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Democrats push impeachment rules package through House

UPDATED: Thu., Oct. 31, 2019

House members vote on the House resolution to move forward with procedures for the next phase of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019. (Andrew Harnik / AP)
House members vote on the House resolution to move forward with procedures for the next phase of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019. (Andrew Harnik / AP)
From staff and wire reports

WASHINGTON – With Inland Northwest Republicans joining their GOP colleagues to vote no, Democrats rammed a package of ground rules for their impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump through a sharply divided House on Thursday. It was the chamber’s first formal vote in a fight that could stretch into the 2020 election year.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers, of Spokane, criticized closed-door sessions that have been conducted so far, contending “they’ve made it impossible to trust the president will ever get a fair process.”

“This has been a hyperpartisan approach from the start,” she said in a news release. “I still haven’t seen evidence of an impeachable offense.”

The resolution passed 232-196, with all Republicans against the resolution and two Democratic defectors joining them: freshman Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey and 15-term veteran Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, one of his party’s most conservative members. Both represent GOP-leaning districts. Former Republican Rep. Justin Amash, of Michigan, who now is an independent, voted with the Democrats.

Rep. Dan Newhouse, who represents Central Washington’s 4th District, called the vote a “rubber stamp” of the closed-door process that has taken place thus far. Although the ground rules call for open hearings and the ability of Republicans to subpoena and question witnesses, that would be limited by chairman Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., Newhouse said in a news release.

Members of Congress and their constituents will remain “in the dark,” he said, and the president would be denied “basic due process rights.”

“I voted against the resolution because the American people deserve transparent and fair proceedings,” Newhouse said.

Rep. Russ Fulcher, whose Idaho district includes the Panhandle, didn’t respond to a request for a comment but kept posted on his congressional website a video of last week’s floor speech critical of the impeachment process. In it, he contends 90% of Democrats in the House wanted to impeach Trump before the inquiry began.

“You’re really not trying to hold an impeachment inquiry, you simply want to remove a president, and we’re within one year of an election,” Fulcher said.

The vote laid down the rules as lawmakers transition from weeks of closed-door interviews with witnesses to public hearings and ultimately to possible votes on whether to recommend Trump’s removal from office.

The action also took on more than technical meaning, with each party aware that the impeachment effort looms as a defining issue for next year’s presidential and congressional campaigns.

The vote, which occurred on Halloween, drew a familiar Twitter retort from Trump: “The greatest Witch Hunt in American History!”

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats of an “unhinged obsession with this illegitimate impeachment proceeding.”

During the debate, Democrats spoke of lawmakers’ duty to defend the Constitution, while Republicans cast the process as a skewed attempt to railroad a president whom Democrats have detested since before he took office.

“What is at stake in all this is nothing less than our democracy,” said Pelosi. Underscoring her point, she addressed the House with a poster of the American flag beside her and began her remarks by reading the opening lines of the preamble to the Constitution.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Trump had done nothing impeachable and accused Democrats of trying to remove him “because they are scared they cannot defeat him at the ballot box.”

No. 3 House GOP leader Steve Scalise, R-La., accused Democrats of imposing “Soviet-style rules,” speaking in front of a bright red poster depicting the Kremlin.

The investigation is focused on Trump’s efforts to push Ukraine to investigate his Democratic political opponents by withholding military aid and an Oval Office meeting craved by the country’s new president.

Democrats said the procedures – which give them the ability to curb the president’s lawyers from calling witnesses – are similar to rules used during the impeachment proceedings of Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. Republicans complained they were skewed against Trump.

It is likely to take weeks or more before the House decides whether to vote on actually impeaching Trump. If the House does vote for impeachment, the Senate would hold a trial to decide whether to remove the president from office.

The rules lay out how the House Intelligence Committee – now leading the investigation by deposing diplomats and other officials behind closed doors – would transition to public hearings.

That panel would issue a report and release transcripts of the closed-door interviews it has been conducting.

The Judiciary Committee would then decide whether to recommend that the House impeach Trump.

According to the rules for hearings, Republicans could only issue subpoenas for witnesses to appear if the entire panel approves them – in effect giving Democrats veto power.

Attorneys for Trump could participate in the Judiciary Committee proceedings. But in a bid for leverage, panel Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., would be allowed to deny “specific requests” by Trump representatives if the White House continues refusing to provide documents or witnesses sought by Democratic investigators.

The rules also direct House committees “to continue their ongoing investigations” of Trump.

Top Democrats think that language will shield their members from weeks of Republican complaints that the inquiry has been invalid because the House had not formally voted to begin that work.

Democrats have said there’s no constitutional provision or House rule requiring such a vote.

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