Even though House Democrats are charging ahead with their impeachment investigation, they haven't yet determined if President TrumpDonald TrumpHillicon Valley — State Dept. employees targets of spyware Ohio Republican Party meeting ends abruptly over anti-DeWine protesters Jan. 6 panel faces new test as first witness pleads the Fifth MORE has committed offenses that merit his ouster, Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPhotos of the Week: Schumer, ASU protest and sea turtles Hospitals in underserved communities face huge cuts in reckless 'Build Back Better' plan GOP infighting takes stupid to a whole new level MORE (D-Calif.) said Thursday.
"We take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution, and that's what we cannot ignore — and we will not ignore — when the president's behavior indicates that that investigation, that inquiry, is necessary," Pelosi told reporters in the Capitol shortly before a floor vote on the impeachment probe.
"As the inquiry proceeds, we will decide whether we'll go forward with impeachment," she added. "That decision has not been made."
The comments came shortly before the House passed an impeachment probe resolution in a 232-196 party-line vote with just two Democrats voting against it and no Republicans supporting it. The resolution lays out the ground rules for the next phase of the Democrats' impeachment inquiry, to consist of public hearings and witness testimony from administration officials — both current and former — with insights into Trump's policy toward Ukraine.
The open process will mark a shift in the Democrats' fact-gathering strategy, which has featured weeks of closed-door interviews with figures familiar with Trump's Ukraine dealings.
Republicans have characterized the process as inherently unfair, saying Democrats are conducting a "secret" investigation that denies the public a window into the findings and neglects to give Trump due process.
The resolution coming to the floor Thursday is designed, in part, to counter those arguments. Among other things, the bill clarifies the rules for the House Intelligence Committee to conduct open hearings, release the transcripts of depositions already conducted behind closed doors and release a final report on its findings.
"For the life of me, I can't understand why the Republicans are not voting for this process," said Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinJan. 6 panel faces new test as first witness pleads the Fifth House progressives urge Garland to intervene in ex-environmental lawyer Steven Donziger's case Trump allies leaning on his executive privilege claims MORE (D-Md.) before the floor vote. "What they've been demanding is open hearings, and this is all about open hearings. And they've been demanding a vote; they're getting the vote."
It's unclear if the distinction Pelosi made Thursday — highlighting the difference between an impeachment inquiry, which is simply an investigation, and impeachment articles, which aim to remove a president — will resonate with voters.
Centrist Democrats have been wary of any floor vote on impeachment, fearing the potential for a political backlash at the polls next year. And the result of Thursday's vote could put some of those vulnerable lawmakers in a tough spot, as Republican campaign operatives are already launching attack ads equating the vote to establish investigatory rules with a full-on effort to remove Trump.
Pelosi argued that the rules grant Trump and the Republicans even more powers than past presidents facing an impeachment investigation.
"The facts are what they are. They can try to misrepresent them, but the fact is this is a process that is expanded opportunity for them to show anything that is exculpatory [and] proves the innocence of the president," Pelosi said. "These rules are fairer than anything that had gone before, in terms of an impeachment proceeding.
"I'm not here to answer what the Republicans say."