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 TrumpTrump opens new line of impeachment attack for Democrats Bloomberg to spend 0M on anti-Trump ads in battleground states New witness claims first-hand account of Trump's push for Ukraine probes 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 ClyburnGOP senator blasts Dem bills on 'opportunity zones' Harris: Suggestion that older African Americans are homophobic 'just nonsense' Buttigieg pushes back on Clyburn's suggestion that sexuality is issue for some black voters MORE (D-S.C.), the Democratic whip.

Such a vote would mark a sharp shift in tactics, as Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi: Trump tweets on Yovanovitch show his 'insecurity as an imposter' On The Money: Trump asks Supreme Court to block Dem subpoena for financial records | Kudlow 'very optimistic' for new NAFTA deal | House passes Ex-Im Bank bill opposed by Trump, McConnell Overnight Defense: Ex-Ukraine ambassador offers dramatic day of testimony | Talks of 'crisis' at State Department | Trump tweets criticism of envoy during hearing | Dems warn against 'witness intimidation' | Trump defends his 'freedom of speech' 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 ZeldinFive takeaways from ex-ambassador's dramatic testimony Ex-Ukraine ambassador testifies in impeachment hearing: Five things to watch Latest impeachment developments: Republicans huddle ahead of Friday's hearing 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) MalinowskiDiplomat ties Trump closer to Ukraine furor Impeachment week: Trump probe hits crucial point Warren doubles down — to Democrats' chagrin, and Trump's delight 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.