A deeply divided U.S. House of Representatives took a major step on Thursday in the effort to impeach President Donald Trump when lawmakers approved rules for the next, more public, stage in the Democratic-led inquiry into Trump’s attempt to have Ukraine investigate a domestic political rival.
In the first formal test of support for the impeachment investigation, the Democratic-controlled House voted almost entirely along party lines - 232 to 196 - to move the probe forward in Congress.
The vote allows for public impeachment hearings in Congress,
which are expected in the coming weeks and portends a bitter battle ahead as the United States heads into a presidential election year.
Democrats who accuse Trump of abusing his office and jeopardizing national security for personal political gain were almost unanimous in approving Thursday’s measure, but they did not pick up a single Republican vote.
“It’s a sad day. No one comes to Congress to impeach a president,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said before the vote.
House Democrats on Thursday defended their impeachment inquiry after the formal vote to authorize the proceeding — and said that many Republicans complaining about a lack of transparency didn’t bother showing up for previous hearings.
“The founding fathers understood that a leader might take hold of the Oval Office who would sacrifice the national security, who would fail to defend the Constitution, who would place his personal or political interests above the interests of the country,” California Rep. Adam Schiff, chair of the Intelligence Committee, told reporters at the Capitol, referring to President Trump.
“They understood that might happen, and they provided a mechanism to deal with it, and that mechanism is called impeachment. We take no joy in having to move down this road and proceed with the impeachment inquiry, but neither do we shrink from it,” he continued before chiding the no-show GOP lawmakers.
“I should tell you that notwithstanding those that have complained about lack of access to the depositions, most of the [GOP] members who have been permitted to attend have failed to attend, have not made use of the availability of attending each and every deposition,” he said.
Florida GOP Rep. Ted Yoho, for example, could have attended the prior hearings but skipped them all, saying he had “other responsibilities” and that the hearings were a “sideshow.”
Members from both parties on the House Intelligence, Judiciary and Oversight committees were all allowed to attend the depositions, a process Schiff called fair.
Televised public hearings featuring U.S. officials testifying in Congress about alleged wrongdoing by Trump could crowd out other issues like the economy and immigration as voters turn their minds to the November 2020 election.
That might damage Trump, but some of his supporters say the impeachment drive could actually boost his re-election chances by showing him at loggerheads with Washington-based political foes.
Republicans accused Democrats of using impeachment to overturn the results of his 2016 election victory.
Trump told a UK radio station the Democrats knew they were losing next year’s vote and so were trying to take him down.
“The Democrats are desperate, they’re desperate. They have nothing,” Trump told LBC Radio in an interview. White House spokeswoman Stephanie Grisham denounced the process as “unfair, unconstitutional and fundamentally un-American.”
A number of opinion polls ahead of next year’s election show several leading Democratic presidential candidates leading Trump.
The probe focuses on a July 25 telephone call in which the U.S. president asked his Ukrainian counterpart, Volodymr Zelenskiy, to investigate Trump’s Democratic political rival Joe Biden, a former U.S. vice president, and his son Hunter, who had served as a director for Ukrainian energy company Burisma.