House Votes to Set Rules for Trump Impeachment

November 1, 2019 by Dan McCue
House Rules Committee Chairman Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., an unidentified aide, and Rep. Alcee Hastings, D-Fla., during the mark up of the impeachment procedures resolution. (Photo by Dan McCue)

WASHINGTON – A sharply divided House of Representatives voted 232-196 on Thursday to endorse the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump and establish the ground rules for the impending public phase of that process.

The vote was almost entirely along party lines, with two Democrats, Reps. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, and Jeff Van Drew, of New Jersey, opposing the measure, and no Republicans voting in favor of it.

The chamber’s lone independent, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, voted for the impeachment inquiry resolution.

Both Van Drew and Peterson later released statements explaining their votes.

Rep. Van Drew said he voted against the resolution because he believes that without bipartisan support, the inquiry will only “further divide the country” and that impeachment will Ultimately fail in the Republican-controlled Senate.

“However, now that the vote has taken place and we are moving forward I will be making a judgement call based on all the evidence presented by these investigations,” he said.

Rep. Peterson struck a similar note, though with a harsher tone. 

“This impeachment process continues to be hopelessly partisan,” Peterson said. “I have been hearing from my constituents on both sides of this matter for months, and the escalation of calls this past week just shows me how divided our country really is right now.

“I have some serious concerns with the way the closed-door depositions were run, and am skeptical that we will have a process that is open, transparent and fair,” he said. “Without support from Senate Republicans, going down this path is a mistake.”

Like Van Drew, however, he said he will not make a decision on impeachment “until all the facts have been presented.”

The resolution, which was introduced Tuesday by Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., chairman of the House Rules Committee, allows for public hearings and the release of transcripts of closed-door depositions, and affords Trump’s attorneys the opportunity to participate in the hearings before the Judiciary Committee.

But House Republicans fought hard to amend the rules, first in a Rules Committee Hearing Wednesday evening, and again on the House floor Thursday morning.

Initially, the Republicans sought to end the investigation into the president by the Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence, which Democrats contend is serving the role that independent counsel Ken Starr played in Bill Clinton’s impeachment, and special prosecutors Leon Jaworski and Archibald Cox played during the Watergate Scandal.

Later, they sought to limit the number of committees investigating the president, proposing to curb the activities of the Committees on Financial Services and Oversight and Reform, both of which have been probing the president’s finances, particularly in regard to potential violations of the Emoluments Clause.

“I don’t know why the Republicans are afraid of the truth,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said in response to these proposed amendments. “What is at stake is nothing less than our democracy.”

Thursday’s vote was only the third time in modern history that the House had taken a vote on an impeachment inquiry into a sitting president.

Trump weighed in almost immediately via Twitter, calling the inquiry “The Greatest Witch Hunt In American History!”

In a written statement, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham insisted “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. “Instead of focusing on pressing issues that impact real families … the Democrats are choosing every day to waste time on a sham impeachment—a blatantly partisan attempt to destroy the President.”

The Democrats launched the impeachment inquiry last month, after a whistleblower reported Trump had improperly urged the president of Ukraine to open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, a political rival, and Biden’s son Hunter.

Since then, the House Intelligence Committee has held a series of depositions of executive branch officials in closed-door hearings, sometimes several on the same day.

Democrats hope to wrap up the impeachment by the end of the year, leaving a little breathing room before the 2020 cycle kicks off in earnest with the Iowa Democratic caucuses on Feb. 3.

On both Wednesday and Thursday, they urged their Republican colleagues to view the setting of procedural rules as a turning point in the process, not a presumption of the president’s guilt.

But it was clear from the crowded Capitol gallery, that GOP lawmakers had a deeper concern — that the Democrats are now confident enough in the case they’ve been building against Trump over the past month that they are ready to make it public.

“We are not here in some partisan exercise,” Rep. McGovern has said repeatedly over the past two days.

“There is serious evidence that President Trump may have violated the Constitution,” he said.

But Rep. Kevin McCarthy of California, the Republican minority leader of the House, continued to press an argument the party faithful have been making for weeks: “Democrats are trying to impeach the president because they are scared they cannot defeat him at the ballot box,” he said.

He also accused the Democrats of continuing “their permanent campaign to undermine [Trump’s] legitimacy” and of hoping to unravel the last election while “influencing the next one.”

The resolution sent to the House floor Thursday was approved, 9-4, by the House Rules Committee after a lengthy, often contentious meeting that began Wednesday afternoon and extended into the night.

Throughout the hearing, McGovern maintained that he doesn’t know how the impeachment inquiry will turn out, “but we need a process in place.”

Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, the top Republican on the panel, countered by saying he believes the resolution isn’t fair to Trump or to Republicans in Congress because the Intelligence Committee has been conducting closed-door depositions for weeks and might not share all its evidence with the Judiciary Committee.

“In my view, it’s not a fair process, it’s not an open process,” Cole said.

McGovern was unmoved, pointing out that the Justice Department had declined to investigate the president’s call, and that it therefore fell to the House to take the project on.

“That’s precisely what our investigative committees have been doing,” he said, adding “that it is perfectly lawful, perfectly legitimate.”

Cole also criticized the resolution for giving  Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the Select Committee on Intelligence, the authority to reject Republican subpoenas and for giving Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the power to limit the president’s ability to call or question witnesses.

“That’s a heck of a situation where you get to decide what’s necessary for an investigation,” Cole said.

Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., agreed.

“This is not fair at all,” she said.

Rep. Michael Burgess, R-Texas, went further, calling an impeachment inquiry carried out by multiple committees “nothing more than a fishing expedition.”

Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., responded by conceding “some presidents would take only one committee to investigate their potential high crimes and misdemeanors.”

“Other presidents may need multiple committees to be working on all of their high crimes and misdemeanors,” he said. “If it’s a fishing expedition … there’s a lot of fish and might even be some whales out in the water.”

Cole and the other Republican members of the panel also objected to provisions that say their subpoenas and witnesses were subject to the approval of the respective committee chairs — all Democrats — and that under the rules, Republicans were being “denied the right” to  grant their speaking time to other members.

McGovern responded by noting that previous Republican Congresses had adopted those rules, and suggested that Cole ask “your past leaders why they did that.”

Later, the committee chairman added, “Can I just say, with all due respect, I’m willing to bet that there’s no process that would be acceptable on the Republican side.”

Following Thursday’s vote, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer defended the process laid out in the resolution, saying it will “ensure that all the facts are gathered and heard, provide both Democrats and Republicans with the opportunity to question witnesses and introduce evidence, and set out a clear process by which the relevant committees will report their respective findings to the Judiciary Committee for the purpose of evaluating all the information and determining a responsible path forward.

“This step will allow committees to take their work to the next stage and bring the American people all the facts,” Hoyer said.

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