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Democrats raise stakes with impeachment vote

House Democrats on Thursday will take the biggest leap of their impeachment campaign against President TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden says GOP senators have called to congratulate him Biden: Trump attending inauguration is 'of consequence' to the country Biden says family will avoid business conflicts MORE, staging their first floor vote on the explosive topic and laying the groundwork to shift the process from closed-door obscurity to the televised spotlight.

The stakes are high. Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiBiden backs 0B compromise coronavirus stimulus bill US records over 14 million coronavirus cases On The Money: COVID-19 relief picks up steam as McConnell, Pelosi hold talks | Slowing job growth raises fears of double-dip recession | Biden officially announces Brian Deese as top economic adviser MORE (D-Calif.) has long argued that bipartisan backing is a crucial element in impeaching any president, and the vote to establish rules for the public-facing phase is both a signal that Democrats think their case is airtight and a strategy for winning a greater portion of popular support.

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“This process determining whether he should be impeached will be open to the public view, just as it should be,” said House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.).

It remains unclear when the open-hearing stage will begin. But after weeks of private depositions, there’s a growing sense that the shift is imminent.

“I don’t know if it’s the final week,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelRep. David Scott wins House Agriculture Committee gavel Democrats elect Meeks as first Black Foreign Affairs chairman The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Dem leaders back smaller COVID-19 relief bill as pandemic escalates MORE (D-N.Y.) said Wednesday, referring to the closed-door phase, “but I think it’s getting close.”

Yet if bipartisanship is the Democrats’ ultimate goal — a necessary condition if any articles are to pass the GOP-controlled Senate — they’re hardly there yet.

Thursday’s resolution is expected to pass with only a few Democratic defections, given that all but a handful have officially backed the impeachment inquiry to date. But House GOP leaders — after weeks demanding a vote to establish ground rules — are urging their members to oppose the measure, saying it doesn’t go far enough to give Trump due process and grant more power to Republicans.

“It’s been limited and closed, and frankly I think we’re moving toward a preordained result,” said Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeHouse report says lawmakers could securely cast remote votes amid pandemic Next Congress expected to have record diversity Native Americans elected to Congress in record numbers this year MORE (Okla.), the top Republican on the House Rules Committee.

No Republicans have indicated they will vote with Democrats for the measure.

It will be the first full House vote on impeachment that Democrats are putting their muscle behind. Previously, the House had rejected three procedural efforts by liberal Rep. Al GreenAlexander (Al) N. GreenRemoving slurs, bigotry from places on our maps paves the way to remove them from all aspects of our lives Safeguarding US elections by sanctioning Russian sovereign debt The Memo: Trump furor stokes fears of unrest MORE (D-Texas) since 2017 to consider his articles of impeachment — votes he forced to the floor against the wishes of leadership.

Thursday’s vote, with the leadership’s blessing, is an indication that Democrats are confident in taking ownership of impeachment — and making sure all House members are on record one way or the other — even as a handful of centrists continue to raise alarms about potential political blowback. 

It follows weeks of private depositions with current and former administration officials who had a window into Trump’s foreign policy strategy in Ukraine, where he and his allies had pressed leaders to investigate the president’s political adversaries.

On Wednesday, Christopher Anderson, a former assistant to former special envoy for Ukraine Kurt VolkerKurt VolkerGOP senators request details on Hunter Biden's travel for probe Yovanovitch retires from State Department: reports Live coverage: Senators enter second day of questions in impeachment trial MORE, and Catherine Croft, who replaced Anderson in that post over the summer, joined the growing number of witnesses to appear before the three committees leading the impeachment investigation. Both painted a picture of a White House that was distrustful of Ukrainian efforts to fight corruption, even as top State Department officials were working to improve ties.

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Anderson testified that John BoltonJohn BoltonDefense policy bill would create new cyber czar position Pressure grows from GOP for Trump to recognize Biden election win Sunday shows - Virus surge dominates ahead of fraught Thanksgiving holiday MORE, Trump’s former national security adviser, had been leery of the role Rudy GiulianiRudy GiulianiMichigan voter fraud hearing goes viral for alleged flatulence, unruly witness Trump hits Barr over voter fraud remarks: 'He hasn't looked' Trump pardon scandal would doom his 2024 campaign MORE, Trump’s personal lawyer, was playing in the pressure campaign. Lawmakers on Wednesday summoned Bolton to testify next week.

Croft told lawmakers of a diplomatic effort to “undo President Trump’s long-held view of Ukraine as a corrupt country,” according to her opening statement. She also implicated former Rep. Bob Livingston, now a high-powered Washington lobbyist, in the saga, testifying that the Louisiana Republican had pressed her on several occasions to fire then-U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch.

Trump removed Yovanovitch from her post in May, and she has since testified that her removal was politically motivated.

Her testimony prompted a number of Democrats to say Livingston should be called in to testify as part of the investigation.

“It’s an interesting question about his role. Who he’s working for, how that came to be,” said Rep. David CicillineDavid Nicola CicillineThe Hill's 12:30 Report - Presented by Capital One - Tensions rise with Trump, Barr Maloney to lead Democrats' campaign arm Hillicon Valley: GOP chairman says defense bill leaves out Section 230 repeal | Senate panel advances FCC nominee | Krebs says threats to election officials 'undermining democracy' MORE (D-R.I.). “So, yeah, I think that’s worthy of our review and understanding.”

Since launching the formal impeachment inquiry five weeks ago, Pelosi had resisted entreaties to vote on anything related to it. That changed on Monday, when she and McGovern announced they were drafting a new package of procedures to govern the public phase of the process.

The House Rules Committee moved on Wednesday to send the resolution to the floor, only a day after McGovern introduced it.

House Democrats in competitive swing districts and members of the Blue Dog Coalition expressed frustration over the lack of advance notice and a coordinated message from leadership about the resolution. But despite the internal grumbling, most of them are expected to vote for the resolution.

At least one Democrat in a swing district, freshman Rep. Jefferson Van Drew (N.J.), said he would vote against the resolution given his opposition to impeachment. While Van Drew believes that Trump has engaged in “distasteful” conduct, he doesn’t think it meets the bar of impeachment.

Van Drew acknowledged that his reluctance to support impeachment isn’t guaranteed to protect him in his divided district, which Trump won by nearly 5 points in 2016.

“It’s not to protect me politically. There is no win on this. You’re going to get hurt either way,” Van Drew said.

Other vulnerable Democrats who had been reluctant to embrace the impeachment inquiry said they will support the resolution.

Freshman Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine), who also represents a district carried by Trump, stressed that his vote for the resolution does not mean he supports impeachment.

“While I disagreed with the initial decision to open the impeachment inquiry, it is clear that the investigation has confirmed information contained in the whistleblower complaint. For the good of our country and the public’s understanding of the process, this investigation should no longer continue solely in a closed setting. Tomorrow, I’ll vote to open up the House investigation to the American people,” Golden said in a statement on Wednesday.

Only two Democrats have yet to say how they’ll vote: Anthony Brindisi (N.Y.) and Collin PetersonCollin Clark PetersonOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Trump admin to sell oil leases at Arctic wildlife refuge before Biden takes office |Trump administration approves controversial oil testing method in Gulf of Mexico | Rep. Scott wins House Agriculture Committee gavel Rep. David Scott wins House Agriculture Committee gavel The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by Mastercard - Dem leaders back smaller COVID-19 relief bill as pandemic escalates MORE (Minn.).

The resolution establishes a process for the House Intelligence Committee to conduct open hearings, release closed-door deposition transcripts and issue a report on its findings.

And as with past impeachment inquiries, the resolution would allow the GOP to request witnesses and documents. But Intelligence Committee Democrats would still have the ability to block those efforts.

During hearings by the House Judiciary Committee, which would be tasked with drafting articles of impeachment, Trump and his counsel would be allowed to attend hearings, present evidence, cross-examine witnesses and submit requests for testimony.