clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

5 takeaways from House Democrats’ resolution on the impeachment inquiry

The measure will put both Democrats and Republicans on the record about the investigation.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi speaks at her weekly press conference on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, October 17, 2019.
Brendan Smialowski/AFP via Getty Images
Li Zhou is a politics reporter at Vox, where she covers Congress and elections. Previously, she was a tech policy reporter at Politico and an editorial fellow at the Atlantic.

The House will hold a vote on the impeachment inquiry after all, Speaker Nancy Pelosi has announced. Lawmakers this Thursday will vote on a resolution that lays out the procedure behind how the impeachment inquiry will be handled from here on out. Democrats have unveiled the text of the resolution, which details the process that will be used for public hearings and subpoena requests.

Pelosi’s decision to conduct a vote on this resolution marks a turnaround from the speaker’s past resistance to holding a chamber-wide vote on the subject. Previously, Pelosi had shied away from a vote like this because it would force moderate members to go on the record about their stance on impeachment, making them vulnerable to Republican attacks.

In the wake of Republican pushback about the “process” behind the inquiry, however, Pelosi said her members would be voting on a measure that “affirms the ongoing, existing investigation.” It will be the first vote the House has taken on the inquiry since the probe into President Donald Trump officially began in late September.

Public support for an impeachment inquiry has grown in recent weeks as more information has spilled out about a July phone call between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, who Trump pressured to dig up dirt about political rivals.

The resolution outlines five key aspects of these procedures:

  1. The Intelligence Committee will release public transcripts of private depositions that it’s held with different witnesses, including potential redactions of sensitive information.
  2. When the House moves to public hearings for the impeachment inquiry, both the chair and ranking members of the Intelligence committee will be able to ask witness questions. The staff counsel on both sides will also have up to 45 minutes each to ask questions.
  3. House Republicans on the Intelligence Committee will have the ability to request subpoenas of witnesses and documents, though they will need the approval of the Democratic Chair or majority on the panel in order for their requests to go through. This is consistent with past impeachment inquiries.
  4. The Judiciary Committee is in charge of advancing articles of impeachment, or charges, if those are brought.
  5. The president and his legal representation will be able to participate in the Judiciary Committee impeachment proceedings. This includes the ability to make their case and offer evidence, request documents, cross-examine witnesses and object to testimony.

You can read the full resolution, here.

There’s a key point the speaker makes clear in her letter: The House did not need members to vote to formally begin an inquiry, a dynamic that was validated by a federal judge last week. The argument advanced by Republicans — and the president — questioning the legitimacy of the impeachment inquiry due to a lack of House vote has “no merit,” she emphasizes.

As Vox’s Ella Nilsen explained, the Constitution only includes a few lines about impeachment, but in them it “gives the House and its leaders wide latitude to decide how to handle it”:

Here’s what the Constitution says about the House’s role: “The House of Representatives shall choose their Speaker and other Officers; and shall have the sole Power of Impeachment.” Likewise, the Constitution gives the Senate the “sole” power to try all impeachments, saying, “no person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two-thirds of the Members present.”

But beyond those lines, there isn’t much more information spelling out exactly how the process should work — which gives the House free rein to decide how things can go, including whether to launch the inquiry with a full floor vote or not.

It’s worth noting that this move isn’t House Democrats voting to approve articles of impeachment to send to the Senate for a trial — it isn’t even a vote to draft them. But the resolution — which can pass with a simple majority, or 218 votes — is intended to provide clarity on the procedures that the lower chamber plans to follow as the inquiry continues. Given Democrats’ 233-member majority in the lower chamber, the measure is likely to move forward.

Republican gripes have centered on how depositions with witnesses have been conducted behind closed doors — even though a similar format was used during former President Bill Clinton’s impeachment proceedings. Pelosi’s announcement signals Democrats are getting ready to move to a more public phase.

“This resolution establishes the procedure for hearings that are open to the American people, 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,” Pelosi writes.

In this vote, members of the House will be expressing their position on the impeachment inquiry, putting pressure on both moderate Democrats and Republicans. Some developments to watch: whether Democrats unanimously back the resolution and whether any Republicans break with the president and vote in favor of the measure. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy is already encouraging his caucus not to:

Listen to Today, Explained

President Pence? President Pelosi? There are nearly a dozen ways the impeachment inquiry could end. Vox’s Laura McGann runs through each of them.

Looking for a quick way to keep up with the never-ending news cycle? Host Sean Rameswaram will guide you through the most important stories at the end of each day.

Subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Overcast, or wherever you listen to podcasts.

Sign up for the newsletter Today, Explained

Understand the world with a daily explainer plus the most compelling stories of the day.