Media flooded with impeachment stories, despite tepid backing on Capitol Hill

The post-Mueller press has been so filled with talk of impeachment — derided by Donald Trump as a "dirty, filthy, disgusting word" — that it would be easy to assume that a groundswell is building.

"Mueller's Remarks Fuel Impeachment Calls," said the banner headline in yesterday’s Washington Post.

And it's true that more Democratic presidential candidates have come out for impeachment since the Mueller appearance. These contenders — who naturally draw substantial media coverage —  include Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Elizabeth Warren, Kirsten Gillibrand, and Beto O'Rourke, and it's a free shot for them, given that three-quarters of Democrats favor impeachment, according to recent polls. Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders are among the holdouts.

But here’s a reality check: none of them gets to vote on this. And as Nancy Pelosi has pointed out, the number of House Democrats pushing for impeachment is 40-plus, mainly from the party's left wing. But there are 235 Democrats in the chamber.

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So for all the headlines and cable news chatter, a distinct minority of Pelosi's rank and file actually want to begin impeachment proceedings. And Pelosi is very firmly holding the line.

Impeachment won't happen without the speaker's approval. And she knows the Democrats have a better chance of ousting Trump at the ballot box next year than by embarking on an all-consuming impeachment drive that would fail in the Senate.

As a story, though, the possibility of impeachment is far more tantalizing than the mundane reality that it probably won't happen.

It's probably fair to say that Mueller's terse performance boosted the pressure on Pelosi, but the California congresswoman isn't easily pushed around.

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Given all the polarization surrounding the Mueller probe, it's hardly surprising that commentators reached such different conclusions from his lawyerly remarks, which basically repeated what's in the 448-page report.

As The New York Times put it, "here is what President Trump heard: 'Case closed.' Here is what the president's adversaries heard: 'Time to impeach.'"

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Conservative pundits used the occasion to renew their long-running attacks on Mueller (as did the president), even though he says he doesn't want to testify.

Liberal pundits pounced on his comment that while he doesn't believe he can charge a sitting president, "the Constitution requires a process other than the criminal justice system to formally accuse a sitting president of wrongdoing." You see, they say, he's practically begging the House to impeach! But Mueller was just quoting an old DOJ memo.

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Still, there were voices yesterday saying it would be good for Mueller to go to the Hill and recite the report, if only because that would provide a much-needed visual.

"As a person who read the report," said Rachel Maddow, "I still find it helpful to have the dude that wrote it up there saying hey, you know, here's what it says."

But if that's the case, given that Mueller speaks in slow, cautious legalese, wouldn't it be better to get Robert DeNiro to read it instead?