Democrats Are Determined to Spotlight Trump’s Misdeeds, but Remain Divided on How

Representative Chellie Pingree, Democrat of Maine, agreed: “I heard someone say if we could just get Mueller to sit in the committee and read the report, eight hours a day, five days a week, it would probably have a much bigger impact on the American public. We’re a visual country. That’s how we accept our news.”

Democrats are also likely to escalate their fight with the White House.

The House could vote as early as the second week of June on contempt of Congress citations to punish Attorney General William P. Barr and the former White House counsel Donald F. McGahn II for defying House subpoenas for documents and testimony related to the Mueller report. That would allow Democrats to go to court to try to enforce the subpoenas.

The Judiciary Committee also has outstanding subpoenas demanding public testimony in June from two other witnesses cited by Mr. Mueller: Hope Hicks, the former White House communications director, and Annie Donaldson, Mr. McGahn’s chief of staff. It is likely that they, too, will defy the subpoenas in deference to the White House, courting additional contempt citations.

Democrats have entertained other options short of impeachment, such as summoning former federal prosecutors to hearings to evaluate the strength of the evidence in Mr. Mueller’s report and calling legal experts to debate the definition of impeachable offenses. An aide to Democratic leaders said relevant House committees met over the recess to begin to map out legislation meant to secure elections and constrain Mr. Trump’s “abuses.”

As Democratic presidential candidates become more vocal and more rank-and-file Democrats call for impeachment, Ms. Pelosi runs the risk of looking out of step with her party, but she remains confident in her strategy for now, those close to her say. Unless and until a broader portion of the public supports impeachment, she believes the House is better off plodding down its course of oversight and lawsuits that keep a cloud over Mr. Trump’s head.

Some Democrats have circulated private polling assembled for Law Works Action, a bipartisan group that tests messaging around the special counsel’s investigation, that shows support for beginning impeachment proceedings, even among Democrats, does not top 50 percent. But the results also suggest that there is room to shift voters’ views by stressing the cases of possible obstruction, witness tampering and lying by the president.

Representative Jim Himes, Democrat of Connecticut and a member of the Intelligence Committee, said the speaker had her eye not on the views of liberal lawmakers like herself in safe Democratic districts but those who captured Republican seats and had a pulse on independent and swing voters.

“I think she is wisely playing for time until she can gauge sentiment,” Mr. Himes said. “This is somewhere near the final chapter of her career, and she is not going to get this wrong or get pushed around by elements of the caucus.”

Maggie Astor contributed reporting.