Congress

House Democrats clarify impeachment procedures but probe remains partisan

Republicans get some process answers they've asked for but said it's too late to fix 'broken' inquiry

Rep. Collin C. Peterson is among a small number of Democrats who have not publicly endorsed the impeachment inquiry. On Thursday, he'll go down on record on a resolution outlining the process for it. (Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call)

A House vote on a resolution outlining procedures for the next phase of Democrats’ impeachment inquiry may nullify some specific GOP complaints about the process, but it is not going to change the partisan divide over whether President Donald Trump should be removed from office.

The resolution specifies that the Intelligence Committee shall conduct the public hearing portion of the impeachment inquiry. It allows for the chairman and ranking member of the committee or a designated staff member to conduct multiple rounds of 90-minute questioning, alternating sides every 45 minutes, before moving into a traditional hearing format allowing all committee members five minutes of questioning each, alternating between the parties.

Republicans will get the power they’ve been requesting to subpoena witnesses for testimony or documents, but only if Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff concurs or, if he objects, the committee votes to override his decision.

The resolution authorizes Schiff to publicly release transcripts of the closed-door depositions conducted as part of the inquiry “with appropriate redactions for classified and other sensitive information.”

The measure also directs his panel, in consultation with the Oversight and Foreign Affairs committees that have participated in the private depositions, to issue a report of its findings. The report should be made public and transferred to the Judiciary Committee, along with any investigatory materials the panels deem relevant, according to the resolution.

The Judiciary Committee is then authorized to hold its own proceedings as it considers whether to draft articles of impeachment. The rules for those proceedings, including procedures to allow for Trump and his counsel to participate, were released Tuesday by Rules Chairman Jim McGovern and will be submitted into the Congressional Record, per the resolution. 

The House is expected to vote on the measure Thursday, but Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer hedged on that timing when speaking with reporters Tuesday.

“I have not read it yet. The members have not read it yet,” the Maryland Democrat said at a pen and pad briefing several hours before the text was released. “And we’re going to have to consider whether or not it’s ready to go on Thursday. I hope that is the case.”

‘Can’t fix it’

Even before McGovern released text of the resolution mid-afternoon Tuesday, Republican leaders said they would whip their members to vote against the measure, arguing that the attempt to define the impeachment process was too little, too late. 

“They can’t fix it,” Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney of Wyoming said. “The process is broken. It’s tainted.”

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California stressed that moving forward with a vote to establish procedures for public hearings and subsequent steps in the inquiry will not legitimize it in the eyes of Republicans. 

“I applaud the speaker for finally admitting it is an entire sham. But you can’t put the genie back in the bottle,” McCarthy said. “A due process starts at the beginning.”

Republicans also complained that Democrats on the Rules Committee, which is scheduled to mark up the resolution Wednesday, did not consult or collaborate with them.

“We’ve not been involved in any negotiations. There’s been no outreach to us,” Rules ranking member Tom Cole said, calling the resolution an attempt to give the impeachment proceedings “the sheen of legitimacy.”

Republicans have been critical of both the process and content of the impeachment inquiry to this point, and Cole doesn’t expect any change in that posture after the House establishes the next steps of the process, including open hearings.

“I think it’s going to be extraordinarily difficult for us to be cooperative going forward,” the Oklahoma Republican said.

Democratic struggles 

Democrats, meanwhile, had been struggling to explain their strategy behind the resolution after Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Monday that the House would vote on it this week.

Rank-and-file members and even some leaders were in the dark about the details, awaiting the text that was being crafted in the Rules Committee, which is controlled by the speaker.

Notable awkwardness and private frustration about the top-down approach permeated throughout the caucus Monday afternoon into Tuesday.

Lower-level Democratic leaders headed into their weekly leadership team meeting with Pelosi on Monday evening told reporters they needed to get more information from the speaker before they could answer questions about the resolution. 

Even after Pelosi briefed her leadership team and the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, most members said they just didn’t know the details of what would be in the measure. Among those out of the loop Monday was Foreign Affairs Chairman Eliot L. Engel, whose panel is one of the three committees leading the current closed-door deposition phase of the impeachment inquiry. 

Democrats started to get their messaging back on track Tuesday as their leaders talked about the importance of outlining how the public portions of the impeachment proceedings would work. 

“There is a desire to have a process as we move into public hearings that is a process that is consistent with what we think ought to be done and prior history,” Hoyer told reporters.

Democratic leaders also noted that, despite Republican claims to the contrary, the resolution was not about authenticating the impeachment inquiry Pelosi announced last month because it was already valid without a full House vote.

“My Republican colleagues continue to embarrass themselves because they cannot defend the indefensible as it relates to the president’s abuse of power,” Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries said. 

Their position that the inquiry was valid without a floor vote was why Pelosi’s announcement Monday caught many Democrats by surprise. Some had been under the impression there would not be any impeachment-related floor votes, save for Republican procedural antics, until the full House is asked to consider articles of impeachment. 

While there was always a need for Democrats to specify the procedures they would use to conduct the public portion of the inquiry, it’s not clear they needed a floor vote to establish those rules since committees have the authority to establish their own procedures. 

“I think some things could be done by committees; other things might be more complicated,” McGovern said. “This is a cleaner way to do it.” 

Still likely to pass

Most Democrats have already said they support the impeachment inquiry, so unless the procedures the resolution outlines fall short of their expectations, it should pass with overwhelming support. 

Only six Democrats did not publicly endorse the impeachment inquiry: Reps. Anthony Brindisi of New York, Joe Cunningham of South Carolina, Kendra Horn of Oklahoma, Ron Kind of Wisconsin, Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey.

All six represent districts Trump won in 2016, and all but Kind and Peterson are part of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee's Frontline program for vulnerable incumbents.

Kind said Tuesday he “definitely would” vote for the resolution, noting, “I’ve been supportive of the investigation.”

“You can probably count on one hand” the number of Democrats who will vote against the resolution, he said.

One of those likely Democratic “no” votes is Van Drew, who told reporters Tuesday he expects to vote against the resolution unless he sees something “really unusual” in the meantime. He said the Democratic whip team hasn’t sought him out to talk him into voting with his party. 

While Van Drew said he has seen things during the inquiry that he thinks are “distasteful” and make him “feel uncomfortable,” nothing so far has risen to an impeachable offense in his view.

No matter what articles the House may bring against the president, the Republican-led Senate won’t vote to expel Trump and he will be a candidate who can tout he’s “been exonerated by the Senate,” he said. 

“I’ve thought on this a lot,” Van Drew said. “It’s not to protect me politically. There’s no win on this. You’re gonna get hurt either way.” 

Brindisi told CQ Roll Call before the text was released that he didn’t know how he would vote until after reading it.

Asked if the vote puts him in a tough spot, Brindisi said, “It depends what the resolution says. Look, I’ve said that these are serious allegations and we got to find the facts. If it’s bipartisan and opens the process we’ll see, but I want to read the resolution before I commit one way or the other.”

Cunningham told The Post and Courier that he would vote for the resolution because it will make the investigation more transparent.

“It’s something that my colleagues from across the aisle have been requesting for weeks now, so I hope this affords them some satisfaction, and overall it’s a good measure to shine some light on these hearings and make sure that we respect due process,” he said.

Bridget Bowman contributed to this report.

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