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House Debates Impeachment Inquiry Resolution


At this hour, we're watching the floor of the House of Representatives. Lawmakers have been debating a resolution that would lay out the rules for the public phase of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi spoke of the gravity of the process.


NANCY PELOSI: The times found our founders, the times have found others in the course of our history to protect our democracy, to keep our country united. The times have found each and every one of us in this room and in our country to pay attention to how we protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.

MARTIN: Republicans, led by Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, argued the process has been tainted from the start.


KEVIN MCCARTHY: For the last three years, they have predetermined the president's guilt. They have never accepted the voters' choice to make him president. So for 37 days and counting, they have run an unprecedented, undemocratic and unfair investigation. This resolution today only makes it worse.

MARTIN: NPR's congressional correspondent Susan Davis is at the Capitol. She's been following the debate and the vote all morning. Hi, Sue.


MARTIN: What's the scene right now?

DAVIS: Well, the House is in the middle of voting and is about to pass - or we believe it will pass - along party lines a resolution that Democrats say will begin the next phase of the impeachment investigation.

MARTIN: So we should just clarify. Once again, this is not an up or down vote on whether or not President Donald Trump should be impeached. That's not what this is about. This is about the process, right?

DAVIS: Right. It's not on the merits. It's sort of the rules of the game to get there.

MARTIN: So Speaker Nancy Pelosi had said a vote like this wasn't necessary. Right? So why have Democrats moved forward at this point?

DAVIS: I think there's a couple of things. I think Democrats do want to send a message that this investigation is intensifying. In her words, it's taking a more public turn. What the resolution will do is fairly simple but it outlines a couple of the next steps. One, it calls for the House Intelligence Committee to publicly release the depositions of interviews that it's been taking behind closed doors. It calls for public hearings to be led by the Intelligence Committee under Adam Schiff of California. And it instructs the Judiciary Committee to outline the due process rights the president or his counsel would be given if impeachment proceedings begin before that panel.

Now, there's also some politics at play here, right? I mean, Democrats have been consistently criticized by Republicans for not holding any votes to authorize this process since they began the impeachment inquiry in late September. Democrats say they don't need to do it. They are correct. There's nothing in the Constitution, nothing in House rules, that requires it. But having this vote today is at least some recognition that that process argument may have had some effect. And I think Democrats are hoping it will nullify that Republican criticism and and maybe put Republicans on notice that they're going to have to start defending the president more on the substance about the allegations, not about the process that they're using to look at them.

MARTIN: Right. But when you hear Kevin McCarthy say, listen, this is about an act that Democrats have been grinding from the beginning, that they have predetermined the outcome of all this. They never accepted the election of Donald Trump. And a lot of Republicans - you hear that from a lot of Republicans. And it's true. A lot on the left had been calling for his impeachment since - especially since Democrats took control of Congress. So how do Nancy Pelosi and her allies refute that?

DAVIS: There's a great line from the Clinton impeachment era that I think applies today, which says, your enemies can be out to get you and you can have done the thing they accused you of doing. They are not mutually exclusive things. So yes, I think many Democrats have believed that this president has taken many actions that could be impeachable offenses. There has been a motivation within the Democratic Party to look at inside and all around this Trump administration and the president's personal life and personal finances.

That being said, there are allegations at the center of this impeachment investigation, namely whether the president used his office to advance his own personal political goals over the national security of the country, that have given Democrats reason to believe that an impeachment process is not only warranted but necessary.

MARTIN: So what happens now, Sue? I mean, they're supposed to be making more of this in the public eye. Are we going to see public testimony, and from whom?

DAVIS: That's the big question. Schiff, Adam Schiff, who's leading the investigation, even before this resolution had said public hearings are coming. They have not said who. They have not said when. But the passage of this resolution does suggest that they will be making an announcement in short order. We don't know who they want to hear from, but they will also have essentially the sole power to call witnesses to testify.

Republicans would like to have equal subpoena power. They would not be given that. That would be highly unusual. But they will be able to call people under oath, and on national television, and testify to what they knew and when they knew it in terms of the actions surrounding the July 25 phone call between President Trump and Ukrainian President Zelenskiy.

MARTIN: And at this point they have invited former national security adviser John Bolton to testify, but his attorneys, I understand, say not until there's a subpoena?

DAVIS: That's correct.

MARTIN: All right. NPR's Susan Davis for us. Thank you so much.

DAVIS: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Susan Davis is a congressional correspondent for NPR and a co-host of the NPR Politics Podcast. She has covered Congress, elections, and national politics since 2002 for publications including USA TODAY, The Wall Street Journal, National Journal and Roll Call. She appears regularly on television and radio outlets to discuss congressional and national politics, and she is a contributor on PBS's Washington Week with Robert Costa. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Philadelphia native.
Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.