WASHINGTON — As House Democrats move closer to impeachment Thursday with a vote on the rules for taking their inquiry public, grassroots groups on both sides of the issue are gearing up for a battle they plan to wage at lawmakers’ offices, rallies and on social media.
The vote to establish procedures for the next stages of possible impeachment of President Donald Trump comes on the last day before Congress leaves for a weeklong recess, making town halls and constituent meetings prime targets for activists who want to sway House members.
Groups that back or oppose the impeachment inquiry say they have millions of members to influence friends and neighbors from coast to coast and contact lawmakers as they prepare for a House debate and vote on articles of impeachment against Trump in the next month or two.
“We’ve just hit send on an email to all our members nationwide to call their representative and urge them to support the vote,” said David Sievers, campaign director for the activist group MoveOn.org, a nonprofit involved in coalitions backing the inquiry or full impeachment.
“What we really do have is tremendous people power,” said Marge Baker, executive vice president at People For the American Way, claiming 1.5 million members. “We’re encouraging them to reach out to their representatives to support the impeachment inquiry.”
Supporting Trump, and opposing the inquiry, are the groups aligned with the White House.
Freedom Works, a nonprofit that claims 6 million members, says it has urged them to tell their senators to “end this illegitimate impeachment inquisition.”
Adam Brandon, FreedomWorks’ president, said Tuesday on the John Fredericks radio show, "So much of this is about public opinion and turnout. We’re fighting back every day and treating this as serious as this is. I see the impeachment coming down like a steam train, right down the track here.”
While Trump aligned groups such as American Conservative Union, American Family Association, Americans for Prosperity oppose impeachment, Trump campaign officials describe impeachment-opposition efforts and support for Trump as “organic,” and generated by everyday people.
“We're seeing more and more people go online on to the Donald J. Trump website or on GOP.com that are registering to vote,” a senior campaign official told reporters.
Erin Perrine, deputy communications director of Trump’s campaign, said, “in the states that will decide the 2020 election, voters are consistently against the Democrats' impeachment stunt.”
Public opinion has played a key role in the last two impeachments.
President Richard M. Nixon resigned when his approval ratings plummeted to 25 percent. But President Bill Clinton’s approval rating stood at 62 percent on the day that the Senate acquitted him.
As of Wednesday, 41 percent of Americans approved and 54 percent disapproved of Trump’s performance as president, within the range that Trump has achieved since becoming president, according to FiveThirtyEight’s average of polls.
But support for an impeachment process has grown from about 40 percent to 48 percent in the past month, the FiveThirtyEight poll average shows.
The resolution on the impeachment inquiry’s procedures, expected to pass Thursday on a party-line vote, paves the way for public hearings, which could help galvanize support for impeachment.
Under the resolution, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) would continue the investigation with open hearings — and when done, would write a report on its findings and send it with transcripts of closed-door interviews and evidence to the House Judiciary Committee.
Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan) then would take over the process, possibly hold additional public hearings and then consider whether to recommend articles of impeachment against Trump.
The due process procedures would allow Republicans and Trump’s legal team to present a formal defense. They also could call and subpoena witnesses and documents, but only with the approval of Schiff or Nadler. Democrats also would have the power to block Trump lawyers’ requests if the White House fails to produce witnesses or documents.
Even before that process gets a vote, coalitions of liberal stalwarts such as People for the American Way, MoveOn.org and National Organization for Women as well as newer startups such as Indivisible, Demand Justice and Resistbot, have a plan for the House vote on articles of impeachment.
They’ve already lined up people to host events and rallies, but also intend to have activists show up at every congressional district office to demand that lawmakers vote for impeachment.