House approves Trump impeachment procedures

The House on Thursday took its first major step toward making Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpWatergate prosecutor says that Sondland testimony was 'tipping point' for Trump In private moment with Trump, Justice Kennedy pushed for Kavanaugh Supreme Court nomination: book Obama: 'Everybody needs to chill out' about differences between 2020 candidates MORE just the third president in history to be impeached, approving procedures for an inquiry likely to burst into full public view in weeks.

The measure, which establishes rules for open hearings and the questioning of witnesses by members and staff, passed in a 232-196 party-line vote with just two Democrats voting against it and no Republicans supporting it.

The Democrats who voted no were Reps. Collin PetersonCollin Clark PetersonHow centrist Dems learned to stop worrying and love impeachment GOP lawmaker says House impeachment rules vote 'doesn't change anything for me' Majority of Americans see impeachment inquiry as fair: poll MORE (Minn.) and Jefferson Van Drew (N.J.), who both represent districts won by Trump in the 2016 election.

Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashAmash: GOP acts like 'we're all stupid' over impeachment hearings Trump allies assail impeachment on process while House Democrats promise open hearings soon Hoyer: We are going to move as fast 'as the facts and truth dictate' on open hearings MORE, an Independent from Michigan who left the GOP this year after he endorsed impeaching Trump, voted for the measure.

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Democrats cast the vote as a serious step that upheld the House’s constitutional role as an independent branch of the government.

“This is something that is very solemn, that is something prayerful,” Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOvernight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Deal on defense bill proves elusive | Hill, Holmes offer damaging testimony | Trump vows to block Navy from ousting officer from SEALs On The Money: Trump signs short-term spending bill to avoid shutdown | Pelosi casts doubt on USMCA deal in 2019 | California high court strikes down law targeting Trump tax returns Wasserman Schultz makes bid for House Appropriations Committee gavel MORE (D-Calif.) said in a floor speech ahead of the vote. “What is at stake in all of this is nothing less than our democracy.”

Pelosi presided over the chamber during the vote, a step meant to underscore the significance of the moment. During her floor speech, she stood next to a poster of the American flag.

Republicans said Democrats were seeking to remove a president they cannot defeat at the ballot box, and argued it was improper to move forward just a year before the presidential election.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyOn The Money: Trump signs short-term spending bill to avoid shutdown | Pelosi casts doubt on USMCA deal in 2019 | California high court strikes down law targeting Trump tax returns McCarthy blasts Pelosi on USMCA The Hill's 12:30 Report — Presented by Johnson & Johnson — Witness dismisses 'fictional' GOP claims of Ukraine meddling MORE (R-Calif.) and other members repeatedly pointed to statements made by rank-and-file Democrats at the beginning of the Congress that suggested the party was focused on removing Trump from office from the start.

The vote marked the first House floor vote on impeachment since Democrats launched their inquiry last month into Trump’s efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to open an investigation into former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenKamala Harris receives new Iowa endorsements after debate performance Watergate prosecutor says that Sondland testimony was 'tipping point' for Trump Overnight Defense — Presented by Boeing — Deal on defense bill proves elusive | Hill, Holmes offer damaging testimony | Trump vows to block Navy from ousting officer from SEALs MORE and his family.

It followed weeks of closed-door depositions by three congressional panels, which has resulted in days of negative headlines as witnesses offered damaging testimony.

Just this week a White House aide testified of his concerns about Trump’s July 25 call to Ukraine’s leader, saying he thought it was wrong for the president to pressure a foreign leader to investigate an American citizen.

Republicans argue Democrats have leaked information to cast testimony on Trump in the worst light, and that no clear evidence of a quid pro quo tying the withholding of military aid to Ukraine to pressure on that country to conduct politically motivated investigations has been established.

Republicans have also blasted the process of the inquiry, and the Democrats' move to hold the vote on Thursday is at least partially intended to quash such complaints.

The parameters adopted on Thursday establish a process for the House Intelligence Committee to hold open hearings, release transcripts of closed-door witness testimony and issue a report. It then sets up a path for handing the inquiry over to the House Judiciary Committee, which would be tasked with crafting articles of impeachment and sending them to the floor.

Democrats are aiming to transition to public hearings — possibly with some of the same witnesses who appeared behind closed doors — by mid-November. 

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

But if Trump refuses to cooperate with investigative committees’ requests for witnesses and documents, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerMaloney wins House Oversight gavel House Judiciary Committee approves landmark marijuana legalization bill Maloney wins vote for Oversight chairwoman MORE (D-N.Y.) can deny any requests made by the president or his counsel.

The resolution gives Republicans on the Intelligence and Judiciary committees the opportunity to request witnesses and documents, which is consistent with past inquiries. Democrats can still block those efforts, however. 

Republicans in the floor debate on Thursday said the steps did little to change what they characterized as an unfair process.

House Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseTrump attacks Fox News for interviewing Swalwell How House Republicans have stayed unified on impeachment Chris Wallace: Trump testifying 'would be akin to Prince Andrew testifying about his relationship with Jeffrey Epstein' MORE (R-La.) brought a poster of his own for House floor debate, calling the process “Soviet-style impeachment proceedings” superimposed over an image of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow. 

“Maybe you think it's fairness if you can run roughshod over somebody because you've got the votes, but that's not how impeachment was supposed to go,” Scalise said.