WASHINGTON — The U.S. House took a formal step Thursday toward impeaching President Donald Trump as the chamber passed a measure that lays down the rules going forward in the current fact-finding phase.
House members approved a resolution along mostly party lines Thursday morning that called for the "next, public-facing phase" of the impeachment proceedings. While a number of Texas Democratic members have long called for impeachment, the holdouts came forward last month to support an inquiry upon the revelation of the president's phone call to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. Texas Republicans are in large part steadfastly opposed. A small handful of Republicans outside of the Texas delegation crossed party lines on the vote.
The vote codified the process in which impeachment will go forward, moving it out of closed-door hearings and into the public arena. At issue is a late July phone call, after which a written summary and multiple reported witness testimonies paint the picture of an American president pressuring his Ukrainian counterpart into investigating the business activities of Hunter Biden, son of former Vice President Joe Biden, in exchange for military aid.
"This resolution establishes the procedure for hearings that are open to the American people, authorizes the disclosure of deposition transcripts, outlines procedures to transfer evidence to the Judiciary Committee as it considers potential articles of impeachment, and sets forth due process rights for the President and his Counsel," Speaker Nancy Pelosi wrote in a letter to her colleagues earlier this week.
This was not a vote for impeachment but, rather, laid out the rules of the impeachment process. Even so, the timeline remains fairly uncertain.
The Democratic move comes after weeks of Republican criticism over the impeachment process so far. Republicans are also eager to put Democratic members in competitive House districts on the record supporting the impeachment process. There is little evidence that the Democratic incumbents in competitive Texas districts — U.S. Reps. Colin Allred of Dallas and Lizzie Pannill Fletcher of Houston — or Democratic candidates challenging Republican incumbents in the state are backing off on their public support for an inquiry.
The rules in Thursday's legislation allow for the president to attend the hearings, which is unlikely. But they also permit his attorneys to cross-examine witnesses and object to admissibility of testimony. The rules technically allow for Republicans to subpoena witnesses, but on the condition of a full committee vote. Like all other House committees, the Intelligence Committee has a Democratic majority.
Ahead of the vote, Republicans raised questions over their perception of fairness in this process.
The House Intelligence Committee will lead the public hearings. Republican U.S. Reps. Mike Conaway of Midland, Will Hurd of Helotes and John Ratcliffe of Heath, along with Democratic U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro of San Antonio, serve on that body. Eventually, the House Judiciary Committee will be responsible for drawing up the articles of impeachment, if the process reaches that point. Texans serving on that committee include Democratic U.S. Reps. Sheila Jackson Lee of Houston, Sylvia Garcia of Houston and Veronica Escobar of El Paso. Republican members serving on the committee include Ratcliffe and U.S. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Tyler.
Previously, the members of the U.S. House committees on foreign affairs, intelligence, and oversight and government reform have held closed-door depositions with various Trump administration officials.
U.S. Rep. Brian Babin, R-Woodville, made an unsuccessful attempt earlier this week to push for the vote as a rare roll-call vote, rather than the typical way members vote with voting cards. Republican U.S. Reps. Dan Crenshaw of Houston, Randy Weber of Friendswood, Roger Williams of Austin and Ron Wright of Arlington joined Babin in signing his letter to Pelosi on the matter.
U.S. Rep. Al Green, a Houston Democrat, has long called for the impeachment of Trump. He released a statement minutes before the vote began.
"Members of Congress will decide whether to continue the inquiry investigating the actions of President Donald John Trump for the purpose of impeachment in the wake of his most recent impeachable, unpresidential actions," he wrote. "This vote is a step in the right direction toward maintaining the balance of power among coequal branches of our government, defending our democracy, and protecting our republic.”
U.S. Rep. Kevin Brady, a Republican from the Woodlands, took to the floor the morning of the vote to reiterate his criticism of the larger process.
"It’s secret, partisan and is being conducted behind closed doors to hide information from the American people — all with one goal in mind: take down President Trump by any means necessary," he said. "I will not legitimize this unprecedented and unfair charade with this vote today."
Correction: A previous version of this story misrepresented the amount of members who crossed party lines in the impeachment vote. No Republicans voted in favor of impeachment.