WASHINGTON — U.S. House Democrats edged closer Thursday to launching formal impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump.
The House Judiciary Committee voted 24-17 along party lines to adopt a resolution laying out procedures for an impeachment investigation in the committee.
The vote came after two hours of heated debate over Democrats’ motivations. The committee’s Democratic leadership insisted lawmakers are moving cautiously and responsibly before deciding whether to formally recommend articles of impeachment.
“This committee is engaged in an investigation that will allow us to determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment with respect to President Trump,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.).
Nadler stressed that the committee’s investigation will go beyond charges that Trump obstructed justice during former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian election meddling. Democrats also intend to investigate allegations of “federal election crimes, self dealing, violations of the constitution’s emoluments clause and a failure to defend our nation from current and future attacks by foreign adversaries,” Nadler said.
No Nevadans serve on the Judiciary Committee. But more than half of the U.S. House Democrats have said they support moving ahead with a formal impeachment inquiry, a group that includes Nevada Rep. Dina Titus.
“I’m calling for an impeachment inquiry because of the mounting evidence that Donald Trump has repeatedly broken the law to protect his own interests,” Titus said in a video announcement in July.
“To be clear, misleading the public and the press is not an impeachable offense. But lying to law enforcement officials who are investigating the Russian attack on our democracy – and ordering his staff to do the same – are serious crimes,” Titus said.
Nevada Democratic Rep. Steven Horsford said earlier this summer that he has “never taken impeachment off the table” and that the timing of going forward with the process hinges on the outcome of several lawsuits the House has filed against the president. “I believe that with the determination of one or more of those court cases, that that, along with the Mueller report, should give Congress what it needs to make a decision on impeachment of this president,” Horsford said.
Rep. Susie Lee has similarly said impeachment is “not off the table.”
“We’ll have a decision point at the end of this year,” the Nevada Democrat said last month. “Based on the evidence, I will make that solemn decision. I don’t treat it lightly. I think I can be afforded the time and access to all the information.”
Republicans on the Judiciary Committee Thursday accused their colleagues of tip-toeing around launching impeachment proceedings, an issue that divides the Democratic caucus and that some moderate members fear could hurt the party’s messaging heading into 2020.
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), a former Judiciary Committee chairman who was a floor manager in the Senate impeachment proceedings against President Bill Clinton, scolded committee Democrats for pursuing an impeachment investigation against Trump.
“You haven’t gotten enough evidence to convince a majority of the House of Representatives to even authorize an impeachment inquiry and that’s probably why the committee hasn’t gone to the floor to ask for one,” he said. “The votes aren’t there.”
Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said of the effort, “I don’t know quite what to call this … I’ve called it impeachment in drag, because we’ve sort of dressed up impeachment like an oversight hearing. Perhaps it’s low ‘T’ impeachment, or low energy impeachment.”
Committee Democrats shrugged off their colleagues’ criticisms about semantics and procedure.
Some have labeled the process an impeachment inquiry; others call it an impeachment investigation. “There’s no legal difference between these terms and I no longer care to argue about the nomenclature,” Nadler said.
“The conduct under investigation poses a threat to our democracy. We have an obligation to respond to this threat and we are doing so.”