Democrats gauge support for vote on impeachment inquiry

House Democratic leaders are taking the temperature of their caucus as to whether the party should stage a floor vote to launch an impeachment inquiry officially — a move leadership has insisted is unnecessary to pursue their investigation into President TrumpDonald John TrumpOklahoma City Thunder players kneel during anthem despite threat from GOP state lawmaker Microsoft moving forward with talks to buy TikTok after conversation with Trump Controversial Trump nominee placed in senior role after nomination hearing canceled MORE.

"We're gauging where our members are," said a source familiar with the outreach operation, which is being led by Rep. Jim ClyburnJames (Jim) Enos ClyburnClyburn: Biden needs VP pick who has 'a lot of passion' Jim Jordan presses Fauci on protests, COVID-19 This week: Congress set for bipartisan coronavirus talks as clock ticks MORE (D-S.C.), the Democratic whip.

Such a vote would mark a sharp shift in tactics, as Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGOP lawmaker: Democratic Party 'used to be more moderate' White House not optimistic on near-term stimulus deal Sunday shows - Stimulus debate dominates MORE (D-Calif.) and other other Democratic leaders have argued for months that a vote on the House floor is not legally mandated to launch the impeachment process.

Yet the absence of such a vote has emerged as a major talking point among Trump and his Republican allies in the Capitol, who have hammered the Democrats' impeachment inquiry as "illegitimate" as a result.

Last week, Pat Cippolone, the White House counsel, delivered a letter to Pelosi warning that administration officials would not cooperate with requests for documents or witness testimony because they deem the inquiry invalid.

And Republicans in Congress are amplifying that message, accusing Democrats of staging a "clown show" that's being governed by no clear rules or procedures. They've been quick to note that the most recent impeachment proceedings in the nation's history — targeting Presidents Nixon and Clinton — were both launched by a resolution on the House floor.

"With regards to precedent, what rule is governing this entire process?" Rep. Lee ZeldinLee ZeldinDemocrat Nancy Goroff wins NY primary to challenge Lee Zeldin Congress pulls punches on Russian bounties firestorm US lawmakers call on EU to label entire Hezbollah a terrorist organization MORE (R-N.Y.) said Tuesday morning, as he headed in to hear the latest witness testimony in the Democrats' fast-moving impeachment probe.

Pelosi, for months, had resisted even a mention of impeachment, fearing the political blowback it might cause to the moderate Democrats facing tough reelections next year. That changed last month, after the airing of allegations from a government whistleblower that Trump had leveraged U.S. military aid to Ukraine in return for political favors from that nation's leaders.

In response, scores of Democrats endorsed impeachment in some form. And Pelosi announced the beginning of an official inquiry.

It remains unclear if Democrats will bring an impeachment inquiry vote to the floor. And some lawmakers say there's no need to do so, warning that it would create the impression that Republicans were dictating the terms of the process.

"I don't consider it necessary myself," said Rep. Tom MalinowskiThomas (Tom) MalinowskiNew Jersey incumbents steamroll progressive challengers in primaries Thomas Kean wins GOP primary to take on Rep. Tom Malinowski House fires back at Trump by passing ObamaCare expansion MORE (D-N.J.). "I think all these process arguments are diversions, put out there by people who don't want to talk about the substance because the substance is so incredibly damaging."

News of the outreach campaign was first reported by NBC News on Tuesday.
Olivia Beavers contributed to this story.