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 TrumpPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor NBA to contribute 1 million surgical masks to NY essential workers Private equity firm with ties to Kushner asks Trump administration to relax rules on loan program: report 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 EngelHillicon Valley: Facebook reports huge spike in usage during pandemic | Democrats push for mail-in voting funds in coronavirus stimulus | Trump delays deadline to acquire REAL ID Lawmakers urge EU to sanction Putin associate for election interference Democrats press Pompeo to help Americans stranded abroad amid coronavirus 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 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.) — 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 ScaliseTop GOP lawmakers push back on need for special oversight committee for coronavirus aid Pelosi forms House committee to oversee coronavirus response Pelosi scrambles to secure quick passage of coronavirus aid 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 CollinsSunday shows preview: As coronavirus spreads in the U.S., officials from each sector of public life weigh in Justice IG pours fuel on looming fight over FISA court Loeffler traded .4M in stocks as Congress responded to coronavirus pandemic 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 CheneySelf-quarantined New York lawmaker: 'We should be in total lockdown' On The Money: Trump hopes to reopen economy by Easter | GOP senators expect stimulus vote on Wednesday | Democratic leaders forecast at least two more relief bills Trump triggers congressional debate with comments on reopening economy MORE (R-Wyo.) said of the Democrats.

Democratic leaders, including Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiPelosi eyes end of April to bring a fourth coronavirus relief bill to the floor Pelosi, Democrats using coronavirus to push for big tax cuts for blue state residents US watchdog vows 'aggressive' oversight after intel official fired 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 SchiffTrump defends firing of intel watchdog, calling him a 'disgrace' Democrats seize on Trump's firing of intelligence community watchdog Trump fires intelligence community watchdog who flagged Ukraine whistleblower complaint 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 CunninghamHouse chairwoman diagnosed with 'presumed' coronavirus infection Capitol officials extend suspension of tourist access until May Second Capitol Police officer tests positive for coronavirus MORE (S.C.), Jared Golden (Maine) and 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.) — 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 JohnsonTop conservatives pen letter to Trump with concerns on fourth coronavirus relief bill Lawmakers ask Trump administration to help Gulf oil and gas producers Roberts wrestles with abortion law in high-stakes Louisiana case 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.”