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With Impeachment Resolution Vote, House Democrats Now Want to ‘Call Bluffs’

October 30, 2019, 12:41 PM UTC

Amid a blitz of closed-door depositions, House Democrats are looking to take their impeachment inquiry public. And their first step toward doing that is taking a vote of the full House, a move that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) declined to take just two weeks ago.

The resolution introduced by House Democrats on Tuesday afternoon was not a vote authorizing their “ongoing” impeachment inquiry, which Democrats, buoyed by a recent federal court ruling, continue to argue is unnecessary. Charging that the full House needs to authorize an impeachment inquiry first, the Trump Administration has refused to comply with the inquiry, and House Republicans have denounced the process as illegitimate. 

Rather, the vote is on a resolution outlining procedures for the public phase of the inquiry. However, that vote, scheduled for Thursday, would be the first vote of the full House on the month-old impeachment inquiry. 

Democrats saw the procedural vote as a way to take away Republican arguments that the impeachment process was unfair. House Republicans have sidestepped mounting a substantive defense of President Donald Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which Trump dangled military aid and asked his counterpart to “look into” the Bidens. Instead, they have railed against the process of the inquiry, culminating in Republican members storming a secure area in the Capitol last Wednesday when a deposition was taking place, delaying proceedings for several hours.

“For the president and his people to continue to insist that somehow they are correct in withholding evidence and documents and refusing to allow witnesses to come and testify—so we’ll vote,” Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.) said Tuesday. “And you remove that argument and call their bluff.”

“We’re not here to call bluffs,” Pelosi said on October 15, when asked whether the House should vote to authorize an impeachment inquiry.

The about-face by Democrats has led to a muddled message, with Democrats simultaneously arguing that the measure was neither required constitutionally nor legally, yet needed to establish process. Leadership declined to call it an impeachment resolution.

“We’re not moving an impeachment resolution,” House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters Tuesday. “This is not an impeachment resolution. I don’t know what an impeachment resolution is.”

Democrats thought that the vote would expose Republicans’ process complaints as empty, but doubted that it would lead to any new cooperation from them.

“They have no leg to stand on here. A court has said they have no leg to stand on here, and now we’ll have a vote, and they’ll have even less of a leg to stand on,” said Wasserman Schultz. “We’ll cut their legs out from under them.”

“Once we take this vote, do you think we’re going to get all of the subpoenaed information and witnesses?” Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) told Fortune. “I’d be very surprised. But that’s been their argument, so we might as well do that.”

Republican leadership was unmoved by the vote announcement.

“You can’t put the genie back in the bottle,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (D-Calif.) told reporters Tuesday. “Due process starts at the beginning.”

The vote would force a few Democrats who have said they do not support an inquiry now and a few Republicans who have not responded to the inquiry with a flat “no” to take a position.

Rep. Francis Rooney (R-Fla.), who has refused to rule out voting to impeach Trump, did not completely rule out voting for the resolution either, but told reporters he would “probably not” vote for it. However, among the few remaining Democrats who do not support the inquiry, at least one, Rep. Joe Cunningham (D-S.C.), said he would vote for the measure.

The content of the resolution was mostly routine procedure. In public hearings, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and Ranking Member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) will be permitted to question witnesses for up to 45 minutes each, and can defer to committee staff members for questioning during that period. Following that questioning, lawmakers will be allowed to question witnesses for five minutes.

The resolution gives the minority the power to subpoena witnesses, but only if the chairman agrees, or in the case that Schiff does not agree, a full committee vote will be called—which Democrats have a majority on. It also authorizes the transmission of evidence from the Intelligence Committee to the House Judiciary Committee, which would be tasked with drafting articles of impeachment, and states that the Judiciary Committee can allow the participation of President Trump and his counsel. 

While the content of the resolution was mostly unremarkable, that Democrats were moving to vote Thursday on a resolution that Pelosi only announced was coming on Monday afternoon further indicated that House Democrats were looking to wrap up their inquiry soon, aiming for the end of the year. 

“The fact that we’re passing this on Thursday demonstrates that we’re going to continue to make rapid, deliberate progress,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.)

More must-read stories from Fortune:

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Nancy Pelosi sets House vote on authorizing Trump impeachment inquiry
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