In a break with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Democratic leadership, U.S. Rep. Jim Himes Monday became the first member of Connecticut’s congressional delegation to support the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
Long known as a moderate, Himes is joining with liberal Democrats at a time when Pelosi has strongly opposed impeachment. Himes and the rest of the Connecticut delegation have come under increasing pressure as 79 House Democrats, including Himes, according to a tally by CNN, have called for an impeachment inquiry in the House.
Shortly after noon, Himes walked to the microphone on the House floor as the first speaker of the day during a period allocated for five-minute speeches by lawmakers.
“The time has come for the House of Representatives to begin an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump,” Himes said. “From the moment of his inauguration, this president has shown contempt for the truth, has attacked our institutions and has ignored the Constitution he swore to defend. He has refused the oversight which is Congress’ long-established right and duty. In recent weeks, he has refused to comply with subpoenas, he has ordered administration officials to refuse to testify and he has asserted executive privilege of unprecedented scope with respect to attempts to alter the census.”
Himes said he had been conflicted about his decision previously but has since come to a moment of conviction as a federal lawmaker.
“Impeachment, along with the right to declare war, is the most awesome power of the Congress,” Himes said. “The politics of impeachment are messy and uncertain, and might, in the short run, serve the president’s narrow political interests.”
While Himes now favors impeachment, he said he is under no illusion that Trump would actually be driven out of office before his term ends in January 2021.
“I do not believe there is any chance that impeachment leads to removal,” Himes said in an interview before his speech. “The Senate is not going to convict. … But the behavior of the president is so appalling that history and our politics and our people deserve a Congress that stands up and says that. We’re standing up, and we’re saying this is illegal, it is unconstitutional, it is indecent, and it is not who we are. And the biggest megaphone we have through which to say that is impeachment.”
Himes is a member of the House Intelligence Committee, which is conducting its own investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election and whether Trump or his associates colluded with Russian agents.
As the evidence has mounted, Himes said he supports an impeachment inquiry for multiple legal and political reasons that have been building for years.
“This is a moment to stand up and say what you think,” Himes said. “It was the cumulative weight of the president’s actions.”
The best-known Democratic names favoring impeachment include Reps. Maxine Waters and Eric Swalwell of California, along with Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York. Swalwell is running for president. None of the top Democratic leadership or committee chairs has called for impeachment. Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan is the only Republican member of the House to call for impeachment.
Himes noted that many of the Democrats who have come out in favor of impeachment so far represent “deep, deep blue Democratic districts, which is not me.” He represents the 4th Congressional District in Fairfield County, which was controlled by moderate Republicans for decades before Himes defeated Republican Rep. Chris Shays in 2008 when Barack Obama helped drive Democratic turnout in Bridgeport and across the district.
A past chairman of the New Democrat Coalition, a centrist group, Himes is often described as a moderate.
“I’m not known as a bomb-thrower,” he said. “I’m known as thoughtful and moderate and always looking to work across the aisle. If I make this argument, I think it causes people to sit up and say, ‘Wait a second. For Himes to get there, I wonder what he was thinking?’ ’’
The other members of Connecticut congressional’s delegation avoided criticizing Himes for breaking with Pelosi and House leadership.
“I respect Congressman Himes’ position on this important issue,” said Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District. “I continue to believe that the good work of the committees assigned to aggressively pursue the issues of Russian electoral interference and obstruction from the Trump administration, raised in detail in the Mueller report, should continue at this time. I am committed to relentlessly and methodically uncovering the truth and to take action with any steps that come next.”
Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, said he has deep respect for Himes but believes Pelosi’s position against impeachment is correct. Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District, and Jahana Hayes, D-5th District, referred to earlier statements backing Pelosi on the question of impeachment.
While Democrats avoided criticism, former Republican gubernatorial candidate Tim Herbst said he believes Himes is trying to fire up Democrats for the 2019 municipal elections that are coming up in less than five months.
“I think there’s a pure political calculation to that,” said Herbst, the former first selectman of Trumbull, which is in Himes’ district. “He’s trying to get out presidential voters, where they’re trying to take back Greenwich and hold Fairfield. … Joe Courtney is smart not to touch this because the president is very popular in his district.”
Himes said he made his decision by looking at two key questions: “Has the president committed high crimes and misdemeanors?’’ and “Is it the right thing to do for the interest of the republic?’’
Since impeachment is not simply a narrow legal question, Himes has considered the totality to Trump’s actions and statements.
“The damage to the republic by having him slamming the FBI, the CIA, federal judges — to me, he blew past the legal standard long ago,” he said.
Another problem, Himes said, is that Trump has routinely refused to provide information to Congress regarding the ongoing investigations and has shown “disdain’’ for Congress.
“We’re not just the co-equal branch. We are the primary branch,” said Himes. “We are Article One. He is Article Two. There is no ifs, ands, or buts around the necessity for the executive to respect Congress and respect the laws, and he doesn’t do either one of those things.’’
Himes said his decision should not reflect negatively on Pelosi.
“She’s the leader. So I’m not going to tell you that she is wrong,” Himes said. “She sees a broader horizon than I do. She understands what we’re talking about here, which is you can impeach in the House, but you’re not convicting in the Senate.”
“I told her I completely respect her leadership. I respect her decisions. She’s been doing this a lot longer than I’ve been doing it. This is not like Himes getting up in Pelosi’s face. That’s not going to happen. I’m not trying to pressure the speaker at all here. … She’s been doing this for 40 years. I’ve been doing it for 10. But I’m manifesting what Jim Himes feels, and what Jim Himes feels is important for the health of our democracy.”