WASHINGTON — They aren’t in charge right now. But within months, if not earlier, the House Judiciary Committee is likely to be at the forefront of President Donald Trump’s impeachment.
It’s a moment many on the panel have been waiting for. Several members of the Judiciary panel had long agitated for impeachment, arguing for a robust congressional response to the findings of special counsel Robert Mueller. Then came revelations from an intelligence community whistleblower about Trump’s political pressure on Ukraine, a watershed event that brought most of the other Democrats onboard.
Should Democrats draft articles of impeachment against Trump, as expected, and approve them, then impeachment “managers” would be appointed to present the case to the Senate. Traditionally, those managers have come from the Judiciary Committee, which is stacked with lawyers and former prosecutors.
In 1998, 13 Republicans were picked from the panel to argue for the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. He was eventually acquitted by the Senate.
An early look at some of the members on the committee to watch as the process plays out:
The Judiciary panel has been temporarily sidelined as the House intelligence committee investigates Trump’s conduct toward Ukraine. But Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler will play a major role when that investigation is over and articles of impeachment are considered.
Nadler declared in August that his panel was already conducting an impeachment investigation, despite House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s reluctance at the time. His committee spent months investigating Mueller’s report and held a hearing with Mueller over the summer. Their requests for documents and testimony were mostly stymied by the White House, but the panel has filed lawsuits to obtain information like the Mueller grand jury materials. All along, Judiciary members have encouraged other Democrats to back impeachment proceedings.
Second in seniority to Nadler is California Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a Democrat who is a close ally of Pelosi and has been in Congress for almost 25 years. Lofgren was an aide to a member on the Judiciary panel in the 1970s when Democrats were making the case for President Richard Nixon’s impeachment. She has been one of the least vocal on the panel in favor of impeachment, holding off on endorsing the move until Pelosi came out in favor of it.
Reps. Steve Cohen of Tennessee and Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas are aggressive questioners who have sat on the panel for many years. Cohen has faced some criticism, though, for bringing a ceramic chicken to a hearing when Attorney General William Barr didn’t show up, and Lee had to give up her chairmanship of a Judiciary subcommittee earlier this year following a lawsuit from a former employee who said her sexual assault complaint was mishandled.
Another experienced lawmaker on the panel is New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, who is the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus.
OTHER VETERANS: Reps. Ted Deutch of Florida, Karen Bass of California, Hank Johnson of Georgia.
THE IMPEACHMENT HAWKS
As Pelosi resisted impeachment in the spring and summer, a small group of Judiciary members went public with their support. Three of the most vocal impeachment backers were Reps. Jamie Raskin of Maryland, a former constitutional law professor; David Cicilline of Rhode Island, a member of Democratic leadership; and Pramila Jayapal, a co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.
The impeachment hawks met with other Democrats to try and get them to support the effort and saw their role as educating the caucus. Many who had been initially reluctant gradually signed on and the numbers supporting an inquiry ticked up.
OTHER IMPEACHMENT HAWKS: Reps. Ted Lieu of California, Eric Swalwell of California, Val Demings of Florida.
Pelosi will certainly want some freshmen to represent the House if impeachment comes to a Senate trial, as those new members handed Democrats the House majority. The freshmen on the Judiciary panel have been some of the sharpest questioners during hearings on the Mueller investigation.
Pennsylvania Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon is the committee’s vice chairwoman, a position that has given her elevated status as the panel has considered impeachment. Scanlon and her Pennsylvania colleague, freshman Rep. Madeleine Dean, have been aggressive in questioning Trump administration witnesses and were early impeachment supporters.
Rep. Joe Neguse, the first African American to represent Colorado in the House, was also an early supporter, pushing Pelosi on the issue with others in a May meeting. Neguse is a member of House leadership, helping to represent the freshman class.
OTHER NEWBIES: Reps. Veronica Escobar of Texas, Debbie Mucarsel-Powell of Florida and Greg Stanton of Arizona.
THE WILD CARDS
It’s unclear whether Pelosi could appoint managers who aren’t on the Judiciary panel. While it has been tradition to use members of the committee, the Constitution doesn’t specify.
If Pelosi looked beyond the committees, two front-runners would be House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., who is leading the Ukraine probe, and House Oversight and Reform Committee Chairman Elijah Cummings, D-Md.
Three other committee heads have been leading probes on Trump: House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot Engel, D-N.Y., House Financial Services Committee Chairwoman Maxine Waters, D-Calif., and Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal, D-Mass.