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A lot to lose with inquiry ... or investigation

What is it the House Judiciary Committee is doing exactly? Is it an impeachment investigation? Is it an impeachment inquiry? Committee Chairman and New York City Congressman Jerry Nadler won’t say and doesn’t seem to care.

Nadler opened this week’s hearing with this gem, “Some people call this process an impeachment investigation. Some call it an impeachment inquiry. There is no legal difference between these terms, and I know longer care to argue about the nomenclature.”

Nadler is correct that there isn’t a big difference between an impeachment investigation and an impeachment inquiry. The writers of the U.S. Constitution gave Congress the power without an instruction manual. Congress has been winging it since.

But precedence matters, and every time there has been an impeachment inquiry, the judiciary committee has waited for the approval of the full Congress. That is something Nadler simply doesn’t want to do. Republicans on the committee know this and love to taunt him about it.

“All you have to do is ask the House to direct and authorize this committee to conduct an impeachment inquiry,” Republican Judiciary Committee member Tom McClintock said mockingly to Chairman Nadler, “I dare you to do it. In fact, I double-dog dare you to do it.”

The California Congressman knew full well that Nadler wouldn’t do it, even with a double-dog dare. A resolution like that would not pass the full House right now. It doesn’t matter if it’s an investigation or an inquiry, that’s not the problem. It’s the other “I” word — impeachment.

It may not seem like it from the media coverage, but there is a very real and deep divide separating many Democrats in Congress over even uttering the word, let alone putting impeachment proceedings up for a vote. The division is between moderate and progressive Democrats in the House.

The far-left freshmen Democratic representatives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilham Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley, nicknamed “the squad,” seem to suck up all the attention in Congress mainly because Republicans — including President Donald Trump — use the four to try and define the party as a bunch of socialists, whose ideas are dangerous for the country.

But the truth is most Democrats newly elected in 2016 and 2018 are far more moderate and won in either toss-up of historically republican districts.

Recently, five moderate, first-term congresswomen formed their own squad. Elissa Slotkin of Michigan, Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania, Abigail Spanberger of Virginia, Elaine Luria of Virginia and Mikie Sherril of New Jersey all served in either the military, the FBI or the CIA. They have more power than the other squad that gets all of the attention.

The Democratic moderates control whether impeachment has any chance of happening. Right now, not one member of the moderate squad, or, in fact, not one member of the 30-40 Democratic moderates in Congress have even used the word.

The Democrats just don’t have the votes for impeachment. That’s why Democratic party leader and Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi got testy with reporters who kept asking her about the word she does not want to use.

“I am not taking any more questions on this subject,” the Speaker snapped after a barrage of impeachment questions she didn’t want to answer at her weekly new conference. “The American people, when I go out there, are saying we have to be careful on how we proceed.”

Pelosi isn’t just worried about not having the votes. She’s worried about keeping her job. The concern is that any talk of impeachment will turn off Independents and disgruntled Republicans and cost those Democrats in Republican districts their jobs, giving the GOP the majority.

Even with that foreboding political backdrop, Democrats in safe districts, like Jerry Nadler, are keeping the prospects of impeachment in the headlines, with a cheering squad of progressive Democrats cheering them on across the country. They proceed down the impeachment path carefree and careless as if they have nothing to lose.

The reality is they do. You can bet the House on it.

Larry Mendte commentary