Impeachment action moves to tiny Rules Committee hearing room

Panel will set parameters for Wednesday's impeachment floor debate and votes

House Rules Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., will lead the markup of procedures for impeachment. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
House Rules Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., will lead the markup of procedures for impeachment. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)
Posted December 16, 2019 at 3:40pm

The articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump — alleging that he abused his power and obstructed Congress — have one more committee hurdle to jump before the full House votes this week for the third time in history to impeach a sitting U.S. president.

The House Rules Committee is scheduled to meet at 11 a.m. Tuesday for consideration of the articles of impeachment in their tiny hearing room tucked away on the third floor of the Capitol, just across the hall from the House Daily Press Gallery. 

Accustomed to toiling in wonky obscurity, often late at night and very rarely on live television, the small and fiercely partisan committee will hear testimony and develop parameters for floor consideration of impeachment.

Rules Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., didn’t say Monday how long Wednesday’s floor debate would last, but he said he’d like it to wrap up with a vote before Thursday.

“We want to protect the process and make sure it doesn’t turn into a circus,” McGovern said on MSNBC.

Floor consideration of the articles of impeachment will look a lot like consideration of regular legislation, but language will be one big difference.

Under regular House procedures, lawmakers cannot use language that is personally offensive to the president, including accusations of unethical or criminal behavior. But because criticism of the president is inherent to the impeachment process, there are expanded allowances for debate about alleged misconduct of the president on the House floor.

The rule authored by the committee will establish how much debate time the House will spend on the articles and whether any amendments would be in order for debate. The rule could also structure votes to allow lawmakers to vote on each article separately, rather than as a package.

The articles of impeachment written for President Bill Clinton in 1998 bypassed the House Rules panel and went to the House floor as a privileged resolution from the Judiciary Committee.

The House then moved forward with a unanimous consent agreement that allowed for two days of debate in which nearly all members participated. But nothing about this impeachment effort, even deciding how many minutes to debate, has been unanimous. 

Tuesday’s markup could be long and contentious with lawmakers coming forward to give their perspective and perhaps offer amendments they’d like considered on the floor. The articles of impeachment originated in the Judiciary Committee, so Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and ranking member Doug Collins, R-Ga., will take questions from Rules Committee members.

Democrats Jamie Raskin of Maryland and Mary Gay Scanlon of Pennsylvania serve on both the Judiciary and Rules panels. It’s not yet clear if either will pull up a chair at the witness table. 

The meeting will also be the first formal chance for House Republicans to hit back against the report to accompany the articles of impeachment the Judiciary Committee released early Monday, which accuses the president of “multiple federal crimes.” That includes bribery and wire fraud, but no criminal charges were included in the articles themselves.

Democrats hold a 9-4 majority on the Rules panel, whose members are hand-selected by each party’s leaders, ensuring it approves floor rules that reflect the wishes of leadership.

Republicans will be able to voice their discontent but won’t likely prevail in derailing articles from moving to the floor for a vote or amending the rule. They’re also unlikely to have any amendments made in order for floor consideration. 

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