WASHINGTON — Speaker Nancy Pelosi, seeking to head off a growing revolt by House Democrats calling for President Trump’s impeachment, decided on Wednesday that a rhetorical shot at the president’s conduct in office could cool the growing momentum in her caucus to formally begin impeachment proceedings.
Ms. Pelosi emerged from a hastily called but carefully choreographed meeting of the House Democratic Caucus in the basement of the Capitol to accuse the president of engaging in “a cover-up,” a volley that Mr. Trump felt compelled to answer from the Rose Garden shortly afterward. He accused Democratic leaders of sandbagging him ahead of a White House meeting that was supposed to advance bipartisan legislation on infrastructure.
Ms. Pelosi has been unwilling, thus far, to match Mr. Trump’s scorched-earth tactics in the fight over subpoenas issued in the wake of the report last month by the special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III. Instead, she has charted a middle course that emphasizes exhausting all legal and legislative options before considering impeachment: blasting the president’s actions in public without allowing his provocations to goad her into taking actions that will aid his re-election campaign in 2020.
But Mr. Trump’s blanket refusal to comply with requests from six House committees and no-shows by the former White House counsel Donald F. McGahn II and Attorney General William P. Barr have abruptly prodded previously skeptical Democrats, including many of Ms. Pelosi’s own allies, to consider impeachment, either to oust Mr. Trump from office or to compel him to comply with their subpoenas.
“We do believe that it’s important to follow the facts. We believe that no one is above the law, including the president of the United States, and we believe that the president of the United States is engaged in a cover-up,” Ms. Pelosi told reporters after emerging from the hourlong question-and-answer session.
The meeting was not about “persuasion,” she said. “We were just exchanging information and points of view.”
It is not clear whether the meeting, which was intended to release some of the pressure building within the fractious five-month-old Democratic majority, bought the speaker more time or good will.
Representative Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, a freshman Democrat from New York, reiterated her support for impeachment during a passionate address during the members’ question-and-answer session. The “only thing” that gives her pause is the fact that impeachment would “die in the Senate,” Ms. Ocasio Cortez said, according to one of her colleagues.
Representative Elijah E. Cummings of Maryland, chairman of the House Oversight and Reform Committee, said after the meeting that he had told his colleagues he was buoyed by the recent federal court decision ordering Mr. Trump’s accounting firm to turn over the president’s financial records. (Mr. Trump is appealing.)
“My message was, ‘Let’s stay the course,’” he told reporters. “Let’s continue to look to the courts to provide the remedies for us getting the information to do our jobs.”
He characterized the judge’s decision in the financial records case as “one of the strongest decisions I’ve ever seen” and said it “basically shut the door to any counterarguments.”
But several new members say that they believe Mr. Trump’s actions have been so outrageous they are willing to push forward with impeachment proceedings.
“I ran on many issues, including checks and balances,” said Representative Tom Malinowski, a freshman Democrat from New Jersey. “People expect me to be a leader and do the right thing.”
He said he would have more to say on impeachment in the coming days, but hinted he was close to supporting the effort to open a formal inquiry.
“It’s not an issue that we can or should or will shy away from. We have to figure out what the right thing is and do our duty. And if at the end of the day, we do our duty and the Senate doesn’t, then the shame will be on the other side,” he said.
Veteran members expressed similar sentiments.
Representative Emanuel Cleaver II of Missouri, who weeks ago was one of the leading sirens in the caucus warning against impeachment because it would tear apart the country, said on Wednesday that he was moving “inch by inch, yard by yard” in that direction with each new provocation from Mr. Trump.
“I’m not there, but boy, I’m closer than I was.”