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Key House panel sends impeachment resolution to the floor ahead of Thursday’s vote

The House Rules Committee on Wednesday night advanced a resolution to establish procedures for Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump ahead of an expected vote on the House floor Thursday.

The resolution, unveiled earlier this week, allows for public impeachment hearings, the release of deposition transcripts and outlines the Judiciary Committee’s role in considering potential articles of impeachment. It will be the first vote the full House has taken on the impeachment inquiry since Democratic leaders launched the probe related to an intelligence community whistleblower complaint that raised concerns in Congress about Trump’s conversations with Ukraine.

Republicans on the panel offered close to 20 amendments to the resolution, all of which failed on party-line votes. They sought to give their party more of a say in impeachment hearings, such as expanding their ability to issue subpoenas to witnesses without receiving approval from Democrats on the Intelligence Committee.

In the Democratic resolution, Republicans would be able to subpoena witnesses only if the Democratic chairman agrees with the request or if a majority of the committee approves of it.

Throughout the markup, Republicans aired complaints that they were not included in the drafting of the resolution. Rep. Tom Cole, the top Republican on the Rules Committee, noted that he didn’t see the resolution until it became publicly available.

“It’s a sad day here,” the Oklahoma Republican said in his opening statement.

Asked during a break in the markup if he should have collaborated with Republicans on the resolution to try to find common ground, Rep. Jim McGovern, the Massachusetts Democrat who chairs the Rules panel, expressed skepticism.

“Let’s be very clear about one thing,” he said. “Their sole mission is to circle the wagons around Donald Trump. They’re not interested in the truth.”

He also defended Democrats’ approach to the inquiry.

“This is an open, transparent process, and I’m proud of what we’ve done so far,” McGovern said. “I think we’ve conducted ourselves with dignity and respect for this institution, and I think it will stand the test of time in terms of history.”

As Democrats have gone about conducting depositions behind closed doors for the past several weeks, Republicans have called on them to hold public hearings and to publish the transcripts of interviews with witnesses. GOP members who aren’t on any of the three committees holding the depositions have also protested their inability to personally participate in proceedings or view information from witnesses.

Democrats point out that Republicans who are on the committees holding the depositions have had equal power to attend and ask witnesses questions. Democrats also say the secretive process thus far has been intended to prevent witnesses from shaping their testimony based on what they see other officials tell the panel.

During Wednesday’s Rules committee markup, Republicans also offered amendments to boost the White House, with one aiming to give Trump and his counsel room to participate in ongoing House investigations beyond the scope the Democratic resolution outlines.

Texas Rep. Michael Burgess pushed for an amendment to remove a mention of the House Ways and Means Committee and the Financial Services Committee in the resolution, arguing that they are only included because the committees are seeking Trump’s tax returns and probing his business dealings. “This is nothing more than a fishing expedition,” Burgess said.

“Some people call it a fishing expedition,” responded McGovern. “Others call it congressional oversight.”

Burgess called for another amendment, which would require the Financial Services and the Ways and Means committees to produce documents outlining the nature and scope of their investigations into Trump.

Cole introduced an amendment to allow all members on the Intelligence Committee — if the chairman or ranking Republican yields to them — to question witnesses during the 90-minute period established in the resolution in which committee staff will be able to question witnesses.

In the current resolution, only the chairman, ranking member and committee staff would be able to question witnesses during in that time, which will be equally divided between each party. After the 90-minute questioning period, members will be able to weigh in and question witnesses under conventional hearing rules.

Ahead of the vote, Republicans reiterated their argument that the resolution is too little too late.

“It is still not set up as a fair process in my mind,” said retiring Rep. Greg Walden, an Oregon Republican. “It is still a process where the Democrats call all the shots.”

“What they have accomplished here is to make tomorrow’s vote a vote for or against impeachment in the minds of the American people,” he said.

And Rep. Fred Upton, a Republican who has said he sees legitimate questions with Trump’s interactions with Ukraine, told CNN he will vote against the Democratic resolution to establish procedures for the impeachment inquiry.

“My guess is that there’ll be no Republicans” who vote for the resolution tomorrow, he added.

Cole agreed.

“My suspicion is that we will end up with a partisan impeachment vote,” he said at the end of the markup. “We will have a partisan process vote tomorrow, a partisan impeachment vote probably later this year — I would hope not, but that’s just my guess looking forward — and that will set the stage for something very similar in the United States Senate.”

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