“I didn’t know that it was really necessary at this point,” said Rep. Jeff Van Drew (D-N.J.), one of the caucus’ few impeachment skeptics who said he is leaning “no” on the resolution.
“Let’s put it this way. Republicans very much want it,” Van Drew added. “So if they very much want it, it would mean they want to help us a whole lot and really think it’s a good idea, or they think that it was going to put us in a tight spot.”
Top Democrats had not intended for a simple procedural measure to take up oxygen for multiple days, stretching from Monday’s initial announcement through the vote on Thursday. But the impeachment obsession on Capitol Hill — in the media, within the GOP, and even among vulnerable members of their own caucus — wound up turning the resolution into a glaring example of Democrats’ messaging struggles on impeachment.
The vote, which marks the caucus’ first on impeachment since Speaker Nancy Pelosi formally embraced the inquiry a month ago, has been a priority for House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff.
The rollout of that resolution, however, caused angst among Democratic moderates, many of whom have fixated over the impeachment probe process because they see it as the only remaining aspect they can control as the caucus seems heads toward an eventual floor vote to impeach Trump.
The resolution would centralize the inquiry under the House Intelligence panel, strengthening’s Schiff’s hand in the ongoing investigation. It also preserves authority of House Judiciary Committee Jerry Nadler.
The resolution is less about imbuing impeachment investigators with new power than about directing traffic as multiple committees jockey for jurisdiction over the high-stakes probe. It lays out that the House Intelligence panel decides which hearings to hold. And it allows Schiff to add rounds of uninterrupted questioning for himself and ranking Republican Devin Nunes — up to 45 minutes per side — as many times as necessary. Both Schiff and Nunes may yield their questioning time to staffers.
That’s a slight change from existing House rules which permit committee chairs to add a single round of staff questioning at 30 minutes per side.
Similarly, the resolution spells out that Republicans may request to call witnesses — which is already permitted under House rules — and issue subpoenas. But in both cases, the requests are subject to a veto by Schiff and committee Democrats, a similar arrangement to previous impeachment proceedings.
The resolution also preserves the authority of House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) but leaves unanswered one of the most crucial questions: how much authority to give Trump to call and cross-examine witnesses. Instead, it simply authorizes Nadler’s panel to draw up procedures to provide due process to Trump at an unspecified later date.
Top Democrats, including Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.), have sought to clarify this week that the vote does not authorize the impeachment inquiry, which is already underway.
“We are not moving an impeachment resolution this week,” Hoyer told reporters Tuesday, downplaying the measure as a way to simply formalize certain procedural rules.
But several Democrats privately feared that the rollout of that resolution unintentionally overshadowed other events this week, like Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman’s testimony that Trump had undermined U.S. national security by pressuring Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and his family.
Rank-and-file Democrats also complained that it muddled some of the caucus’ carefully crafted messaging in recent weeks, as they’ve repeatedly shot down GOP criticism about the Democrats’ inquiry — a position reinforced last week by a federal judge’s ruling strongly in the majority’s favor.
House Democratic Caucus Chairman Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) argued Tuesday that a full House vote is the best course of action — as opposed to working through the procedural issues within the Intelligence Committee — because multiple panels are involved in the investigation, including Oversight, Foreign Affairs and Judiciary.
“It seems to me that that makes sense in terms of having a floor vote because multiple committees are involved, specifically as it relates to the resolution,” Jeffries told reporters.
“We’re in a phase right now where we’re moving from information gathering, primarily through depositions, into the public presentation of facts and the truth to the American people.”
But some centrist Democrats have privately questioned the wisdom of holding a floor vote that would put some of their most vulnerable colleagues, most in Republican leaning districts, in the spotlight.
Those Democrats have said that many of the procedural questions could seemingly be handled within the Intelligence panel, particularly after Schiff made clear Monday that his committee would be leading the public portion of the investigation.
A small group of Democrats, including Schiff and House Rules Committee Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), were still hammering out details of the resolution Tuesday afternoon, running up against an internal deadline to consider the measure in the Rules panel. Releasing the text was complicated by some last-minute debate over the precise details about which of Democrats’ investigative committees would be affected, according to multiple aides.
Impeachment messaging was a key part of Democrats’ closed-door meeting on Tuesday morning, though the topic of the resolution did not come up.
Recent DCCC-commissioned surveys, conducted by Anzalone Liszt Grove Research and GBAO Strategies, found the impeachment inquiry is largely a wash in the 57 top battleground districts. Voters there support moving the inquiry forward 49 to 48 percent.
Democrats emerged from Tuesday’s caucus meeting with deep concerns about Vindman’s opening statement, though few lawmakers outside of the investigative panels will learn details until after the House moves into the public phase.
“I think it’s a pretty powerful moment,” Rep. Veronica Escobar (D-Texas) said of Vindman’s prepared remarks to House lawmakers, which began to circulate late Monday. Vindman is the first current White House official to testify in the ongoing impeachment inquiry.
Vindman — who defied White House orders not to testify — could be a key witness for Democrats, who had been searching for someone who heard firsthand whether Trump pressured Ukrainian officials to investigate Biden, his potential 2020 rival.
But some Democrats argued that it was still too soon to say whether Vindman’s testimony would prompt the caucus to begin drafting articles of impeachment.
“Sometimes the best evidence comes out first, and this might be the case,” Rep. Stephen Lynch, a senior member of the House Oversight Committee, said Tuesday. “I don’t think we’re there yet, but we’re getting there. We still have maybe a half-dozen witnesses, and we’ve got these outstanding requests for documents.”
House GOP leaders continued to insist that there was nothing inappropriate — let alone impeachable — about Trump’s conversation with Ukraine’s president.
“I thank him for his service. I thank his commitment to this country. But he is wrong,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said of Vindman. “Nothing in that phone call is impeachable. “
“The president has a right,” he continued. “It was an open case… All of America wants to know why we had to go through the Russian hoax.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Tuesday he has not decided whether to bring his resolution attacking the House’s impeachment inquiry to the floor and that he will need to study the House Democrats’ language to decide whether it passes the “smell test.”
“We’ll all be looking at that to see if it meets the normal due process standards [that] would be provided to the president and his team similar to what was provided to President Nixon and President Clinton in similar situations,” he said. “The resolution is about due process and critically, at least at that moment, we’ll see what the House ends up with later today, about the way they would handle the case.”
Kyle Cheney, Ally Mutnick, Melanie Zanona and Burgess Everett contributed to this report.