If things go according to plan, House Republicans will their wish for a vote on the impeachment inquiry as early as Thursday. Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced yesterday that the House would vote later this week to set up rules for the next phase of the impeachment process.
The text of the resolution has not yet been released and may not be finalized, but Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the chairman of the House Rules Committee, told The Hill that he will introduce a resolution that will "ensure transparency" and "provide a clear path forward" in the impeachment inquiry.
In a letter to House Democrats, Speaker Pelosi said, "We are taking this step to eliminate any doubt as to whether the Trump Administration may withhold documents, prevent witness testimony, disregard duly authorized subpoenas, or continue obstructing the House of Representatives.” Several members of the Trump Administration have refused to comply with House subpoenas, citing the fact that no vote on the impeachment inquiry had been taken by the House.
Republicans seemed somewhat taken aback by the Democratic decision to hold a vote this week. The Republican defense of President Trump has centered on attacking the House Democratic process rather than contesting the facts of the case. Multiple witnesses have accused the president of abusing his executive authority in pressuring Ukraine to investigate business dealings by Joe Biden’s son in exchange for a meeting with Donald Trump and the release of military aid that Ukraine needed to fight off a Russia-backed insurgency.
Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.) told Politico that the Democratic move represented a “fig leaf” and that he still backed a Republican resolution that would condemn the House’s handling of the impeachment.
“It’s not just the lack of initial authorization,” Hawley said, “The closed-door sessions, the denial of subpoena rights to the minority, the denial of access to the president’s counsel. All of that stuff is historically atypical.”
Sen. Deb Fischer (R-Neb.) disagreed, calling the upcoming vote a victory for Republicans.
“I’m glad the House has responded, and they're going to have transparent proceedings,” Fischer said. “We’ve seen what we’ve wanted to see.”
Senate Rules Committee Chairman Roy Blunt (R-Mo.) adopted a wait and see attitude, saying, “I read her letter and it could mean not very much or maybe it will be more than ‘we’re just going to formalize the unfair way we’ve been doing things.’ It does mean we should see what she says.”
Rather than representing a Democratic concession, the vote may just mean that the House investigation is proceeding ahead of schedule. As I wrote last week, Democrats have maintained all along that after the initial investigation was complete, the process would include open hearings and more opportunities for Republicans to mount a defense of the president. While the depositions taken so far have not been public, statements by witnesses Bill Taylor and Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman have severely damaged Donald Trump’s claims of innocence, as did an embarrassing and incriminating public statement by Mick Mulvaney.
Regardless of the reason for the shift in Democratic strategy, it will now be incumbent upon Republicans to mount a substantive defense of the Trump Administration against the testimony of his own staffers. Prior attempts to defend the president have left his supporters scrambling after new information was revealed. So far, the insistence that there was no quid pro quo, that Ukraine was not aware of the hold placed on the aid, that the investigation was about Ukraine corruption in general rather than the Bidens specifically, and that the call was “perfect” have all been undermined by new facts.
Very soon, Republicans will get their wish for open hearings with cross-examinations and opportunities to present corroborating evidence. If they want to protect President Trump from public opinion that supports impeachment, congressional Republicans need to find a strong argument that what the president did was not an abuse of power. If the GOP cannot start persuading independent voters that Trump acted ethically and reasonably, he will not only soon become the third president to be impeached, but the Republicans will face an electoral bloodbath next November.
Originally published on The Resurgent
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