WASHINGTON (Reuters) - Twelve Democrats hoping to replace Donald Trump in the White House hold their fourth debate on Tuesday just three weeks after an impeachment inquiry ensnared the Republican president in a pitched battle with Democrats in Congress.
The inquiry has deepened political divisions and shifted the spotlight away from the 19 Democratic presidential contenders while handing them another sensitive topic to discuss in Tuesday night’s debate in Ohio.
Some of the 12 candidates who qualified for the fourth Democratic presidential debate had pressed for Trump’s impeachment long before House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a formal inquiry on Sept. 24, after a whistleblower complaint that Trump pressured Ukraine to investigate his political rival and 2020 presidential candidate, Joe Biden. Trump has denied wrongdoing.
But others only recently embraced the idea, after initial reluctance out of concern that the process might take attention away from more important issues to voters.
Here is where the candidates stand now on impeachment.
The former vice president was the last major Democratic candidate to call for Trump’s impeachment, after initially taking a measured approach that emphasized letting Congress work its way through the process.
Biden had issued several blistering critiques of Trump’s actions in Ukraine but did not outright call for his impeachment until Wednesday.
“To preserve our Constitution, our democracy, our basic integrity, he should be impeached,” Biden said. “He’s shooting holes in the Constitution and we cannot let him get away with it.”
Warren, the U.S. senator from Massachusetts who is gaining on front-runner Biden in some opinion polls, called for impeachment in April, after Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report found multiple contacts between Trump’s campaign and Russia as Moscow was trying to sway the 2016 presidential election in his favor.
Warren has said there was more than enough evidence that Trump obstructed justice in the Mueller report to impeach him.
Now she says she supports having the impeachment focus be on Trump’s Ukraine call because it was such a clear violation of the law.
“The president is asking for help against one of his political rivals and asking a foreign government for a thing of value for himself personally,” she told CNN after the inquiry was launched.
Sanders, the U.S. senator who has represented Vermont in Congress since 1991, in June called on the House of Representatives to launch impeachment proceedings against Trump.
Sanders has called Trump a “liar and a cheat” and “the most corrupt president in the modern history of this country”, but has not said he would support impeachment if it came to a vote in the Republican-led Senate.
Sanders has said it would be irresponsible to make a decision before reviewing the evidence.
“I think it’s wrong for me to say he’s guilty before the process unfolds,” he told NY1 television after the inquiry began.
The young mayor of South Bend, Indiana, said in April that Trump “deserves impeachment” but warned the process might take attention away from issues that are more important to Americans.
“It’s hard to look away from a horror show,” he said.
He warns that impeachment is not necessarily a win for Democrats, but says the president must be held accountable.
“This is one of those moments that comes along where you just have to state what the right thing is and then figure out the politics around that, rather than the other way around,” he told CNN after the Ukraine matter came to light.
Harris, who sits on the Senate Judiciary and Intelligence Committees, is all-in on impeachment, having endorsed the move since April.
The former California attorney general warned the Trump administration in an Oct. 9 letter against trying to destroy evidence or intimidate witnesses.
Harris, who confronted Biden on race issues in an earlier debate, rose to his defense last week when asked about his role in the Ukraine controversy.
“Leave Joe Biden alone,” Harris said. “That’s exactly what Donald Trump wants. The focus needs to be on him and his conduct and all of the members of his Cabinet who are aware or facilitated that should come before Congress to testify under oath.”
The entrepreneur best known for his $1,000 per month “freedom dividend” proposal was one of the last Democratic candidates to support impeachment, believing, like Buttigieg, that it would detract from issues more important to voters.
“Every moment that the story’s about Donald Trump, that’s a moment that Democrats aren’t presenting a new vision for the country that can help move us forward,” he told ABC days after Pelosi announced the inquiry.
Yang said impeachment was unavoidable nonetheless.
“You have the president colluding with foreign leaders and putting pressure on them to kneecap political rivals - and cover it up.”
The Senate Judiciary Committee member called for impeachment proceedings to begin in May after Mueller said his team did not determine whether the president committed a crime and it was up to Congress to do so.
After the whistleblower complaint emerged, Booker said he was confident his Republican colleagues would do the right thing when confronted with the evidence against Trump.
The former mayor of Newark, New Jersey, last week made clear he would not target Biden - or let anyone else try.
“If you come after Joe Biden, you’re going to have to deal with me,” Booker told CNN.
The former Texas congressman welcomed the impeachment inquiry as the right thing to do regardless of political considerations.
Like other Democrats, O’Rourke stressed that Biden had done nothing wrong and the focus should be kept on Trump.
However, without naming names, he noted Biden’s son Hunter should not have been allowed to serve in a highly paid position with the Ukrainian gas company.
“I would not allow a family member, anyone in my Cabinet, to have a family member work in a position like that,” he told the Washington Examiner.
The last person to join the 2020 Democratic presidential race was one of the first to call for Trump’s impeachment.
The billionaire environmentalist began a national campaign to remove Trump from office just nine months into his term.
His “Need to Impeach” initiative has spent millions of dollars to that end since it launched in October 2017.
“I believe the truth was there two years ago,” Steyer told MSNBC recently. Steyer will have a chance at his first debate to expound on why he thinks Trump is the most corrupt president in U.S. history, and a failed businessman to boot.
The Minnesota senator joined calls for an impeachment inquiry in June, citing Trump’s comments that he would be willing to listen if a foreign government approached him with damaging information on a political rival.
Fast forward four months. Klobuchar last week told CNN Trump was acting like a “global gangster” who “is basically going to one leader after another trying to get dirt on his political opponent.”
Asked about Hunter Biden’s position, Klobuchar added that she would not be comfortable with having her daughter sit on the board of a foreign company, “but that is not the issue.”
Along with Warren, former housing secretary Castro sought Trump’s impeachment in April after the Mueller report. He made a forceful argument for initiating an impeachment inquiry during a July presidential debate.
After the House initiated proceedings, Castro said the best thing for the country would be getting Trump out of the White House.
“He has used the office of the presidency to boost himself and put his own self-interest above the national interest,” he told NPR. “How much more evidence do people need that this man should not be anywhere near the Oval Office?”
The congresswoman from Hawaii had been opposed to impeachment just a few days before she embraced it, the same week Pelosi announced a formal inquiry.
“Up to this point, I have been opposed to pursuing impeachment because it will further divide our already badly divided country,” she said in a Sept. 27 statement.
Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president and the whistleblower report on the matter convinced her that not pursuing the inquiry “will set a very dangerous precedent.”
Reporting by Doina Chiacu; Editing by Soyoung Kim and Nick Zieminski