Capitol Alert

California Democratic activists want Trump’s head, but leaders bat down impeachment calls

Bob Handy remembers what Republicans and then-candidate Donald Trump said about Democrat Hillary Clinton before last year’s presidential election.

“They chanted ‘Lock her up!’ ” Handy said. “I think it’s time we say ‘lock him up.’ Impeaching him is one thing, but I think he should be in jail.”

Handy, of Santa Barbara, reflected the vast majority of his 3,000 or so fellow delegates and guests at the California Democratic Party convention in Sacramento. With Trump embroiled in inquiries about his campaign’s ties to Russia and his firing of FBI Director James Comey, they’re out for blood.

Los Angeles Democrat Michael Kapp, the state’s youngest member of the Democratic National Committee, drafted a resolution at the convention calling for further investigation into Trump’s business ties, and possible impeachment.

“Donald Trump has been in violation of the Constitution from the moment he took the oath of office,” Kapp said, pointing to alleged violations of the emoluments clause, which prevents federal officials from taking payments from foreign governments.

But most in the state party’s leadership have been mum or opposed to his possible removal, concerned such appeals could trivialize an anti-Trump message in next year’s elections. The dynamics were further muddled with the appointment of a special counsel to probe Russia’s involvement in the presidential election.

John Burton, the outgoing California Democratic Party chairman, said reviling Trump isn’t enough to meet the standard of high crimes and misdemeanors.

“Let’s impeach him because he’s an (expletive)?” Burton asked. “Nobody would be in public office if being an (expletive) was the standard. ... You have to find something.”

Rep. Barbara Lee, an Oakland Democrat and one of the most liberal politicians in the U.S. House, also stopped short of calling for impeachment on Saturday, saying the congressional and Justice Department investigations of Trump must be given time to uncover whether he obstructed justice by interfering with an FBI probe.

Last week, Burbank Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff, of the House Intelligence Committee, said no one should rush to embrace “the most extraordinary remedy that involves the removal of the president from office.”

“Would the country, would the Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, view the president’s conduct as so serious as to be disqualifying?” Schiff asked. “Or would it be viewed as just a way to nullify the election by other means?”

The highest profile officeholders pilloried Trump over his ties to Russia but demurred on the impeachment question.

“Trump and the Republicans in Congress must stop stonewalling our quest for the facts,” Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi said.

“We need answers,” U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris demanded from the convention stage.

Meantime, state lawmakers and those in tough primary campaigns leaned in. Assemblyman Evan Low, D-Campbell, is carrying a resolution asking Trump to resign, and urging Congress to impeach him if he doesn’t step down.

Antonio Villaraigosa, a candidate for governor, said Trump should quit or be impeached if reports on his activities are accurate.

Xavier Becerra, the state attorney general who served 24 years in the House, inched closer.

“I have never been this close in my life, and in my career, to seeing the basis for an impeachment,” Becerra said. “And I say that having been in Congress in the 1990s. This will be a test of our institutions.”

His opponent next year, Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones, went further: “Who here thinks it’s time to commence impeachment proceedings against President Trump?” he said from the rostrum, to boisterous applause. “I mean, really, obstruction of justice. Giving classified intelligence to the Russians. Firing the FBI director. What’s next?”

Congress has sole power to impeach, convict and remove a president from office. A president can be impeached for committing treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors. Two U.S. presidents have been impeached but were later acquitted by the Senate – Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998. Congress initiated impeachment proceedings against Nixon, but he resigned before being impeached and removed from office.

“Grass-roots Democrats and our representatives in Congress share the same view that Donald Trump is incompetent and dangerous,” said Rose Kapolczynski, a veteran Democratic strategist from Los Angeles.

“The difference might be one of the reality of what impeachment takes: We have a Republican-controlled House and a Republican-controlled Senate, and that is the body that brings impeachment changes and tries them.

“It isn’t something that we can accomplish by signing petitions.”

Christopher Cadelago: 916-326-5538, @ccadelago

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