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House Democrats’ Vote Today Marks New Stage in Impeachment Inquiry

October 31, 2019, 9:19 PM UTC

House Democrats took a major step in taking their impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump from closed-door depositions to public hearings Thursday with their first vote of the full House, and a procedural resolution passing mostly along party lines. 

The outcome of the 232-196 vote, with just two Democrats defecting and no Republicans voting in favor, showed Democrats believed that taking a much-hyped partisan vote with an almost united caucus outweighed any downside of allowing Republicans to claim a victory of complete unity.

“I was pleasantly surprised we only had two ‘no’ votes,” Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.), who has sat in on closed-door depositions in the inquiry, told Fortune. “What this resolution did, is it actually provides transparent procedures for the public phase of impeachment. It’s going to let the American people hear directly from the witnesses.”

House Republicans, meanwhile, took to the microphones and defiantly claimed a win.

“Not only did every single Republican reject this Soviet-style impeachment process,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) told reporters, holding the vote count in his hand. “We were joined by Democrats as well.”

By contrast, 31 Democrats defected in 1998, voting to open an impeachment inquiry into Democratic President Bill Clinton.

With today’s two votes, Republicans called opposition to impeachment “bipartisan,” and claimed House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) was hypocritical, pointing to a March interview where she rejected impeachment unless the evidence was “overwhelming and bipartisan.”

The Pelosi interview came before news broke of the incident at the heart of the inquiry—a July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky in which the American president asked him to “look into” the Bidens and dangled military aid. 

Reps. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Jeff Van Drew (D-N.J.) voted against the resolution. Four other Democrats who had not indicated a position on impeachment came out for the resolution shortly before the vote. Van Drew, who does not support impeachment and has been praised by President Trump on Twitter, brushed off the idea that he had given Republicans a talking point.

“I don’t think that’s my responsibility,” he told a crowd of reporters Thursday. “I don’t think two blunts anything. Two absolutely lets me reflect my viewpoint,” he said of the ‘no’ votes.  

The timing of the resolution suggested that House Democrats were seeking to draw to a close the closed-door phase of gathering evidence. However, there was not a definitive timeline for moving into the public phase of the inquiry, and Democrats have steadfastly refused to give one.

Next week, as the House of Representatives is in recess, House committees investigating the president scheduled a series of high-profile closed-door depositions. House impeachment investigators have announced that they want former National Security Adviser John Bolton to testify next week, along with four other officials on Monday alone. It was not immediately clear whether any or all of them would show up. 

Democrats were careful not to call the resolution an impeachment resolution, as not to suggest to the public that the resolution actually impeached Trump or was authorizing their “ongoing” inquiry, a move which Democrats have argued is not necessary. 

“This was not a vote on whether to impeach the president,” Lieu told Fortune

The Trump Administration and House Republicans have said the inquiry is illegitimate because it was not authorized by the full House. Following Pelosi’s announcement of the vote on Monday evening, House Republicans argued that the inquiry was illegitimate in its conception.

Since Pelosi declined to take a vote of the full House on October 15 and reversed her position this week, Democratic leadership has sometimes struggled with a rationale for the vote. Democrats have both argued was both needed to establish a process for bringing a closed-door inquiry into open hearings, but not required constitutionally or legally, as the Trump Administration has argued.

“They’re correct, we don’t need the vote tomorrow,” Majority Leader Steny Hoyer told MSNBC Wednesday night.

But Democrats’ near-unanimity six weeks into the inquiry was a significant development for a caucus that had once divided over the question of whether to impeach Trump. However, leadership struck a subdued tone, in contrast to the fiery Republicans.

“This is not a celebratory moment here in the capital city,” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), the fifth-highest ranking Democrat, told reporters Thursday. “This is a solemn moment. It’s a sober moment. It’s a serious moment.”

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5 lessons history has taught us about impeachment
Nancy Pelosi sets House vote on authorizing Trump impeachment inquiry
—How whistleblowers have taken down titans of American business
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