House approves Trump impeachment procedures

The House on Thursday took its first major step toward making Donald TrumpDonald John TrumpBiden campaign: Trump and former vice president will have phone call about coronavirus Esper: Military personnel could help treat coronavirus patients 'if push comes to shove' Schumer calls for military official to act as medical equipment czar 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 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.) and Jefferson Van Drew (N.J.), who both represent districts won by Trump in the 2016 election.

Rep. Justin AmashJustin AmashCOVID-19, Bill Barr and the American authoritarian tradition Pelosi scrambles to secure quick passage of coronavirus aid Amash calls stimulus package 'a raw deal' for 'those who need the most help' 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 PelosiSchumer calls for military official to act as medical equipment czar Overnight Health Care: Trump resists pressure for nationwide stay-at-home order | Trump open to speaking to Biden about virus response | Fauci gets security detail | Outbreak creates emergency in nursing homes McConnell: Pelosi trying to 'jam' Senate on fourth coronavirus relief bill 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: House Dems push huge jobs project in wake of coronavirus | Trump leans on businesses in virus response | Lawmakers press IRS to get relief checks to seniors Democrats push for green infrastructure provisions in next coronavirus package House Democrats push huge jobs project in wake of coronavirus 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 BidenBiden campaign: Trump and former vice president will have phone call about coronavirus Overnight Health Care: Trump resists pressure for nationwide stay-at-home order | Trump open to speaking to Biden about virus response | Fauci gets security detail | Outbreak creates emergency in nursing homes 16 things to know today about coronavirus outbreak 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 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.) 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 ScalisePelosi scrambles to secure quick passage of coronavirus aid House GOP whip team seeks to get Republicans behind Senate coronavirus bill 14 things to know today about coronavirus 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.