The House tacitly authorized the third modern formal impeachment process for a US president a few minutes ago on a largely party-line basis. The final vote, 232-196, included no Republicans voting in the affirmative and only two Democrats opposing. The bill’s passage does not explicitly launch a formal impeachment process, but it instead backdates an approval for it by creating rules for its current and next steps:
— CBS News (@CBSNews) October 31, 2019
House Democrats adopted a resolution Thursday adopting procedures that will govern the public portion of their impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, but no Republicans joined them in supporting the measure despite requesting the probe be conducted transparently.
In a rare move for the speaker showing the seriousness of the vote, Nancy Pelosi presided over the chamber as the House adopted the resolution, 232-196.
Two Democrats, Reps. Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, voted “no.” Van Drew has said that while Trump’s behavior has been “distasteful” and makes him “feel uncomfortable,” he doesn’t believe the president has committed any impeachable offenses.
Independent Michigan Rep. Justin Amash, who left the Republican Party because of what he said was the GOP’s unwillingness to acknowledge that Trump has committed impeachable offenses, voted with Democrats in favor of the resolution.
Peterson faces a tough challenge this year, as he has the last few cycles, in MN-07. That R+12 district went for Donald Trump in 2016 by thirty points, which likely had a lot to do with Peterson’s safety vote. Van Drew’s rebellion is a little more curious, as his district is rated R+1, although Trump carried it by four points in 2016.
It’s the lack of other safety votes by Democrats in marginal districts that seems noteworthy. Pelosi could have afforded to give a dozen or so other House Democrats an opportunity to save themselves from Trump-friendly voters next year. There are two reasons why it may not have happened. One, Pelosi demanded full partisan unity on this vote and only Peterson and Van Drew were independent enough to buck leadership. Or maybe Pelosi did allow for it — and those representatives still voted to back the formal rules for the impeachment process anyway.
Safety or not, Donald Trump offered an immediate response to the development:
The Greatest Witch Hunt In American History!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 31, 2019
The campaign followed up with an e-mail statement from Brad Parscale calling the vote a “sham from the beginning”:
“Every American can see this for what it is: an attempt to remove a duly-elected president for strictly political reasons by a strictly partisan, illegitimate process. Today’s vote merely proves that the entire impeachment process was a sham from the beginning and Nancy Pelosi can’t legitimize it after the fact. We can all read the transcript of the Ukraine phone call for ourselves and see that there was no quid pro quo and no basis at all for overturning the legitimate results of the 2016 election. Voters will punish Democrats who support this farce and President Trump will be easily re-elected.”
RNC chair Ronna McDaniel called it “Adam Schiff’s Coronation as Witch Hunt King”:
“Since they lost in 2016, Democrats have had one goal and one goal only: impeaching President Trump by any means possible,” said Chairwoman McDaniel. “All this sham resolution does is coronate Adam Schiff as King of the Democrats’ latest witch hunt, and today’s partisan vote proves it is only motivated by politics. The American people want a Congress that works for them — not one whose sole focus is smearing their duly-elected President.”
This may not be the worst thing to happen to Trump, however, although it’s hardly the best either. Republicans succeeded in painting the previous version of the process as a kangaroo court, forcing Pelosi to add some due-process conventions to Schiff’s efforts. While that does have the potential for calling the GOP’s bluff, it also affords House Republicans and the White House more engagement in the process — albeit through Schiff and other Democratic committee chairs. That’s still an improvement over the nonsensical grand-jury-with-formalized-leaks process that this replaces.
ABC’s Jon Karl notes that Republicans still have some grounds for complaint:
.@jonkarl says Republican opposition to the impeachment resolution is "procedural" and "not substantive."
— ABC News Politics (@ABCPolitics) October 31, 2019
The fact that no Republicans crossed over for this vote tends to undermine Karl’s conclusion that the opposition to this move was only “procedural” and “not substantive.” Van Drew’s opposition as a Democrat was clearly substantive, and it’s a fair bet that many if not almost all of the Republicans voting against this have the same opinion at worst about Ukraine-Gate. However, there are still procedural concerns too, offset by the realization that this party-line vote all but guarantees impeachment — and an acquittal in the Senate.
Update: Earlier this morning, Judge Andrew Napolitano says Schiff had been following House rules before now. Republicans will get an opportunity under the new rules to challenge the witnesses in public more effectively, but that was going to happen no matter what, Napolitano argues:
“The Republicans are looking for more transparency so that the better cross-examiners among them can challenge the credibility and the essence of the testimony of the witnesses. Right now, all that is going on in secret,” Napolitano said.
He said [special prosecutor during the Clinton impeachment] Ken Starr “handed a tremendous amount of evidence to the House Judiciary Committee. How did he generate that evidence? In secret. What did he do? He put witnesses on before a grand jury.”
“But nothing was used against Bill Clinton that came from Ken Starr that wasn’t at some point filtered through the public, so the president’s lawyers can challenge it,” he said. “So Congressman Schiff is, in my opinion, following the rules of the House of Representatives. You generate the information in secret, you decide what you want to make public. You can’t use anything against the president that has not been challenged and aired in public.”
Update: Steve Scalise begs to differ from Judge Napolitano, arguing that the new rules set up a “Soviet style” process:
Rep. Steve Scalise criticizes "tainted" impeachment inquiry process approved by House, calling it "Soviet style."
— ABC News (@ABC) October 31, 2019