Congress

Pelosi announces formal impeachment inquiry, but leaves some questions

Move comes as Senate passes resolution calling for whistleblower report to be turned over

Speaker Nancy Pelosi says she is directly six House committees to proceed with their investigation “under that umbrella of impeachment inquiry.” (Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Tuesday that the House will move forward with a formal impeachment inquiry, but Democrats said it was not clear what form that inquiry will take or how quickly it will lead to a decision on whether to vote to impeach President Donald Trump.

“I’m directing our six committees to proceed with their investigations under that umbrella of impeachment inquiry,” the California Democrat said in televised remarks Tuesday after a meeting of House Democrats.  

[Whistleblower may testify to House panel, as Trump pledges to release Ukraine call transcript]

Pelosi’s directive seemed to override the claims of House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler and other panel Democrats that they’ve been engaged in a formal impeachment inquiry for months. But she also offered no indication of any forthcoming changes to Judiciary’s impeachment investigation or the oversight work of five other committees — Intelligence, Oversight and Reform, Foreign Affairs, Financial Services and Ways and Means — that are all looking into Trump’s alleged misdeeds and abuses of power. 

For now, the impeachment inquiry seems to be more of a rhetorical reframing than a procedural one. Pelosi did not say whether the full House would vote to formalize the impeachment inquiry or whether the six committee investigations would be condensed into a single probe.

Despite the ambiguity about next steps, several Democrats said moving forward with an impeachment inquiry, as blessed by Pelosi, is a significant step because the caucus was unified behind the decision.  

On the same page

Just before making her statement to reporters Tuesday, Pelosi briefed the Democratic Caucus on her plans for advancing the House’s investigations into Trump following allegations that the president pressured Ukraine to open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, a potential 2020 opponent. 

No one in the room objected to moving to an informal impeachment inquiry, according to members present.

“It just shows there’s no question that the entire Democratic caucus is on the same page,” Judiciary member Steve Cohen of Tennessee said, noting “there was some question about that” before.

At least a few Democrats remained undecided on whether they would personally support an impeachment inquiry.

“I’m trying to figure that out,” Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader said, telling reporters to ask him again Wednesday. Last week, Schrader, who chairs the political arm of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition, told CQ Roll Call he couldn’t support an impeachment effort that didn’t have bipartisan support. 

For most Democrats, however, the notion that Trump sought Ukraine’s help in digging up dirt on a political foe was the push they needed. More than three dozen Democrats who’d previously declined to endorse an impeachment inquiry — including several moderate freshmen who were key to House Democratic success in 2018 — offered their support for such a move on Monday and Tuesday. 

Pelosi did not provide details to the caucus on what the impeachment inquiry process would look like moving forward, several members said after the meeting. And she didn’t take questions from reporters during her remarks.

House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries told members they shouldn’t get bogged down by the procedure, which prompted some pushback. 

“A lot of people wanted to know exactly how it would work, but I don’t think they’ve figured [it] out,” Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth said.

On the table

Some Democrats have called for a select committee to handle the impeachment inquiry, but others disagree with that approach. 

Pennsylvania Rep. Susan Wild favors a select committee, saying she believes the impeachment investigation deserves singular treatment.

“It’s very important that something of this level of importance be conducted by members who have the most expertise in the fields of national security, intelligence,” she said. 

During the caucus meeting, Wild also raised the idea of canceling the two-week October recess to pursue the impeachment inquiry uninterrupted, acknowledging that her suggestion was met with a mix of cheers and groans. 

“To go home for two weeks to me just doesn’t seem like the right message,” she said. “If our intent is to act expeditiously, how can we justify going home for two weeks?”

Indeed, despite the lack of details from leadership on next steps, most members left the caucus meeting with the impression the inquiry would move quickly.

“We have to strike while the iron is hot,” Pelosi told the caucus, according to a senior Democratic aide who was in the room. Several members leaving the meeting used the phrase “full steam ahead.”

One of them was California Rep. Jared Huffman, but he admitted, “I still need to know what our leadership believes is the fastest, most effective way for us to advance our unity on this one issue.”

“I will support them, whatever they decide,” Huffman said. “What we can't have is just sort of a muddling, we’ll sort of think about writing some letters and threatening some subpoenas. But I don’t think that’s where we are. I think we are fundamentally in a new place.”

Some members still think the caucus needs to do a better job messaging on impeachment and need to frame the inquiry properly moving forward.

Michigan Rep. Elissa Slotkin, one of the moderates newly embracing proceedings, said she thinks the caucus should singularly focus on the Ukraine allegations, which are easier for the public to understand than some of the other matters Democrats had been investigating. 

“We haven’t done a great job as a caucus in communicating clearly what the real problem is, and what we’re trying to investigate,” she said. “We have many committees, all having many hearings and subpoenas and frankly a lot of people have lost the thread. So it’s important to me that as we bring people along, they can understand the story — not just the procedural issues but the story. And this story is understandable and clear.”

‘Betrayal’

In her remarks, Pelosi accused Trump of breaching his constitutional duties as he admitted to asking the Ukrainian president to take actions that would benefit him politically.

Trump’s actions, she said, reveal a “betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections.”

Several Democrats said the allegations show Trump has not learned anything from the investigation of special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, whose report found that his campaign welcomed help from Russia in 2016.

The latest allegations stem from a whistleblower complaint that Democrats are still trying to get their hands on. Pelosi also said the administration’s blocking of acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire from turning over that complaint was “a violation of the law.” Maguire is scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said Pelosi’s decision to bring a formal impeachment inquiry is not a new development.

“What she said today made no difference than what’s been going on,” the California Republican said. “It’s no different than what Nadler’s been trying to do.”

Resolution lined up

Earlier in the day, Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer announced the House will vote Wednesday on a resolution to disapprove of the administration’s effort to block the release of the whistleblower complaint.

“This is not a partisan matter, it’s about the integrity of our democracy, respect for the rule of law and defending our Constitution,” the two leaders said in a statement explaining the resolution. “We hope that all members of the House — Democrats and Republicans alike — will join in upholding the rule of law and oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution as representatives of the American people.”

Senate side

Meanwhile, the Senate on Tuesday agreed by unanimous consent to a nonbinding resolution expressing the sense of the Senate that the inspector general of the intelligence community should transmit the whistleblower complaint to the congressional intelligence committees.

Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer made the request and, following brief remarks from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, was permitted to go through without any objections.

Senate Republicans decried the effect a House impeachment inquiry could have on Trump’s policy agenda, but they generally did not rush to dismiss the whistleblower complaint.

“We’re going to get to the bottom of this, and that’s the same answer you’re going to get from me,” Colorado Sen. Cory Gardner told reporters. 

Gardner, who is among the most vulnerable Republicans up for reelection in 2020, said Senate Intelligence Chairman Richard M. Burr and ranking Democrat Mark Warner have the reputation needed to lead the chamber’s review of the administration’s handling of the issue.

Warner, for his part, was staying on message in multiple conversations with reporters Tuesday, calling it “an orderly process” of hearing testimony from Maguire, the intelligence community inspector general and the whistleblower. 

Texas Sen. John Cornyn, a former Republican whip who sits on the Intelligence panel, suggested he thought that review was appropriate but what the House announced was not.

“What it says to me is the most important thing to House Democrats is impeaching Trump, more important than lowering prescription drug costs, more important than funding the military, more important than a highway bill,” said Cornyn, who faces a potentially competitive reelection next year. “More important than the USMCA, our trade deal with Mexico and Canada. This apparently to them is the most important thing, and I think it’s a colossal error.”

As if on cue, the White House blasted out a release echoing earlier comments from the president that the legislative agenda was effectively on hold. 

“House Democrats have destroyed any chances of legislative progress for the people of this country by continuing to focus all their energy on partisan political attacks,” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said.

There were already doubts among Senate Republicans that the president and House Democrats could come to agreement on major legislative initiatives heading into 2020, even before Tuesday’s developments. 

“It depends on whether or not they go through with it,” Senate Majority Whip John Thune of South Dakota said. “If they decide to, it’s going suck a lot of oxygen out of here and probably keeps us from doing a lot of the things that most Americans expect us to be focused on.”

Katherine Tully McManus, Jacob Metz, Chris Marquette, Niels Lesniewski and John T. Bennett contributed to this report.

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