U.S. House Democrats advance impeachment investigation; Fla. GOP rep. calls it ‘impeachment in drag’

The United States House of Representatives. (Wikimedia Commons)

WASHINGTON — U.S. House Democrats edged closer to 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.). 

However, U.S. Rep. Ben Cline, a Republican from Botetourt and the lone Virginian on the committee, said Democrats have recognized that “an impeachment resolution could not pass the full House, so this committee is trying to have its cake and eat it too” by proceeding without first holding a floor vote on the matter. 

U.S. Rep. Ben Cline, R-6th.

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. 

More than half of the U.S. House Democrats have said they support moving ahead with a formal impeachment inquiry, according to a New York Times review. Michigan Rep. Justin Amash was the lone House Republican to endorse an impeachment inquiry, but he left the GOP in July, declaring himself an independent. 

Republicans on the Judiciary Committee 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. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.) called the Democrats’ move “nothing more than an inquiry into whether to start an inquiry.” 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. 

“Yes, we are in an impeachment investigation,” said Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon (D-Pa.). “Have you not been reading the proceedings? I don’t think there’s a question. It’s an investigation.” 

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.”

Some Virginia Democrats, like U.S. Reps. Gerry Connolly, Don Beyer and Jennifer Wexton, have endorsed impeachment inquiries.

Others are less sanguine on the idea, particularly first-term Congresswomen Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria, who flipped GOP-held seats last year.

Editor Robert Zullo contributed.