House panel advances resolution outlining impeachment inquiry

House panel advances resolution outlining impeachment inquiry
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A resolution outlining the upcoming public phase of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry advanced through committee along party lines on Wednesday, setting it up for a critical floor vote on Thursday.

The House Rules Committee advanced the resolution 9-4 after nearly three hours of Republicans unsuccessfully attempting to amend it to give themselves more control over the process.

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

The Intelligence panel would eventually hand over the reins of the inquiry to the House Judiciary Committee, which would be tasked with crafting articles of impeachment. 

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“We're at the next stage here. The gathering of the evidence is coming to a close. It is now time to present the evidence to the Judiciary Committee and to the American people. And here is the road map,” said Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.). 

Thursday will mark the first floor vote on impeachment since House Democrats launched their impeachment inquiry last month.

Passage of the resolution will come after five weeks of closed-door depositions with witnesses testifying to knowledge of President TrumpDonald John TrumpHealth insurers Cigna, Humana waive out-of-pocket costs for coronavirus treatment Puerto Rico needs more federal help to combat COVID-19 Fauci says April 30 extension is 'a wise and prudent decision' MORE’s efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to open investigations into his political rivals, including former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenCoronavirus makes the campaign season treacherous for Joe Biden Biden tops Trump by 9 points in Fox News poll Unions urge Chamber of Commerce to stop lobbying against Defense Production Act MORE.

Democrats have requested closed-door testimony from at least three more witnesses next week, including former national security adviser John BoltonJohn Bolton Trump ignores science at our peril Bolton defends decision to shutter NSC pandemic office US retaliates with missile strikes in Iraq MORE. But they’re hoping to move to the public phase of the inquiry by mid-November.

In the Intelligence Committee hearings, only Chairman Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), ranking member Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) and committee staff would be able to question witnesses during an initial 90-minute round of questioning. After that, lawmakers on the panel would each get five minutes to ask questions. 

The format is meant to mirror how the closed-door depositions have been conducted, which Democrats argue is more conducive to gathering new information from witnesses than the typical practice of lawmakers alternating five-minute rounds of questioning.  

“The purpose of this was to give professional staff the ability to cross-examine witnesses in a way that makes these hearings less of a circus and more focused on the facts,” McGovern said. 

Rep. Tom Cole (R-Okla.), the top Republican on the House Rules Committee, offered an amendment that was defeated along party lines that would allow members on the Intelligence Committee to ask questions during the extended round. 

“It's a significant deviation from historical precedent and frankly I think silly to tell a member of Congress that they can yield to an unelected staff member but they can't yield to another member on the very committee they're on,” Cole said.

Hearings held by the Judiciary Committee, meanwhile, would offer Trump and his counsel the ability to attend hearings, present evidence, cross-examine witnesses and submit requests for testimony. 

But if Trump refuses to cooperate with the investigative committees’ requests for witnesses and documents, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerHouse Judiciary Committee postpones hearing with Barr amid coronavirus outbreak House Democrats plead with key committee chairman to allow remote voting amid coronavirus pandemic Pelosi rejects calls to shutter Capitol: 'We are the captains of this ship' MORE (D-N.Y.) reserves the right to deny requests made by the president or his counsel. 

The resolution would also allow Republicans on the Intelligence and Judiciary committees to request witnesses and documents. But Democrats, as the majority party, would maintain the ability to block those efforts in a manner consistent with past impeachment inquiries.

Cole offered an amendment to grant equal subpoena power to Republicans, but it was rejected along party lines.

“I think there is no reason to break from bipartisan precedent,” said Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben Raskin20 House Dems call on Trump to issue two-week, nationwide shelter-in-place order Senators urge Congress to include election funds in coronavirus stimulus Vote at home saves our democracy and saves lives MORE (D-Md.). 

Over the past month, Republicans and the White House have been demanding a formal House floor vote to establish a process for the impeachment inquiry. 

GOP leaders are nonetheless urging their members to vote against the resolution because they don’t think it goes far enough in granting more power to Republicans and ensuring due process for Trump.

The resolution is expected to pass easily with widespread support from Democrats. But at least one vulnerable Democrat in a swing district is expected to vote against the resolution.

Rep. Jeff Van DrewJeff Van DrewHispanic Caucus campaign arm unveils non-Hispanic endorsements Lone Democrat to oppose impeachment will seek reelection DCCC targets House GOP members over Trump administration response to coronavirus MORE (D-N.J.), a freshman representing a district that Trump carried in 2016, remains reluctant to embrace impeachment.

“It's going down the impeachment road more. I've always said originally I wasn't for the impeachment hearing, that I thought it should just be an investigation. And I'm still in the same position, so why would I vote for something now that I said I wasn't going to vote for before?” Van Drew told reporters on Tuesday.

Only five other Democrats — all of whom represent swing districts carried by Trump in 2016 — had declined to officially support the impeachment inquiry up to this week. 

But Reps. Joe CunninghamJoseph CunninghamCapitol Police officer tests positive for coronavirus Overnight Health Care — Presented by PCMA — US coronavirus cases hit 100,000 | Trump signs T stimulus package | Trump employs defense powers to force GM to make ventilators | New concerns over virus testing 16 things to know for today about coronavirus MORE (D-S.C.) and Jared Golden (D-Maine) both said they would vote for the resolution, framing it as support for making the impeachment inquiry open to the public.

“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,” Golden said in a statement on Wednesday.

Kendra HornKendra Suzanne HornOvernight Energy: Iconic national parks close over coronavirus concerns | New EPA order limits telework post-pandemic | Lawmakers urge help for oil and gas workers Bipartisan lawmakers urge assistance for oil and gas workers Overnight Defense: Pentagon curtails more exercises over coronavirus | House passes Iran war powers measure | Rocket attack hits Iraqi base with US troops MORE (Okla.) also told an Oklahoma news outlet Wednesday that she would vote for the resolution.

Two other front-line Democrats — Reps. Anthony Brindisi (N.Y.) and and Collin PetersonCollin Clark PetersonSNAP, airlines among final hurdles to coronavirus stimulus deal Pelosi: House 'not prepared' to vote remotely on coronavirus relief bill Lone Democrat to oppose impeachment will seek reelection MORE (Minn.) — have yet to say how they will vote.