A wary NC Democrat backs impeachment inquiry

If the U.S. House is going to succeed with an impeachment inquiry on President Trump, it will need the support of members like veteran North Carolina congressman David Price.

Yes, Price is a liberal Democrat from Chapel Hill ensconced in a safe district, but so is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, the one who’s holding back the impeachment tide. Both are long-serving members of the Democratic establishment who are wary that impeachment might backfire and hand Trump four more years in office.

It was notable this week that Price, who is 78 and has served in the House since 1987 except for a one-term hiatus, announced his support for an impeachment inquiry by the House Judiciary Committee. He acted not because new information has come in, but because it hasn’t. At the president’s direction, current and former members of the Trump administration are defying House committees’ subpoenas for documents and testimony. Meanwhile, Trump is doing all he can to block a House committee’s demand to review copies of his past tax returns.

“Stonewalling is an important part of this and why the inquiry should go forward,” Price told me Tuesday, the day he announced his support for the inquiry. He said shifting the committee’s review to an impeachment context will “maximize our leverage for shaking loose this information.”

North Carolina’s two other House Democrats, G.K. Butterfield and Alma Adams, announced their support for an impeachment inquiry in May. There are 235 House Democrats. To pass articles of impeachment will require 218 votes. Price’s announcement brings the number of Democrats publicly favoring impeachment proceedings to 122.

For Price, a deliberate approach is the way to bring enough voters to the conclusion a growing number of Democratic House members have already reached: the House is obligated to vote for impeachment even if the Republican-controlled Senate will not convict.

The congressman, a former Duke political science professor, said Trump’s offenses are potentially “far more serious than Watergate.” But this time, Republicans are different.

“The possibility of the president’s party becoming honest investigators and adjudicators of this situation is far lower than at the time of Watergate,” he said. “I don’t see evidence that they are willing to break ranks or even exercise independent judgment.”

Now home for the August recess, Price is meeting with voters in his Fourth District, which includes Cary and Raleigh, all of Orange County and a sliver of southern Durham County. He’s hearing some about impeachment, but it’s not an outcry.

“There are a lot of issues on voters’ minds more than this is,” he said. But he said an impeachment inquiry “will educate the public and bring to light things the public should be concerned about.”

For Price, the move toward impeachment is a careful dance with public opinion: “It’s a little bit following, but it’s also leading.”

Beneath the caution runs a strong desire to oust Trump. “We’ve never had a president like this not even close,” he said. “The contempt for the rule of law, the pathological lying and the behavior we’ve seen in recent days in respect to just dividing the country.”

Price said Trump has so abused the nation’s values and so threatens the nation’s future that the choice in the 2020 election become “existential.”

“Nobody wants this president to be replaced more than I do,” he said. “I can’t imagine four more years of this and America remaining the same country.”

Ned Barnett: 919-829-4512, nbarnett@newsobserver.com