WASHINGTON — A House Democratic committee voted to carve out terms of its investigation of President Donald Trump, inching them closer on the issue of impeachment.
The committee voted along party lines Thursday morning, 24–17, with all Democrats in favor and all Republicans opposing, and will shape the panel’s procedures on further impeachment hearings as it continues its Trump investigation.
The resolution passed by the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday maps out responsibilities of committee members in the investigation, including chair Jerry Nadler. The congressman can now authorize other congressional committees to conduct their own investigations into alleged misconduct by Trump as part of the impeachment investigation. Judiciary Committee members and counsel will get up to an hour to question witnesses rather than the usual five minutes per hearing, some of which may be held behind closed doors. The chair, after consulting the top Republican on the committee, can also invite the president’s counsel to review and respond in writing to the material discussed in closed-door meetings.
“The resolution before us represents the necessary next step in our investigation of corruption, obstruction, and abuse of power,” said Nadler, reiterating that the committee is officially conducting an investigation on impeachment, a topic many House members seem to be confused about. “This Committee is engaged in an investigation that will allow us to determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment with respect to President Trump.”
This step marks the most significant move by the House Judiciary since Aug. 1, when the 118th Democratic House member came out publicly to support impeachment, tilting the number of pro-impeachment members in the caucus to the majority.
Republicans objected to Thursday’s vote, pegging the hearing as a “charade” and an opportunity for Democrats to try to influence the 2020 presidential election. During his opening statement, ranking member Doug Collins accused Democrats of mocking the constitution and in doing so “will stop at nothing to ensure the American people hear only non-stop, day-after-day, baseless accusations against the president.” Collins called the investigation “a giant Instagram filter,” likening it to “something it’s not.”
Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz introduced an amendment that would restrict House counsel from questioning witnesses, but it was struck down by Democratic committee members.
As the committee moves forward, aides told reporters Monday, the public can anticipate hearings on election security and possible violations of the emoluments clause — a constitutional measure that prohibits sitting presidents from receiving gifts or anything of value from a foreign government.
Trump recently made headlines when, during the G7 summit last month, he suggested next year’s meeting be held at one of his properties. Democrats have also raised concerns about foreign spending at Trump’s hotel in Washington, DC.
While House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her leadership team have said they support Nadler’s efforts and investigation, they’ve held the line on actually impeaching Trump, arguing that the public doesn’t support it.
Leadership’s desire to keep the conversation off of impeachment — motivated, in large part, by the need to protect incumbent Democrats in moderate districts — has led to some mixed messaging among House Democrats, with more than half of their members pushing for action. On Wednesday, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, the second-highest-ranking Democrat in the House, told reporters that the House wasn’t in an impeachment investigation, but later had to walk those comments back.
Pelosi was dogged by questions about the issue in her weekly press conference Thursday and grew frustrated when asked if she would concede that the House is conducting an impeachment investigation.
“Do I concede? Have you not been paying attention to what we’ve been doing for the last three months? We are legislating ... we’re investigating, as six committees have been doing for months ... and we are litigating. … I stand by what we have been doing all along,” Pelosi responded. “I support what is happening in the Judiciary Committee, because that enables them to do their process of interrogation and investigation.”
Pelosi tried to shut down further questions about impeachment, saying she wouldn’t comment further, but was later asked if she’s uncomfortable referring to the Judiciary Committee’s work as an “impeachment” investigation. “Why is it that you’re hung up on a word over here when lives are at stake over there?” Pelosi asked, arguing that reporters are the only ones focused on the issue.
As reporters pushed back, Pelosi added, “I travel the entire country. Come with me sometime. And you’ll hear what the American people are saying. They understand that impeachment is a very divisive measure, but if we have to go there, we’ll have to go there. But we can’t go there unless we have the facts.”
Addy Baird contributed reporting to this story.
This story was updated with comments from House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.