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House votes to proceed with Trump impeachment inquiry

Updated October 31, 2019 - 12:57 pm

WASHINGTON — The House took its first formal vote on the impeachment of Donald Trump Thursday, passing a resolution along mostly party lines to publicly release documents and transfer evidence to a key panel with the power to draft articles charging the president with wrongdoing.

The Democrat-controlled House holds a majority in the chamber and voted, 232-196, to approve the resolution despite united Republican opposition. Two Democrats — Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Jeff Van Drew, D-N.J., voted no, along with the Republicans.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., called the vote a solemn act. She said nobody “comes to Congress to impeach the president of the United States, unless his actions are jeopardizing our honoring our oath of office.”

Trump has called the impeachment investigation a partisan hoax and witch hunt.

After the vote, White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham said “the president has done nothing wrong, and the Democrats know it.”

“Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats’ unhinged obsession with this illegitimate impeachment proceeding does not hurt President Trump; it hurts the American people,” Grisham said.

Undoing an election

The impeachment inquiry focuses on a July 25 telephone call in which a whistleblower said Trump coerced Ukrainian President Volomydyr Zelenskiy to investigate Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, while the administration withheld $400 million in military aid.

State Department officials’ testimony in closed-door hearings corroborate the whistleblower’s account that the president sought foreign intervention in the 2020 U.S. presidential election by seeking a political investigation into a Democratic rival, said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said before the vote that “this impeachment is not only an attempt to undo the last election, it is an attempt to influence the next one as well.”

Republicans called the process a sham because it denies participation by GOP members — a claim denied by Democrats who note that Republicans on three committees have been in the closed-door sessions to hear witnesses testify.

“They have denied Republicans a chance to call witnesses,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., told reporters. “They have denied the president the ability to be in the room with his lawyer to ask questions.”

The resolution passed Thursday grants the Republican ranking member of the Intelligence and Judiciary Committee the authority to issue subpoenas, unless the committee chairman objects. In that event, the full committee would vote on the potential subpoena.

While GOP lawmakers have attacked Democrats and the process, they have been less forceful in their defense of the president.

And the White House has stumbled in its defense of the president, with acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney telling reporters that there was a quid pro quo in the Ukraine dealings, an admission he later tried to walk back.

Pelosi has been reluctant to call for a roll call vote on the impeachment process, but changed course after more members of her fractured Democratic caucus supported the action despite political perils.

Nevadans split on resolution

The Nevada congressional delegation voted along party lines, with Democratic Reps. Dina Titus, Steven Horsford and Susie Lee voting to approve the resolution.

Rep. Mark Amodei, the state’s lone Republican in the House, voted against the resolution.

“I don’t agree with what they have done,” Amodei said of the closed-door proceedings that have not followed historical tradition and example of House procedures when impeachment hearings were held over allegations of wrongdoing by Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.

Amodei said he looked forward to seeing the report to be prepared by Democrats on the committees investigating the president, “to see if maybe they pull a rabbit out of the hat.”

Titus, who has attended the closed-door hearings as a member of the House Foreign Relations Committee, dismissed Republican critics saying the GOP complained about transparency, but “when we vote to have them (public hearings), they all vote ‘no.’ ”

House committees will finish depositions, hold public hearings and present their case soon, Titus said. The resolution passed sets up the procedure that Democrats plan to follow.

“It’s kind of a solemn day,” Titus said after the vote. “I mean, everybody’s so caught up in the politics of the moment they forget the gravity of the situation. This really is historic.”

Going on the record

Although the resolution is largely procedural, outlining the next steps House Democrats plan to take with their injury, it was the first vote that put every member in the chamber on record.

That initially worried some Democrats in congressional districts that Trump won in 2016, like Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District held by Lee, and those in swing districts, like Nevada’s 4th congressional district held by Horsford.

“To be clear, today’s vote does not impeach the president,” Horsford said. “It allows the American people to hear directly from witnesses in the House investigation in an open setting.”

Horsford said he voted to approve the resolution so the House could move forward in a fair and professional manner “that gives the public — and the Nevadans I represent — access to the truth of what has happened in the White House.”

Lee went to Twitter to say the resolution “that passed the House today is NOT a vote to impeach the president, but a vote to establish the public process for the impeachment inquiry.”

The White House released a transcript of the July 25 telephone call after it became public that the inspector general for intelligence agencies found the whistleblower’s claims credible.

Trump and some Republicans have demanded that the identity of the whistleblower be revealed, but Democrats have fought to protect the witness and have offered the whistleblower a chance to testify in private.

With the passage of the resolution, testimony from depositions of officials who corroborated the whistleblower’s account will be moved to the Judiciary Committee, which has the authority to draft articles of impeachment against the president.

Several lawmakers said Democratic leadership wants to wrap up the hearings and the impeachment process be year’s end.

“I don’t think they put a certain time on it, but this allows us to move expeditiously. I believe that will happen,” Titus said of the resolution and the timetable.

If the House eventually votes to impeach Trump, he could then face a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate to determine if he should be acquitted or removed from office.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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