House

Pelosi announces launch of formal impeachment inquiry into Trump

 
Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Tuesday formally launched an impeachment drive she had rejected all year, a momentous decision that carries huge implications for the 2020 elections.

In an announcement notable for its formal tone, Pelosi, who had rejected moving forward with impeachment for months, framed the move as a necessary response to the long trail of allegations against President Trump.

“Our republic endures because of the wisdom of our Constitution enshrined in three co-equal branches that act as checks and balances,” Pelosi said from a flag-adorned Speaker’s Balcony behind her office in the Capitol. “The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law.”

{mosads}Her decision was sparked by Trump’s own admissions that he had spoken to Ukraine’s president about looking into former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading candidate for the Democratic presidential nomination, just weeks after withholding military aid to that country.

The allegations against Trump shocked Democrats, particularly since their timing occurred after the end of a long investigation by former special counsel Robert Mueller focused on whether Trump or his campaign had cooperated with Russia in its meddling in the 2016 election.

Trump has denied any wrongdoing and said the aid to Ukraine, which was eventually delivered, was withheld because other countries had not offered help to Kiev. He also said he would release a transcript of his July 25 call, a move that did not satisfy Democrats.

The president’s conversations also launched a complaint from a whistleblower within the administration that the executive branch has refused to turn over to lawmakers. That has angered Democrats and contributed to an escalating number of them calling for an inquiry. Several outlets reported late Tuesday, however, that Trump was prepared to turnover the whistleblower report, as well.

The Speaker’s short announcement capped an extraordinary day on Capitol Hill where Pelosi held back-to-back meetings with the six committee chairmen investigating Trump, and then the full 235-member caucus.

The speed with which the evolving controversy turned into an impeachment inquiry was startling, even for longtime veterans on Capitol Hill.

“You had all of a sudden this kind of galloping series of events, where it became, ‘No I didn’t; what if I did?; so what?,” said Rep. Richard Neal (D-Mass.), chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, describing Trump’s attitude toward congressional investigators. “And I think that’s what propelled the next request that the Speaker made to the Caucus to proceed with a formal inquiry.”

The pivot also came after more than two dozen Democrats this week publicly endorsed impeachment articles, or an impeachment inquiry, into Trump’s alleged misconduct.

The long and diverse list included a bloc of vulnerable Democratic freshmen from swing districts, including Reps. Abigail Spanberger (Va.), Elissa Slotkin (Mich.), Andy Kim (N.J.) and Steven Horsford (Nev.), as well as close Pelosi allies like Reps. Debbie Dingell (Mich.), Zoe Lofgren (Calif.) and Rosa DeLauro (Conn.).

Pelosi had previously rejected an inquiry out of concern it could harm such Democrats, making her reversal all the more dramatic.

Pelosi’s move is politically risky for Democrats, as polling shows a majority are against impeachment. Pelosi had previously suggested impeachment would be a political gift to the White House, saying it could help Trump win a second term. Rep. Tom Emmer (Minn.), who heads the House GOP campaign arm, predicted Tuesday that Pelosi’s decision would doom her majority next year.

 
In the closed-door caucus meeting, Pelosi downplayed the importance of the move in a possible message to centrists.
 
“It doesn’t change much from what is already going on, but we can call the umbrella of the committee work an impeachment inquiry,” Pelosi told lawmakers in the caucus meeting, tamping down the significance of the day’s events, according to a source in the meeting.

Despite the magnitude of the event, Pelosi’s move on Tuesday does not definitively mean the House will vote on articles of impeachment, and lawmakers leaving the late afternoon caucus meeting expressed some confusion over what would come next.

The decision to launch an impeachment inquiry does not require a vote, and the same six committees that had been investigating Trump will continue to do so.

Some lawmakers even suggested the shift was largely rhetorical. “A lot of us said effectively we’re doing it; but now we’re officially doing it,” said Rep. John Yarmuth (D-Ky.).

Pelosi is not moving forward with the creation of a special select committee on impeachment, multiple Democratic sources said, and she set no deadline for the Judiciary Committee to complete its work even as she urged the panel to move “expeditiously.”

One Democratic lawmaker said there was “a lot of frustration in the room,” not just among progressives, but among some moderate members, as well. Democrats have received little clarity or guidance about next steps, the lawmaker said, even as Democrats have been criticized for muddling their impeachment message.

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) was equally as vague as Pelosi in terms of what will happen next.

“Full speed ahead,” he told reporters without offering any timeline.

Still, Pelosi’s shift heartened many liberal impeachment supporters, who welcomed the change in messaging dynamics.

“It’s one thing to put in a footnote in a court document about a grand jury file that you’re exercising your prosecutorial role,” said Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), referring to the Judiciary Committee’s effort in late July to obtain grand jury material from the Mueller investigation.

“But it’s another thing for the Speaker to stand up and say we are pursuing impeachment.”

Republicans hardly saw the change as symbolic, and the GOP’s campaign arm was busy throughout the day Tuesday blasting attack emails targeting each and every moderate Democrat conveying an openness to impeaching the president.

“Shalala joins with the socialists,” read the heading of one such email, targeting Florida Rep. Donna Shalala (D).

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) piled on.

“I realize 2016 did not turn out the way Speaker Pelosi wanted it to happen,” he said, “but she cannot change the laws of this Congress.”

In between meetings at the United Nations, Trump fired off a series of tweets calling the impeachment inquiry “A total Witch Hunt!” and “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT!”

Thursday could be another pivotal day.

Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire will be in the hot seat, testifying before the House Intelligence Committee in a public hearing. Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.) and other Democrats are demanding that Maguire hand over the whistleblower complaint, but he’s refused under direction from the White House and Justice Department.

Some Democrats said the practical implications of Pelosi’s announcement will be fully dependent on what she does next.

“The truth is only time will tell how serious the Speaker is about it,” said one Democratic lawmaker.

Juliegrace Brufke and Zack Burdyk contributed.

Tags Abigail Spanberger Adam Schiff Brad Sherman Debbie Dingell Donald Trump Donna Shalala Elissa Slotkin Hank Johnson Impeachment Jerrold Nadler Joe Biden John Lewis John Yarmuth Kevin McCarthy Mueller investigation Nancy Pelosi Richard Neal Robert Mueller Rosa DeLauro Steven Horsford Tom Emmer Zoe Lofgren

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