10/31/2019 12:10 EDT | Updated 10/31/2019 13:43 EDT

Democrats Formally Vote To Open Impeachment Inquiry Against Trump

The U.S. House lays out the official ground rules for the process.

WASHINGTON ― After weeks of GOP criticism that the U.S. House of Representatives had not formally opened an impeachment inquiry, House Democrats approved a resolution Thursday formalizing the process, though Republicans griped that it was too late.

The House voted 232-196 in favour of the resolution, with all but two Democrats and no Republicans voting in favour of the process. Reps. Jeff Van Drew and Collin Peterson, both Democrats, voted with Republicans, while independent Justin Amash of Michigan voted with Democrats. 

The resolution lays out ground rules for the impeachment process, including how much time Republican committee leaders will get to question witnesses, guidelines on how Republicans can call their own witnesses, the process for the White House to respond to congressional inquiries, and the overall impeachment process.

In an attempt to finally get the White House to co-operate with their investigations, the resolution would actually give U.S. President Donald Trump more rights if he and his staff co-operate with congressional subpoenas, but would take some of those rights away if the White House continues not to co-operate.

As Democrats finally called the vote Thursday, U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sat in the president officer’s chair and announced the total. There was a spirited, partisan mood on the House floor.

What is at stake? What is at stake in all of this is nothing less than our democracy.U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi

Some Democrats have been pushing for a vote, insisting that the process is undefined and could take too long. Republicans, meanwhile, have also been clamouring for a vote, hoping to lock in a partisan impeachment roll call now before any more damaging information comes to light and before public sentiment moves any further.

Pelosi said this resolution will guide the decision to impeach the president, and that the decision had not yet been made. She said Republicans were just “afraid of the truth.”

“That is really what this vote is about,” Pelosi said. “It is about the truth. What is at stake? What is at stake in all of this is nothing less than our democracy.”

Over the past several weeks, Democrats have obtained damning testimony from Trump administration officials regarding the president’s attempt to make Ukraine announce an investigation into Joe Biden, one of his top rivals in the 2020 U.S. presidential election.

White House adviser Alexander Vindman, one of several officials who listened in on Trump’s July phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, reportedly told U.S. Congress last week that he raised concerns Trump had acted improperly ― and that a White House lawyer reacted by burying a transcript of the call on a highly classified server.

Instead of defending the president on the merits, Republicans have focused on the process Democrats have followed. The Judiciary Committee voted in September on a resolution saying the committee would investigate “whether to recommend articles of impeachment.” Then, two weeks later, Pelosi declared that the impeachment inquiry had become “official,” and that the Intelligence Committee would take the lead.

Republicans’ chief complaint has been that Democrats had not launched the inquiry with a full House vote. They’ve argued both in news conferences and in court that the lack of a vote and the closed-door depositions have made the ongoing inquiry a “sham,” a “kangaroo court” and even a “lynching.”

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, a Republican from California who has vocally insisted there is nothing impeachable about the Ukraine situation, only slightly shifted his rhetoric this week with an impeachment vote impending.

McCarthy has said it was too late for Democrats to act now, because the earlier information they’ve uncovered through the course of the Intelligence Committee’s investigation was “fruit from the forbidden tree.”

On Thursday, McCarthy brought up some old quotes from Pelosi about how impeachment would be divisive and that the House should only go down that route if there were something overwhelming. “This impeachment is not only an attempt to undo the last election,” McCarthy said, “it is an attempt to influence the next one as well.” 

Win McNamee/Getty Images
U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gavels the close of a vote by the U.S. House of Representatives on a resolution formalizing the impeachment inquiry focused on U.S. President Donald Trump on Thursday in Washington, D.C.

The U.S. Constitution does not require the House to hold a preliminary impeachment vote like the one Democrats did on Thursday. It simply says the House has sole power of impeachment and that it’s the Senate’s job to conduct a trial after the House has impeached the president or one of his officers.

In a ruling last week ordering the Justice Department to hand over grand jury materials related to its special counsel investigation into the 2016 Trump campaign, a top federal judge said Republicans have been cherry-picking historical precedent. U.S. District Chief Judge Beryl Howell wrote that the House has impeached federal judges with no preliminary vote.

“Even in cases of presidential impeachment, a House resolution has never, in fact, been required to begin an impeachment inquiry,” Howell wrote.

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.), who famously vowed when she took office this year that the House would “impeach the motherfucker,” said Thursday that her constituents have backed her position all the way.

“I’m increasingly optimistic that we’re getting closer to the final resolution,” she said.