WASHINGTON — It’s official: President Donald Trump is the subject of a U.S. House impeachment inquiry.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Tuesday that they’re moving forward with an “official impeachment inquiry” into the president in the wake of reports that he pressured the Ukranian president to investigate his political opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.

By the end of the day, every Democratic member of Virginia’s delegation in the House had voiced support for the decision.

“The president must be held accountable; no one is above the law,” Pelosi said after a meeting with the House Democratic caucus. “The actions taken to date by the president have seriously violated the constitution,” she added. She said she had directed six committee leaders already investigating the president to continue under the framework of a formal impeachment inquiry. 

The announcement came after escalating pressure within the Democratic caucus to launch an official impeachment probe, a topic that has divided the caucus so far this year.

Some Democrats have been pushing for impeachment for months, but many moderates and leaders of the party were reluctant to take what could be a politically perilous route for some. But in light of recent reports about Trump pressuring the Ukranian president, moderate Democrats and leaders said there was no alternative to impeachment proceedings.

In Virginia, the dam broke on Monday night when Reps. Elaine Luria, D-Virginia Beach, and Abigail Spanberger, D-Henrico, published an op-ed voicing their support for an inquiry with five other freshmen Democrats. The two represent red-leaning districts Democrats narrowly won last November and, up until now, both had resisted growing calls from within their party. 

“This flagrant disregard for the law cannot stand,” they wrote. “To uphold and defend our Constitution, Congress must determine whether the president was indeed willing to use his power and withhold security assistance funds to persuade a foreign country to assist him in an upcoming election.”

U.S. Rep. Abigail Spanberger, D-Henrico. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

The two remaining hold outs, Reps. Don McEachin, D-Richmond, and Bobby Scott, D-Newport News, announced their support on Tuesday amid a flurry of similar announcements from representatives around the country. Three members from Northern Virginia had previously voiced support for an inquiry as early as May: Reps. Don Beyer, D-Alexandria; Jennifer Wexton, D-Loudoun; and Gerry Connoly, D-Fairfax. (Beyer went further Tuesday, calling for the House to move forward with full articles of impeachment.)

According to The New York Times, 180 members of the House backed an impeachment inquiry by Tuesday evening, representing more than two-thirds of the Democratic caucus and one independent lawmaker, Justin Amash from Michigan. Impeachment backers would need 218 votes for the House to approve articles of impeachment. 

House lawmakers said they expect the chamber to move forward rapidly on the matter, although the exact timeline remains unclear. The House is slated to go on recess for the next two weeks. 

Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire is expected to testify before the House Intelligence Committee Thursday. Lawmakers have demanded he turn over a whistleblower’s complaint related to Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president. House Democrats announced a vote Wednesday on a resolution expressing disapproval over the administration blocking the release of the complaint. 

Democrats stressed that the Ukraine controversy offers a clear trigger for the impeachment inquiry that isn’t as complicated as some of their other allegations, like accusations that Trump has violated the emoluments clause or claims that he obstructed justice. 

Impeachment prospects in the Senate are far from certain. It appears highly unlikely that the GOP-controlled chamber would vote to convict Trump after an impeachment trial, if the proceedings went that far. 

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) accused Democrats of an “obsession with relitigating 2016” on Tuesday. 

He said Pelosi’s announcement “confirms that House Democrats’ priority is not making life better for the American people but their nearly three-year-old fixation on impeachment.”

Meanwhile, the Senate voted unanimously Tuesday for the whistleblower complaint to be turned over to congressional intelligence committees.

As impeachment talk dominated Capitol Hill, Trump tweeted Tuesday, “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT” and “total Witch Hunt Scam by the Democrats.” Trump also said he authorized the release of the transcript of his call. 

House Republicans similarly decried Democrats’ decision to plow ahead with impeachment proceedings, including two of four Republicans from Virginia.

Rep. Rob Wittman, R-Westmoreland, suggested Democrats didn’t have enough information to move forward, tweeting that “Democrats chose to rely on unconfirmed, secondhand accusations to launch a partisan impeachment inquiry into the president.”

Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Nelson, who serves on the Judiciary Committee, called the announcement a “head scratcher.” He said Democrats have wanted to impeach Trump since his 2016 election. “As a new congressman, it just feels like we can’t get anything done for our districts as they continue down this rabbit hole and it’s very frustrating.”

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Robin Bravender
Robin Bravender is the Washington, D.C., bureau chief for The Newsroom, a network of state-based news outlets that includes the Virginia Mercury.
Ned Oliver
Ned, a Lexington native, has a decade’s worth of experience in journalism, beginning at The News-Gazette in Lexington, and including stints at the Berkshire Eagle, in Berkshire County, Mass., and the Times-Dispatch and Style Weekly in Richmond. He also has the awards to show for it, including taking a pair of first-place honors at the Virginia Press Association awards earlier this year for investigative reporting and feature writing. He is a graduate of Bard College at Simon’s Rock, in Great Barrington, Mass.