Broadcast networks broke into regularly scheduled programming for Thursday morning’s vote, which provided the first indication that there is enough support in the House for impeachment, the constitutional process to remove a president from office.
The chamber grew silent as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the vote, 232-196.
Two Democrats joined all Republicans in voting against the inquiry — Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-NJ) and Collin Peterson (D-MN). One independent, Rep. Justin Amash (I-MI), voted for it. He left the Republican party earlier this year.
Shortly afterward, Trump tweeted, “The Greatest Witch Hunt In American History!” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said, in a statement, “The Democrats want to render a verdict without giving the Administration a chance to mount a defense. That is unfair, unconstitutional, and fundamentally un-American.”
The vote was not on impeachment itself, but on a set of procedures that spell out how the House Intelligence Committee, led by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), and two other committees will proceed on their inquiry, as well as a roadmap for how the proceedings will go public. Ultimately, it will be up to the House Judiciary Committee will draw up articles of impeachment.
Network anchors noted the historic nature of the vote, even if they had to caution that it was not on impeachment itself.
On NBC, Meet the Press moderator Chuck Todd said that the White House “has got to be breathing a sign of relief here in that, the House Republicans are all on their side, but they’re all on their side in process. This is not a vote on the substance of what the president did, so there is still time for concern down the road politically for now. The president has got his party in his corner.”
Fox News host Chris Wallace noted that when a vote was taken to authorize an impeachment inquiry against President Richard Nixon in 1974, more than 400 House members from both parties voted in favor of it.
He said, “What will be interesting to see is what happens when we have open hearings and the American people get to judge and conceivable to put pressure on their representatives and either, ‘Yep, there’s a case against the president’ or ‘Nope, there isn’t.’ But the Democrats have cast their die now and this is going to roll out over the next two months.”
Before the vote, Republicans objected to the inquiry. House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, standing next to a poster with an image of a hammer and sickle, called it an unprecedented “Soviet-style impeachment proceeding.”
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said that Democrats were waging a “permanent campaign” to undermine Trump’s legitimacy, and their efforts were an attempt to undo the results of the 2016 election and determine the outcome of the next one in 2020.
The heart of the GOP objections to the inquiry has been that it so far has taken place behind closed doors. But members of both parties from the Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees have been allowed in the secure rooms to listen to witness testimony and ask questions.
Pelosi, standing next to a poster of an American flag, said that the resolution was “not any cause of any glee or comfort.”
“What is at stake is nothing less than our democracy,” she said.
She and other Democrats defended the resolution, saying that it gives Trump’s legal team the ability to ask questions of witnesses when the process goes to the public Judiciary Committee hearings. Republicans in the minority also will be able to subpoena witnesses and information, but with the consent of the Democratic committee chairs.
As the votes were called in the House chamber, reporters filled the press gallery and stood in the aisles, although the public galleries still had empty seats. Although lawmakers noted that the occasion was a solemn one, in the wait between a procedural vote and the actual vote on the resolution, members chatted and mingled, as they usually do. There was very little interaction between the Democratic and Republican sides of the chamber.
The inquiry centers on Trump’s efforts to get the president of Ukraine to commit to conducting an investigation of Joe Biden and his son Hunter, who was on the board of the Ukrainian gas company Burisma when his father was vice president. The congressional committees also are probing whether military aid to Ukraine was withheld until their government committed to conducting an investigation of one of Trump’s potential political opponents next year.
What is unclear is when impeachment inquiry hearings will be opened to the public, even though there is a desire among Democrats to quickly move to that next phase. If the House eventually passes articles of impeachment, the Republican-controlled Senate then would be tasked with conducting a trial. If 2/3 of the Senate vote to convict, Trump will be removed from office.
Van Drew, one of two Democrats who voted against the impeachment inquiry, told reporters that “at the end of the day, this is going to hurt the country. And I think the bigger philosophical question is, ‘Is impeachment now going to become the tool that we are all going to use, Republicans and Democrats, to try to remove people from office when they are less than they should be at times?”
He said that he did not yet believe that the revelations so far about Trump and Ukraine rose to the level of impeachable offenses, noting that Ukraine never did launch an investigation of the Bidens and military aid to the country eventually was released.
“For that reason we can’t always worry about what somebody might want to do but what they actually did,” he said. “So it is a fine line. That’s why impeachment is such a high bar.”
In 1868, President Andrew Johnson was impeached in the House, but the Senate did not convict. President Bill Clinton also was impeached in 1998, but the Senate also failed to find him guilty. Nixon resigned in 1974 before the full House voted on impeachment.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY), the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, told reporters that “duty now requires that we investigate the serious wrongdoing that is hiding in plain sight.”
“This impeachment inquiry is not about Democrats versus Republicans, not about the left or progressives versus conservatives,” he said. “This is about right versus wrong. And we have a constitutional responsibility to follow the facts, apply the law, be guided by the Constitution and present the evidence of wrongdoing to the American people.”