokesman reached last week did not respond to a request for comment.
Still, Pawar said he will advocate that the city council return to the issue and build momentum in the Midwest toward impeachment proceedings.
“If decisions are getting made that this isn’t politically the right way to go, then we’re putting party over country here,” Bonifaz said. “Frankly, history will judge us in this moment on how we act … I would hope that the Chicago City Council takes up this again and votes on what is at stake — that no one is above the law — even the president of the United States.”
Lauren Dezenski contributed to this report.