The House of Representatives on Thursday held its first full vote on the impeachment inquiry launched last month by Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the chamber’s Democratic majority. The vote, which fell largely along partisan lines, formalizes the rules for the forthcoming public phase of the inquiry, and comes as President Trump and his Republican allies have attacked the legitimacy of the inquiry, which continues to turn up evidence that Trump and his administration sought to pressure Ukraine into interfering in the 2020 election by withholding nearly $400 million in foreign aid.
“It’s a sad day because nobody comes to Congress to impeach a president of the United States. No one,” Pelosi said on Thursday. “We come here to do the work, make the future better for our children, for America’s future. We take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, and that’s what we cannot ignore and will not ignore when the president’s behavior indicates that that investigation, that inquiry, is necessary.”
Here’s everything you need to know about the vote:
What did the House vote on?
The House-approved resolution formally authorizes the House Intelligence Committee, led by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), to hold public hearings, release transcripts of depositions conducted during the fact-finding phase of the inquiry, and ultimately submit a report on its findings to the House Judiciary Committee. The Judiciary Committee will then decide whether to draft articles of impeachment against the president.
The resolution permits the White House to defend the president and cross-examine witnesses once the Judiciary Committee takes up the inquiry. House Republicans will also be allowed to call witnesses and issue subpoenas, although those requests will be subject to committee approval.
How did House members vote on the resolution?
The resolution passed 232 to 196, with all but two Democrats, Reps. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Jeff Van Drew (D-N.J.), supporting it. Rep. Justin Amash, the Republican-turned-independent who has accused Trump of impeachable acts based on the evidence of obstruction of justice in the Mueller report, joined Democrats in voting yes. No House Republicans voted for the measure. One Democrat and three Republicans opted not to vote.
Trump responded to the resolution’s passage as expected:
The Greatest Witch Hunt In American History!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 31, 2019
“The president has done nothing wrong, and the Democrats know it,” added White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham. “Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats’ unhinged obsession with this illegitimate impeachment proceeding does not hurt President Trump; it hurts the American people … With today’s vote, Speaker Pelosi and the Democrats have done nothing more than enshrine unacceptable violations of due process into House rules.”
How will the vote affect the impeachment inquiry?
The vote signals the upcoming public phase of the inquiry, which will feature nationally televised hearings rather than the closed-door, investigatory depositions that have guided the proceedings thus far.
It also illustrates a sense of urgency from Democrats, who initially hoped to vote on whether to impeach Trump by Thanksgiving. That is highly unlikely considering public hearings need to be conducted, a report still needs to be submitted to the Judiciary Committee, and articles of impeachment still need to be drafted. The vote on Thursday will expedite the Intelligence Committee’s public hearings, and some House Democrats now believe a vote on impeachment could be held by Christmas.
Republicans have responded to the impeachment push by attacking the process as opposed to defending the president. They’ve complained that the first phase of the inquiry has consisted of closed-door interviews with witnesses; a group of Republicans went so far as to storm into the secure meeting room where the Intelligence Committee does it work without following protocol or guidelines. Democrats have said they need to interview witnesses in private to get all the facts without witnesses trying to align their stories or compromise the investigation.
Republicans also complain the inquiry is proceeding without a full vote of the House. There is precedent for this including the Watergate impeachment, but there have been other impeachment proceedings that didn’t begin with a full floor vote and there’s nothing in the Constitution to say that a full floor vote is necessary.
The vote on Thursday helps undercut most of the GOP’s arguments about the legitimacy of the process, but this isn’t to say they won’t find new ones. Republicans have already criticized the resolution’s stipulation that the Democrat-led committees must approve Republican requests for testimony or documentation regarding the inquiry.
The vote also comes as public support for impeachment continues to rise. According to a FiveThirtyEight composite of polls, 48.2 percent of Americans support impeachment (including 83.7 percent of Democrats), compared to 43.8 percent who don’t support it. On September 25th, the day after House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the launch of the inquiry, only 40.9 percent of Americans supported it, compared to 50.1 who opposed it.
The change in public opinion isn’t shocking considering what’s been revealed about the Trump administration’s relationship with Ukraine since the inquiry began. One credible witness after another has reaffirmed the facts laid out in the whistleblower complaint that set this whole episode into motion: that the Trump administration withheld foreign aid already appropriated by Congress for Ukraine as a way to pressure Ukraine into investigating into the 2016 election and the Biden family.
The most recent witness to do so was Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, a National Security Council adviser and Ukraine expert who said on Tuesday that the transfer of aid was “contingent” upon the launch of the investigations. Vindman said the “transcript” released by the White House was not complete, and that when he told White House lawyer John Eisenberg that Trump’s now-infamous July 25th call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky was inappropriate, Eisenberg moved the transcript of the call to a server normally reserved for the most classified government programs — a level of secrecy that a phone-call transcript did nothing to deserve.
On Thursday, Tim Morrison, the NSC’s top Russia and Europe adviser, is expected to corroborate previous claims that a quid pro quo was in place. Morrison is reportedly expected to resign from his post at the NSC prior to testifying.