Congress

Pelosi announces formal impeachment inquiry

Move comes as Senate passes resolution calling for whistleblower report to be turned over

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., arrives back to the Capitol for a meeting with Democratic committee chairs on Tuesday, September 24, 2019. (Tom William/CQ Roll Call)

Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced Tuesday that the House will move forward with a formal impeachment inquiry, but Democrats said it was not clear what form that inquiry will take or how quickly it will lead to a decision on whether to vote to impeach President Donald Trump.

“I’m announcing that the House of Representatives is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry,” the California Democrat said in televised remarks Tuesday after a meeting of House Democrats.  “I’m directing our six committees to proceed with their investigations under that umbrella of impeachment inquiry.”

[Whistleblower may testify to House panel, as Trump pledges to release Ukraine call transcript]

Pelosi’s directive seemed to override the claims of Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler and other panel Democrats that they’ve been engaged in a formal impeachment inquiry for months. But she also offered no indication of any forthcoming changes to the Judiciary’s impeachment investigation or the oversight work of five other committees — Intelligence, Oversight and Reform, Foreign Affairs, Financial Services and Ways and Means — that are all looking into Trump’s alleged misdeeds and abuses of power. 

For now, the impeachment inquiry seems to more of a rhetorical reframing than a procedural one. Pelosi did not say whether the full House would vote to formalize the impeachment inquiry or whether the six committee investigations would be condensed into a single impeachment probe.

Despite the ambiguity about next steps, several Democrats said moving forward with an impeachment inquiry, as blessed by Pelosi, is a significant step because the caucus was unified behind the decision.  

Just before making her statement to reporters, Pelosi briefed the Democratic Caucus on her plans for advancing the House’s investigations into Trump following allegations that the president pressured Ukraine to open an investigation into his potential 2020 rival, Democratic presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden.

No one in the room objected to moving into an informal impeachment inquiry, according to members present.

"It just shows there's no question that the entire Democratic caucus is on the same page," Judiciary member Steve Cohen said, noting "there was some question about that" before.

"This a continuation of the Judiciary Committee's inquiry, and the whole House supports it -- the Democratic caucus does, and all the other committees with relevant jurisdiction will be pursuing it as well," the Tennessee Democrat said.

At least a few Democrats remained undecided as to whether an impeachment inquiry is something they personally would support. 

"I'm trying to figure that out," Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader said, telling reporters to ask him again tomorrow. Last week Schrader, who chairs the political arm of the centrist Blue Dog Coalition, told CQ Roll Call he couldn't support an impeachment effort that didn't have bipartisan support. 

For most Democrats, however, the notion that Trump sought Ukraine’s help in digging up dirt on a political foe was the push they needed. More than two dozen Democrats who'd previously declined to endorse an impeachment inquiry — including several moderate freshmen who helped Democrats pick up GOP seats to win the majority in 2018 — offered their support for such a move on Monday and Tuesday. 

Pelosi did not provide details to the caucus on what the impeachment inquiry process would look like moving forward, several members said leaving the meeting. And she didn't take questions from reporters during her remarks.

Democrat Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries told members they shouldn't get bogged down by the procedure, which prompted some pushback. 

"I think a lot of people wanted to know exactly how it would work, but I don't think they've figured [it] out," Kentucky Rep. John Yarmuth.

Some Democrats have called for a select committee to handle the impeachment inquiry,  but others disagree with that approach. 

Pennsylvania Rep. Susan Wild is one who favors a select committee, saying she believes the impeachment investigation deserves singular treatment.

"I think that it's very important that something of this level importance be conducted by members who have the most expertise in the fields of national security, intelligence," she said. 

Wild also raised the idea of cancelling the two-week October recess to pursue the impeachment inquiry uninterrupted during the caucus meeting, acknowledging that her suggestion was met with a mix of cheers and groans. 

"To go home for two weeks to me just doesn't seem like the right message," she said. "If our intent is to act expeditiously, how can we justify going home for two weeks?"

Indeed, despite details from leadership on the next steps for the impeachment, most members left the meeting with the impression it would move quickly. Several used the phrase "full steam ahead."

Rep. Jared Huffman used that phrase but admitted, "I still need to know what our leadership believes is the fastest, most effective way for us to advance our unity on this one issue."

"I will support them, whatever they decide," the California Democrat said. "What we can have is just sort of a muddling - you know, we'll sort of think about writing some letters and threatening some subpoenas. But I don't think that's where we are. I think we are fundamentally in a new place.

Some members still think the caucus needs to do a better job messaging on impeachment and need to frame the inquiry properly moving forward.

Michigan Rep. Elisa Slotkin, one of the moderates newly embracing proceedings, said she thinks the caucus should singularly focus on the Ukraine allegations, which are easier for the public to understand than some of the other matters Democrats had been investigating. 

"We haven't done a great job as a caucus in communicating clearly what the real problem is, and what we're trying to investigate," she said. "We have many committees, all having many hearings and subpoenasand frankly a lot of people have lost the thread. So it's important to me that as we bring people along, they can understand the story -- not just the procedural issues but the story. And I think this story is understandable and clear."

'Betrayal'

In her remarks, Pelosi accused Trump of breaching his constitutional duties as he admitted to asking the president of Ukraine to take actions that would benefit him politically.

Trump's actions, she said, reveal "betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of the integrity of our elections."

Several Democrats said the allegations show Trump has not learned anything from the investigation of Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III, whose report found Trump and his campaign welcomed help from the Russians in 2016.

The latest allegations stem from a whistleblower complaint that Democrats are still trying to get their hands on. Pelosi also said the administration blocking acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire from turning over the that complaint is “a violation of the law.” Maguire is scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday.

Earlier in the day, Pelosi and Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer announced the House will vote Wednesday on a resolution disapproving of the administration’s effort to block the release of the whistleblower complaint.

“This is not a partisan matter, it’s about the integrity of our democracy, respect for the rule of law and defending our Constitution," Pelosi and Hoyer said in a statement explaining the resolution. “We hope that all members of the House — Democrats and Republicans alike — will join in upholding the rule of law and oath of office to protect and defend the Constitution as representatives of the American people.”

Meanwhile, the Senate agreed by unanimous consent to a nonbinding resolution expressing the sense of the Senate that the inspector general of the intelligence community should transmit the whistleblower complaint to the congressional intelligence committees.

The UC request was made by Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., and, following brief remarks from Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was permitted to go through without any objections.

Katherine Tully McManus and Jacob Metz contributed to this report.

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