Are House Democrats conducting an impeachment inquiry?
It depends who you ask.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler of New York and many liberal Democrats claim the panel is conducting a formal inquiry into whether to impeach President Trump, even though the House has not voted to approve it.
The Judiciary Committee will hold a vote Thursday that Nadler has cast as the first step in formalizing the process in the impeachment inquiry.
But other Democrats say that while lawmakers are investigating President Trump, it’s not officially impeachment.
“I’m not quite sure what Chairman Nadler meant, because we have not launched a formal impeachment inquiry in the United States Congress,” Rep. Gerry Connolly, a Democrat from Virginia, told CNN in August.
“That, in my view, requires a vote of the House. He may consider what he’s doing in his committee, de facto, to be all but an impeachment inquiry that could lead to articles of impeachment, and that’s true. But as to a formal impeachment proceeding, we have not undertaken a formal proceeding.”
Many House Democrats say they are busy moving a legislative agenda focused on healthcare and jobs, not impeachment.
“Let the investigations go where they may and we’ll see what the body of information is,” said Labor, Health and Human Services Committee Chairwoman Rosa DeLauro, a Democrat from Connecticut. “My view has been consistently that I want to try to do is supporting kids at risk from e-cigarettes, I want to deal with the cost of bringing down prescription drugs, how we increase wages for people and deal with wage inequality. Those are the issues I’m focused on.”
House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, caught in the middle of the confusion, gave two answers on Wednesday, telling reporters at his weekly press conference “no” when asked if Democrats are conducting formal impeachment proceedings.
The Maryland Democrat issued a clarifying statement later in the day.
“I thought the question was in regards to whether the full House is actively considering articles of impeachment, which we are not at this time,” Hoyer said.
“I strongly support Chairman Nadler and the Judiciary Committee Democrats as they proceed with their investigation ‘to determine whether to recommend articles of impeachment to the full House,’ as the resolution states,” Hoyer added, referring to the vote scheduled for Thursday.
The confusion started in July, when Nadler told reporters that even though the House had not approved a formal impeachment inquiry as is customary, his panel was already conducting one, beginning with a federal court filing seeking undisclosed documents from the Mueller report into alleged Russian collusion with the Trump 2016 campaign.
“We are telling the court that what we are doing is not just part of normal oversight but part of our Article 1 authority and responsibility to consider all remedies, including the possibility of articles of impeachment,” Nadler said.
But the House has traditionally taken a formal vote to approve an impeachment inquiry, including in 1998 when lawmakers approved a resolution called “Authorizing and directing the Committee on the Judiciary to investigate whether sufficient grounds exist for the impeachment of William Jefferson Clinton, President of the United States.”
According to the Congressional Research Service, an impeachment inquiry “is authorized, and this is most often accomplished through the adoption of a simple resolution directing the Judiciary Committee to investigate an official.”
House Republicans believe Democrats are trying to please their anti-Trump base while at the same time protecting swing-state freshmen seeking reelection in districts that oppose impeachment.
“Formal impeachment proceedings have always been authorized by a vote of the full House, which Speaker Pelosi has been careful not to allow,” Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, said Wednesday.
“Tomorrow’s committee business is a meaningless reiteration of existing committee authorities, allowing the chairman to keep this story in the news when moderate Democrats simply want it to go away.”
Thursday’s vote, Nadler said, would enable him to designate subcommittees to investigate matters related to Trump, would allow more time for lawmakers to question witnesses, and would allow Trump’s lawyers to respond in writing to the panel’s evidence and testimony.
The second-most senior Democrat on the panel, Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California, said Nadler’s strategy is not confusing.
“I think that we’ve been clear in court that we have the right to do oversight, and we are doing it,” Lofgren said.
She said the Thursday Judiciary Committee vote won’t change anything.
Nadler called the vote “the next step in that process and will help ensure our impeachment hearings are informative to Congress and the public, while providing the President with the ability to respond to evidence presented against him. We will not allow Trump’s continued obstruction to stop us from delivering the truth to the American people.”
We made the same point in our filings in court,” Lofgren said. “That among the broad remedies the legislative branch has is impeachment but it’s also oversight. I don’t think it’s that significant.”