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Democrats, GOP dig in for public phase of impeachment battle

Both Democrats and Republicans are digging in for what promises to be the biggest political battle in a generation.

The House impeachment probe resolution, which passed in a 232-196 party-line vote, was the first of many public fights that are likely to extend in 2020.

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It was also a clear indication that the next phase of the impeachment process — taking place in public hearings, before the television cameras — will be a highly partisan affair.

Over the past five weeks, the probe has primarily been shaped by closed-door testimony from several officials who have raised serious questions about whether President TrumpDonald John TrumpJudge rules to not release Russia probe documents over Trump tweets Trump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo Obama to campaign for Biden in Florida MORE and his inner circle withheld nearly $400 million in security aid for Ukraine in order to pressure Kiev to investigate Trump’s political rivals.

"So far, we've seen damning evidence that the president abused his power and jeopardized our national security to help his own political fortunes,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Eliot EngelEliot Lance EngelIs Trump a better choice for Jewish voters than Biden? Overnight Defense: Trump says he's leaving Walter Reed, 'feeling really good' after COVID-19 treatment | White House coronavirus outbreak grows | Dems expand probe into Pompeo speeches House Democrats push forward on probe of Pompeo's political speeches MORE (D-N.Y.), one of three Democrats leading the impeachment probe, said Thursday after the vote.

Trump “pressed for another round of foreign interference in an American election. It's what the framers feared the most,” Engel added.

Only two Democrats — Reps. Jefferson Van Drew (N.J.) and Collin PetersonCollin Clark PetersonEnergized by polls, House Democrats push deeper into GOP territory Democrats, GOP fighting over largest House battlefield in a decade Why the Supreme Court must be kept at nine justices MORE (Minn.) — voted against the resolution, a relatively small number of defections considering the nasty, intraparty battle that played out for most of the year over whether Democrats should go down the impeachment path so close to 2020.

House Minority Whip Steve ScaliseStephen (Steve) Joseph ScaliseMcCarthy faces pushback from anxious Republicans over interview comments Jordan vows to back McCarthy as leader even if House loses more GOP seats Cedric Richmond's next move: 'Sky's the limit' if Biden wins MORE (R-La.) took a victory lap Thursday after he held his troops in line following days of speculation that some GOP lawmakers might break ranks.

In the end, not a single Republican sided with Democrats.

“Every Republican voted against the Soviet-style impeachment process. … You can see strong unity for the president and his policies,” Scalise told reporters just off the House floor immediately after the vote.

Republicans have argued there was no clear evidence of Trump making U.S. security aid contingent on Ukraine opening investigations that would benefit him politically. They have also accused Democrats of selectively leaking witness testimony to fit their narrative.

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Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky “was very clear that there was no pressure plan in the phone call; there was no quid pro quo — that's the basis for their impeachment,” Scalise told reporters.

After the vote, dozens of defiant Republicans piled into the Rayburn Room just off the House floor and sent a loud message to Trump and the public that they were unified in their opposition to the impeachment probe. Trump himself has consistently denied there was any quid pro quo.

“Folks, this ain't over. Get ready,” warned Georgia Rep. Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsRepublicans scramble to shore up support in Ga. as Democrats gain Democrats make gains in Georgia Senate races: poll Perdue's rival raises nearly M after senator mispronounces Kamala Harris's name MORE, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee. “The cloud that is dropping will be dropping on their heads, because process matters and substance will always win out in the end. And this president has nothing to worry about.”

“History will hold them accountable, history will judge them,” GOP Conference Chairwoman Liz CheneyElizabeth (Liz) Lynn CheneyMcCarthy faces pushback from anxious Republicans over interview comments Steve King defends past comments on white supremacy, blasts NYT and GOP leaders in fiery floor speech GOP lawmakers distance themselves from Trump comments on transfer of power MORE (R-Wyo.) said of the Democrats.

Democratic leaders, including Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiTrump and advisers considering firing FBI director after election: WaPo On The Money: Power players play chess match on COVID-19 aid | Pelosi bullish, Trump tempers optimism | Analysis: Nearly 1M have run out of jobless benefits Overnight Health Care: CDC expands definition of 'close contact' after COVID-19 report | GOP coronavirus bill blocked in Senate | OxyContin maker agrees to B settlement with Trump administration MORE (D-Calif.), had for months pushed back against liberals agitating for impeachment over allegations against Trump in the Mueller report, arguing that pursuing an inquiry without bipartisan support would be futile.

“If the evidence isn’t sufficient to win bipartisan support for this, putting the country through a failed impeachment isn’t a good idea,” House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam SchiffAdam Bennett SchiffGreenwald slams Schiff over Biden emails on Fox Hillicon Valley: DOJ accuses Russian hackers of targeting 2018 Olympics, French elections | Federal commission issues recommendations for securing critical tech against Chinese threats | House Democrats slam FCC over 'blatant attempt to help' Trump Federal commission issues recommendations for securing critical tech against Chinese threats MORE (D-Calif.) told CNN in March.

But on Thursday, Schiff and other top Democrats expressed determination to press on with the inquiry.

“We take no joy in having to move down this road and proceed with the impeachment inquiry, but neither do we shrink from it,” Schiff said.

Despite the two defections, the vast majority of even the most vulnerable Democrats backed the resolution. That included four lawmakers — Democratic Reps. Anthony Brindisi (N.Y.), Joe CunninghamJoseph CunninghamMichigan Republican isolating after positive coronavirus test Chamber-backed Democrats embrace endorsements in final stretch GOP Rep. Mike Bost tests positive for COVID-19 MORE (S.C.), Jared Golden (Maine) and Kendra HornKendra Suzanne HornChamber-backed Democrats embrace endorsements in final stretch Republican fears grow over rising Democratic tide Stand-alone bill to provide relief for airlines blocked on House floor MORE (Okla.) — who hadn’t publicly backed the impeachment inquiry before Democratic leaders announced this week’s vote.

Like Peterson and Van Drew, the other vulnerable Democrats represent districts that Trump carried in 2016.

The two Democrats who voted against the resolution expressed frustration that the impeachment process is sucking oxygen out of the room and preventing progress on any legislative work in the Capitol. They suggested impeachment would be a waste of time given that Senate Republicans are likely to acquit Trump in a trial.

Peterson blasted the impeachment process as “hopelessly partisan,” adding it was a “mistake” to go forward without support from GOP senators.

“I have some serious concerns with the way the closed-door depositions were run, and am skeptical that we will have a process that is open, transparent and fair,” Peterson said in a statement Thursday.

Republicans quickly seized on the “no” votes of the two Democrats, arguing the opposition to impeachment is now bipartisan. And both parties seemed to argue that public opinion will be on their side once the investigation shifts from closed doors to a public setting.

“We want the American people to be able to see all of this evidence that Chairman Schiff has decided upon himself to keep closed off in the basement with these super secret depositions,” Republican Study Committee Chairman Mike JohnsonJames (Mike) Michael JohnsonTrump's test sparks fears of spread: Here's who he met in last week Reclaiming the American Dream LWCF modernization: Restoring the promise MORE (R-La.) said Thursday during an appearance on C-SPAN’s “Newsmakers.”

“Let’s put the facts out there. That’s our point,” Johnson said. “We want the American people to be able to judge for themselves the merits of these claims and these allegations, and we, as duly elected representatives of the people, should certainly have a right to review that as well.”