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Impeachment Divides Activists Who Helped Propel Lamb To Victory

Sarah Kovash
90.5 WESA

A majority of House Democrats support beginning an impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump. 

But Democrats from moderate districts have been cautious, including western Pennsylvania's Conor Lamb. Because of the political makeup of his 17th Congressional District, Lamb’s impeachment approach has drawn national attention, and divided the activists who helped elect him.  

“It is plain to see that Trump meets the bar for impeachment,” said Lynne Hughes of Mt. Lebanon, who in 2018 knocked on doors and phone-banked for Lamb, in the hope of electing a representative who would serve as a check on President Trump. “I didn’t care too much about policy, which is horrible, but I understood that I was not going to get someone that I agreed with 100 percent of the time because of the district we are in.”

The Democrat narrowly won a special election in a district that voted for Trump by a double-digit margin. District maps were later redrawn, and Lamb won a second race in a newly configured district later in 2018. He now represents Beaver County, which Trump carried by double digits, as well as Pittsburgh suburbs.

“I am also old enough to remember when Conor ran in that special election, and he told everyone to wait for the Mueller report, to trust in the Mueller report,” Hughes said. “Well, the Mueller report came out, and Congressman Lamb was silent for about a month.”

A redacted version of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was released in April 2019. Following its publication, many lawmakers called for impeachment based on its findings: Others said an inquiry should begin because the White House ignores subpoenas from House oversight committees.

“Our job in Congress is to follow the facts of any investigation wherever they lead,” Lamb’s May statement said. “I don’t believe anyone is above the law. I support the ongoing efforts of several House committees to get the full truth for the American people. I believe the current disputes between the committees and the White House will be resolved in court, and we will get the truth.”

That answer hasn’t satisfied everyone. More than 100 people came to a town hall Lamb hosted in Allison Park during the August recess, and along with gun control, impeachment was the major topic of the night.

Trump “is a white supremacist and he has racially divided this country,” said Mt. Lebanon Democrat Nita Fandray. “What I’m asking you, is to join with your 127 colleagues in the House of Representatives, and support an impeachment inquiry.”

Lamb echoed what he’s said in the past.

“I am not convinced now, nor have I been, that we have met the bar for impeachment,” he said. “I think that’s an extremely high bar, but I’m continuing to follow these investigations as much as I can.”

Impeachment is not a top issue for other supporters.

“There are some people who want to talk about [impeachment],” said Allegheny Fayette Central Labor Council president Darrin Kelly. Grassroots activity by his union members was key to Lamb’s win, but Kelly said the bigger issues for those loyalists are infrastructure, the opioid epidemic, and trade.

“We’ve talked to hundreds. We go to the same town halls, we sit with a lot of people and hear what our members have to say, and it’s been consistent,” Kelly said.

O’Hara Township resident Stacey Vernallis leads a progressive activist group in the district. She knows that there’s frustration among Lamb supporters.

“I mean, I have to scrape them off the ceiling,” said Vernallis, who admits to being frustrated herself at times. Still, she said she focused on longer-term goals: After all, moderates like Lamb helped ensure a Democratic majority in the House.

“I say, keep the eye on the ball,” she said. “We need an electoral victory in 2020. We got the best guy we could possibly get who could win in the office.”

But Lynne Hughes, who wanted to see Lamb elected solely to be a check on Trump, doesn’t buy that argument.

“I don't think it's the job of the grassroots to just fall lockstep in line with the Democratic party,” she said.

Hughes says she won’t work as hard for Lamb in 2020, and will volunteer for the Democratic presidential nominee instead.

“I don’t know how Congressman Lamb wins without the grassroots in 2020,” Hughes said. “But it’d be interesting to see him try to win that.”