WASHINGTON — House Democrats Thursday formalized the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, as they shifted the proceedings to a more public phase and made the case for the president’s removal from office.
The House passed a resolution by a 232-196 vote – almost entirely along party lines – that calls for public hearings, the release of transcripts from closed-door proceedings and outlines the participation of Republican members of Congress, Trump’s lawyers and Trump himself.
“This step will allow committees to take their work to the next stage and bring the American people all the facts,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, D-Mechanicsville, said in a statement following the vote.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, said the occasion was solemn.
“I doubt anybody in this place…comes to Congress to impeach the president of the United States, unless his actions are jeopardizing our honoring our oath of office,” she told the House.
The House Intelligence Committee – Democrats as well as Republicans – has been holding closed-door hearings for weeks into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, as evidence continues to mount that he tried to enlist a foreign country in an effort to damage a political rival. In a July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump pressured the leader to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden.
During damning testimony on Oct. 23, U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine William Taylor told the House panel that American military aid to the former Soviet state, now fighting Russian troops, was dependent on public assurances from Ukraine that it would look into the Bidens.
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Kensington, said on the House floor that the investigation has already yielded impeachable offenses.
Trump “has violated the Constitution by placing his political interests above the interests of the country, thereby putting both our democracy and the nation’s security in jeopardy,” he said.
Republicans have largely objected to the process of the inquiry, rather than to the substance of the allegations against the president. House Republicans stormed a closed-door session of the intelligence panel last week, protesting the impeachment hearing’s supposed lack of transparency – even though dozens of GOP lawmakers were entitled to participate in the hearings and some, in fact, have done so.
“This Congress records more subpoenas than laws,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-California, said on the House floor, calling out Pelosi for not holding to her promise of a cooperative Congress that works across the aisle. “That’s the legacy.”
Rep. Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, argued that the impeachment resolution diminishes the voice of the opposition.
“When you look through this resolution, in multiple places, it gives veto authority by the chair to literally reject any witness that’s brought forward by the minority,” he said.
House committees have issued subpoenas to the White House in an attempt to gather further evidence into Trump’s dealings with Ukraine, but have stopped short of officially launching the proceedings – something Republicans argued was a necessary measure.
“We are taking this step to eliminate any doubt as to whether the Trump Administration may withhold documents, prevent witness testimony, disregard duly authorized subpoenas, or continue obstructing the House of Representatives,” Pelosi wrote in a letter to her caucus Monday.
No Republicans broke party lines in the Thursday vote, although two Democrats, Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minnesota, and Rep. Jeff Van Drew, D-New Jersey, voted against the measure. Former Republican Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, now an independent, sided with Democrats.
If the investigations find grounds for impeachment, the articles would be drafted and passed by the House Judiciary Committee, and then face a simple majority vote in the House.
If a majority of the House backed the measure, the president would be declared “impeached.” But Trump would remain in office until after a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate, where conviction on a two-thirds vote so far appears unlikely.
Trump called the probe “the Greatest Witch Hunt in American History” in a tweet Thursday morning. He also played on the nation’s growing economic anxiety, tweeting: “The Impeachment Hoax is hurting our Stock Market. The Do Nothing Democrats don’t care!”
Another tweet said, “READ THE TRANSCRIPT!”
In the White House’s official summary – but not a word-for-word transcript – of the phone call, Trump tells Zelensky, after the Ukrainian leader talks about the need for military aid, that he needed a favor – to investigate Biden: “There’s a lot of talk about Biden’s son, that Biden stopped the prosecution… whatever you can do with the Attorney General would be great.”
“The task before us is a solemn one,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-California, said in House remarks.
“(This investigation) may be the most important service as members of Congress we will ever pay to the country and Constitution that we all love and have pledged to defend,” Schiff said. Pelosi appointed him to lead the impeachment investigation.
Schiff went on to explain that the House launched this inquiry after the Justice Department refused to do so, and said the American public would be able to hear from key witnesses firsthand in the next phase of the proceedings.