“What is at stake in all of this? It’s nothing less than our democracy,” Nancy Pelosi.
News of a whistleblower complaint alleging that Trump had pressured Ukraine’s president to investigate the Biden family, and military aid was being withheld from Ukraine unless the president of Ukraine cooperated, broke in September 2019, that led Pelosi to end the ambiguity about whether to proceed with impeachment steps. The speaker announced on September 24 that “the House of Representatives is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry.” Since September, over a dozen witnesses have corroborated the whistleblower’s account of events.
Activists and voters in the party have been demanding Trump’s impeachment for some time now for a variety of reasons: from bigotry to financial corruption to his general conduct in office.
This vote can be read as a sign that Democrats are ready to move to a new phase of the inquiry: They’re winding down the closed-door depositions they’ve held in recent weeks and moving instead to hearings that will take place in public.
The resolution also makes clear who will take the lead in this phase: Rep. Adam Schiff (D-CA), the chair of the House Intelligence Committee and an ally of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
Read the full Resolution: Resolution by the House
What House Democrats’ impeachment procedures resolution actually does
Democrats’ resolution is not a resolution to start an impeachment inquiry; the party’s position is that they’ve been conducting one for some time already. Instead, the resolution is framed as one “directing certain committees to continue their ongoing investigations” as part of an “existing House of Representative inquiry into whether sufficient grounds exist” for the impeachment of President Trump. That is: The inquiry already existed and will continue.
The resolution does, however, lay out some specifics about how things will work going forward.
FIRST, it says that open hearings will be held and, interestingly, the committee that will hold those hearings is the House Intelligence Committee, chaired by Schiff. That makes sense, because the whistleblower complaint made its way to Schiff in the first place (his committee oversees the intelligence community). And it’s Schiff’s committee that has been holding closed-door depositions of Trump administration officials for the past month (though members of two other committees, Foreign Relations and Oversight, have also been invited to take part).
SECOND, the resolution gives some details on how those hearings will be conducted. The interesting part here is that Schiff (and the intelligence committee’s ranking member Devin Nunes) will each get to question witnesses at the beginning for longer than the traditional five minutes — up to 90 minutes in total. They can also designate staff members to do this questioning. This is not typically how congressional hearings are conducted but it would allow witnesses to be questioned for lengthier periods by skilled attorneys (rather than bloviating politicians).
THIRD, the resolution says that Nunes can ask for his own witnesses to be invited or subpoenaed to testify, but there’s a catch. Nunes must give “a detailed written justification of the relevance” of each witness’s testimony and either Schiff or a majority vote on the committee would have to approve it. This is an effort to prevent Republicans from playing political games by demanding that irrelevant witnesses appear.
FINALLY, the resolution makes clear how this phase of the impeachment inquiry will end: After Schiff has held public hearings, he will write a report laying out his findings and recommendations. That’s when the handoff to Nadler’s Judiciary Committee will occur. The Judiciary Committee will review the report and draft impeachment articles if they deem that necessary (which they almost surely will).
What happens next
Summing up, now that this resolution has been approved by the House, this is how the impeachment inquiry will proceed going forward:
- Schiff’s Intelligence Committee will hold public hearings and eventually write a report.
- Nadler’s Judiciary Committee will then review that report and likely draft and vote on articles of impeachment for Trump.
- Any articles of impeachment improved by the Judiciary Committee would then go before the full House for the actual vote on whether Trump would be impeached.
- If Trump is impeached by the House then the Senate would hold a trial to determine whether to remove him from office.
It isn’t clear how long each of these phases will last. Democrats had at one point hoped to hold their final votes on whether to impeach Trump before Thanksgiving, but that timeline has slipped. For now, they still appear to be aiming to wrap things up in the House before the end of the year.