WASHINGTON – A divided House approved legislation Thursday formally authorizing and articulating guidelines for the next phase of its impeachment inquiry, a move that signaled Democrats are on course to bring charges against President Donald Trump later this year.
The 232-196 vote, which hewed closely to party lines, was likely to fuel the partisan fighting that has accompanied every stage of the impeachment probe and much of the Trump presidency. Nearly all Democrats backed the resolution, and House Republicans, who spent weeks clamoring for such a vote, opposed it.
At issue is whether Trump abused the power of his office to pressure a foreign leader to investigate his domestic political rivals.
In remarks before the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, described the impeachment inquiry as a “solemn” and “prayerful” process — “not cause for any glee or comfort.” At the same time, Pelosi said, “I don’t know why Republicans are afraid of the truth.”
“Every member should support the American people hearing the facts for themselves,” she said in a floor speech. “That is what this vote is about. It’s about the truth. And what is at stake in all of this is nothing less than our democracy.”
House Republicans accused Democrats of seeking to undo the results of the 2016 election with “Soviet-style proceedings” against Trump.
“We’ve seen since the day that President Trump was inaugurated that there have been some people who made it public that they wanted to impeach him,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-Louisiana, said on the floor. “That, madam speaker, is not why you impeach a president.”
“Don’t run a tainted process like this [resolution] ensures,” he said.
The House’s resolution clears the way for nationally televised hearings as Democrats look to make their case to the American people that Trump should be impeached.
At the same time, House investigators were hearing testimony from Timothy Morrison, the top Russia and Europe adviser on the National Security Council, who was expected to corroborate testimony from a senior U.S. diplomat who gave the most detailed account of the alleged quid pro quo.
Maine’s two Democratic representatives — Chellie Pingree of the 1st District and Jared Golden of the 2nd District — backed the resolution. Only two Democrats — Reps. Collin Peterson of Minnesota and and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey — opposed it.
Golden had been one of only a few House Democrats holding out on supporting the inquiry until Wednesday, when he said he would back the resolution for procedural reasons and added that his vote shouldn’t be seen as a sign he would vote for impeachment. His district backed Trump in the 2016 election by 10 percentage points over Democrat Hillary Clinton.
“People should read this vote as my support of getting the truth,” Golden said in an interview with the Bangor Daily News. “At the end of the day this is going to be about whether or not the president has broken the law and whether or not the president’s actions are deserving of impeachment or not.”
The House’s resolution allows the president and his counsel to request and query witnesses and participate in impeachment proceedings once they reach the Judiciary Committee, which is tasked with writing any articles of impeachment that will be voted on by the House.
It also authorizes the House Intelligence Committee to release transcripts of its closed-door depositions to the public, and it directs the committee to write and then release a report on that investigation in the same fashion.
The resolution gives the Republican minority on both the intelligence and judiciary committees a chance to subpoena documents and testimony — provided that either the Democratic chairman or a majority of the committee agrees. It establishes special procedures under which the chairman and top Republican on the panel can take up to 90 minutes to make their cases or defer to a staff lawyer to do so.
Before the roll call on Thursday morning, partisan tensions were visible on the floor of the House, as Democrats called attention to mounting evidence against Trump while Republicans decried the process as secretive and unfair.
“This moment calls for more than politics,” said House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Massachusetts, in a speech. “If we don’t hold this president accountable, we will be ceding our ability to hold any president accountable.”
“It’s a sad day for all of us,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma, McGovern’s counterpart. “It’s not a fair process. It’s not an open process.”
BDN writer Michael Shepherd contributed to this report.