When House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the start of an impeachment inquiry in late September, she did so without any plan of voting on a resolution to formally launch it. Republicans and the White House latched onto that absence of a vote to argue that the impeachment process has been an illegitimate joke, kicking up a debate in the Democratic caucus about whether it should hold one. Dems decided, two weeks ago, not to. And on Friday, a federal judge sided with the Democrats’ argument that they were in an impeachment inquiry even without a vote.
All of this made it a little strange, then, when Pelosi announced to her colleagues in a letter Monday afternoon that they would vote on a resolution that “affirms the ongoing, existing investigation that is currently being conducted by our committees as part of this impeachment inquiry, including all requests for documents, subpoenas for records and testimony, and any other investigative steps previously taken or to be taken as part of this investigation.
“This resolution establishes the procedure for hearings that are open to the American people,” the letter continues, “authorizes the disclosure of deposition transcripts, outlines procedures to transfer evidence to the Judiciary Committee as it considers potential articles of impeachment, and sets forth due process rights for the President and his Counsel.”
The text of the resolution is expected Tuesday, ahead of a Thursday vote.
So why vote now?
Although the legislation “affirms the ongoing, existing investigation,” Democrats insist that they are not changing their minds on the need for a vote to bless the initial, ongoing rounds of depositions, and that this vote is about setting the stage for the next phase of the inquiry: public hearings and the release of compiled testimony and evidence. They insist this … loudly.
“THIS IS ABOUT PROCEDURES FOR THE NEXT PHASE,” a senior House Democratic aide told me via email. “THIS IS NOT ABOUT A VOTE TO FORMALIZE THE INQUIRY. WE HAVE BEEN CLEAR WE DON’T NEED TO DO THAT AND THAT’S NOT WHAT THIS IS.” The vote, the aide continued, “will lay out the next steps for the inquiry NOW THAT WE ARE ENTERING THE NEXT PHASE.”
There are a few other reasons why the House might be voting this week. Now that a federal judge has sided with her position, Pelosi is freer to hold a vote without leaving the impression of being bullied into it by the White House. Support for impeachment has improved, making a procedural vote on it easier for vulnerable members of her caucus.
This vote, though, will also put a formal expiration date on Republicans’ process complaints. The president’s defenders have leaned harder into complaints about process as the evidence against the president has worsened. But there will not be secure areas of the Capitol for House Republicans to storm into, or documents that members are barred from looking at, for much longer, as the process moves on from its early evidence-gathering phase.
President Donald Trump, on Monday, said that he thinks Republicans should defend him more on the substance of the Ukraine scandal and less on the process. White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham, on the other hand, reportedly reacted to news of the upcoming vote with a statement declaring that the House’s “secret, shady, closed door depositions are completely and irreversibly illegitimate.” Even if the Republicans nitpick the Democrats’ nitpicky distinction, though, with the public phase of the inquiry coming soon, the president’s supporters might have no choice but to drop the process complaints and defend him on the substance. Anyone got an argument for them?