This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry

Greg Nash

The House Intelligence Committee is set to host its first public hearings after weeks of closed-door proceedings — marking an escalation of the probe into President Trump’s interactions with Ukraine. 

The hearings will mark the first time the public, and most members of the House, will be able to watch the impeachment inquiry. Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee are holding the hearings in the Ways and Means Committee room with the anticipation that millions will be tuning in to the proceedings. 

“You want to have as big of a blockbuster coming out of the gate as possible,” one senior Democratic aide close to the impeachment probe told The Hill. “The benefit of these guys is they can tell the totality of events; they can tell the whole story.”

{mosads}First, on Wednesday, George Kent, a senior State Department official, and William Taylor, the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, are slated to testify before the panel. Then, on Friday, Marie Yovanovitch, the former ambassador to Ukraine who was ousted for being insufficiently loyal to Trump, is scheduled to appear. 

The House passed a resolution along party lines in late October establishing the ground rules for the public phase of the inquiry, where lawmakers are looking into whether Trump tied Ukraine aid to the country opening up an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son, Hunter Biden. 

Under the resolution, staff counsels from both parties are given 45 minutes per side to question witnesses. Lawmakers will each get five minutes to ask questions. 

Though the public hearings won’t start until Wednesday, lawmakers are already jostling over witnesses and using the Sunday talk shows to serve opening salvos. 

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) turned down a request over the weekend from Republicans to have Hunter Biden and the whistleblower whose complaint helped drive the inquiry testify. 

“The impeachment inquiry … has gathered an ever-growing body of evidence — from witnesses and documents, including the President’s own words in his July 25 call record — that not only confirms, but far exceeds, the initial information in the whistleblower’s complaint,” Schiff said. “The whistleblower’s testimony is therefore redundant and unnecessary.” 

He added that he also wouldn’t let lawmakers use the public hearings to carry out “sham” investigations into the Biden family. 

House Intelligence Committee Republicans had requested several witnesses including Hunter Biden and his business partner Devin Archer, the whistleblower and former Democratic National Committee staffer Alexandra Chalupa. They also requested that Tim Morrison and former ambassador Kurt Volker, who both provided closed-door depositions, testify publicly. 

Schiff had previously pointed to the parameters of the inquiry as guidance to Republicans for how Democrats would decide if a witness was relevant. 

Those parameters include questions about if Trump tried to get a foreign government to investigate a potential 2020 rival, if the president tried to use the government to apply pressure on Ukraine to “advance the President’s personal political interests” and if Trump or his administration tried to “obstruct, suppress or cover-up information to conceal” evidence of such actions. 

Top Republicans have blasted the process and parameters laid out by Democrats. 

“Setting aside the absurdity of these restrictions—note that the Democrats won’t even be able to stay within their own parameters.  The first two witnesses they’re calling have never even talked to POTUS. They have zero firsthand knowledge. How can they speak to his motive?” Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) tweeted on Thursday. 

He added on Saturday, after Schiff’s answer on witnesses, that if Democrats “are denying GOP impeachment witnesses to prevent a ‘sham process,’ they’re certainly too late—because that’s exactly what these last 6 weeks of House Democrat’s attempted impeachment have been. A sham.” 

Ahead of the hearings, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) announced that House Oversight and Reform Committee ranking member Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) — who has played a leading role during the closed-door hearings and proven to be one of Trump’s top defenders in the lower chamber — will temporarily replace Rep. Rick Crawford (R-Ark.) on the House Intelligence Committee.

The move comes as the GOP looks to strengthen its defense as Democrats bring witnesses they feel provide the most damning testimonies forward as they look to conclude impeachment proceedings before the end of the year. 

The transcript of Taylor’s deposition shows he expressed concerns over an alleged back-door foreign policy channel led by Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal lawyer, used to pressure Ukraine to investigate a political opponent. 

Meanwhile, Kent testified he believed Giuliani was working with corrupt foreign officials and media figures to smear Yovanovitch in an attempt to have her removed from her post.  And the transcript of Yovanovitch’s deposition shows she told members of the investigative committees she felt threatened after seeing that the president criticized her during the July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. 

GOP lawmakers in the lower chamber have vehemently defended the president against allegations he acted improperly or that there was a quid pro quo, stating that the witnesses did not have first-hand access to the information and arguing the partial transcript of the call vindicates Trump. 

Export-Import Bank

The House is expected to take up legislation to reauthorize the  Export-Import Bank, which aims to aid the export of American goods and services, this week, House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) said in a “Dear Colleague” letter sent to the caucus. Congress faces a Nov. 21 deadline before its current funding expires.

“This legislation will help ensure a level playing field for American businesses that are competing in a global economy,” Hoyer wrote. 

The legislation slated to come to the floor would reauthorize the Ex-Im Bank for 10 years.

Equal Rights Amendment

The House Judiciary Committee is scheduled to mark up legislation to eliminate the deadline for ratifying the Equal Rights Amendment. 

“It is now highly likely that if we eliminate the deadline, Virginia will ratify and become the 38th state, and then the E.R.A. can go into effect as a constitutional amendment,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) told The New York Times. “So it’s time to do it.”

The markup comes following Democrats’ sweeping election victory in Virginia. Democrats say they have the votes to ratify the ERA in the state legislature. It would make Virginia the 38th state, meeting the three-fourths of the states needed for ratification. 

The panel previously held its first hearing on the ERA in 36 years in April.

Critics have argued that it could expand access to abortion and that women already have protection under the 14th Amendment’s equal protection clause.


Top members of the House and Senate Appropriations committees are scheduled to meet this week as they try to break a stalemate on fiscal 2020 negotiations. 

Senate Appropriations Chairman Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) and House Appropriations Chairwoman Nita Lowey (D-N.Y.), as well as Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and Rep. Kay Granger (R-Texas), the ranking members of the committees, will meet on Tuesday. 

The conference comes after Shelby, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and White House director of legislative affairs Eric Ueland met last week to talk about funding the government. 

Congress has until Nov. 21 to prevent the second shutdown of the year. Leadership is eyeing another short-term patch until mid-December to give them more time to negotiate on full year 2020 bills. 

The Senate has passed four of the fiscal 2020 bills, while the House has passed 10. But the two chambers have reached a deal on none of the 12 appropriations bills because of disagreements over top-line spending figures, known as 302(b)s, and the border wall. 


The Senate is keeping its focus on nominations this week after members return to Washington on Tuesday. 

McConnell has teed up votes on two nominations: Chad Wolf to be under secretary for strategy, policy and plans at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and Steven Menashi to be judge on the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals. 

Wolf has been serving in the position in an acting capacity. But providing him with Senate confirmation will allow Wolf to become the acting DHS secretary — a post Trump tapped him for earlier this month. 

Wolf would be Trump’s fifth acting or Senate-confirmed DHS secretary in less than three years, following Kevin McAleenan, Kirstjen Nielsen, Elaine Duke and John Kelly.

After Wolf’s nomination, the Senate will turn to Menashi, who cleared the Judiciary Committee last week along party lines.

Menashi has garnered widespread opposition from Democrats and their outside group allies over his writings on the Muslim community and his work in the Trump administration.

Demand Justice, a progressive outside group, is targeting GOP Sens. Mitt Romney (Utah), Lisa Murkowski (Alaska), Martha McSally (Ariz.), Cory Gardner (Colo.), Thom Tillis (N.C.) and Joni Ernst (Iowa) with digital ads ahead of the vote. 

Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate, meaning Democrats would need to flip four GOP senators, and hold their own caucus together, in order to sink Menashi’s nomination on the floor. 

So far one Republican, Sen. Susan Collins (Maine), has said she’ll oppose the nomination. 

Tags Adam Schiff Chad Wolf Cory Gardner Donald Trump Elaine Duke fiscal 2020 budget impeachment inquiry Jerrold Nadler Jim Jordan Joe Biden John Kelly Joni Ernst Judicial nominees Kay Granger Kevin McCarthy Kirstjen Nielsen Kurt Volker Lisa Murkowski Mark Meadows Martha McSally Mitch McConnell Mitt Romney Nita Lowey Patrick Leahy Richard Shelby Rick Crawford Rudy Giuliani Steny Hoyer Susan Collins Thom Tillis
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