Democrats on the House Judiciary Committee are hoping this week’s vote on the party’s impeachment investigation will help soothe the confusion within their ranks about what they are doing.
Democratic Reps. Pramila Jayapal of Washington and David Cicilline of Rhode Island both acknowledged Tuesday that fellow Democrats were unsure on how to characterize the committee’s work.
“I’m hoping part of the effect of Thursday is to make it very clear what the chairman has been saying for a number of weeks now,” Mr. Cicilline told reporters. “We will be acknowledging for the first time through a vote that we are actively engaged in a proceeding to reach a determination.”
There appeared to be mixed messaging from leadership after the Judiciary Committee announced the new rules for its investigation.
Chairman Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, has repeatedly said his committee is currently conducting a formal impeachment investigation, telling NBC reporters that the probe is getting more serious.
However, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who supports the step taken by the Judiciary Committee, downplayed the significance of it Monday, telling reporters that the investigation had been going on for a long time.
Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top-ranking Republican on the Judiciary Committee, has repeatedly pushed back on Mr. Nadler’s claim that the panel’s work should be considered a part of the formal impeachment process.
“Democrats spent August pretending the House has authorized an impeachment Inquiry, and now Democrats will spend Thursday pretending to establish new rules to govern it … and hoping nobody catches on,” he tweeted Monday evening.
On Monday, the Judiciary committee announced it would vote later this week on new parameters for their investigation, marking the first time the panel would vote on the impeachment issue.
The resolution would let Mr. Nadler to create subcommittees to review evidence, expand time committee staff can question witnesses, and give the president’s legal team access to some evidence as well as an opportunity to respond in writing.
Steven Schwinn, a professor at the John Marshall Law School, said that characterizing the probe as “formal impeachment proceedings” may have an impact in the courts, but doesn’t change much in terms of what the committee is actually doing.
“Initiating ‘formal impeachment proceedings’ doesn’t trigger anything in particular, and, technically, Pelosi is almost certainly right to say that this is just a continuation of the Committee’s oversight and investigation,” he wrote to The Times. “In other words, there’s not a formal line between oversight (on the one hand) and ‘formal impeachment proceedings’ (on the other), at least not at this preliminary stage.”
Though the number of Democrats calling for an impeachment inquiry had been steadily growing for months, several Judiciary members said the panel has been doing that work already.
“For most of this year we’ve been holding hearings to ascertain whether or not we should impeach the president. The whole point of the Mueller hearing was to decide whether or not to impeach the president. So we’ve already been in an impeachment inquiry,” Rep. Ted Lieu, California Democrat, told The Washington Times. “This week’s vote is a procedural vote that will help us do the impeachment inquiry.”
Mr. Lieu was one of the first Democrats to begin advocating for a formal impeachment inquiry back in May after former counsel Don McGahn refused to testify in front of the Judiciary Committee.
The new rules prompted the Congressional Progressive Caucus to officially endorse the “current formal impeachment investigation and the adoption of the Resolution of Investigative Procedures.”
Not all Democrats are on the same page, though. Some, like Rep. Harley Rouda of California said the committee is “working on a framework for an impeachment inquiry.” Meanwhile, Rep. Jim Himes of Connecticut, a member of the Intelligence Committee, told Politico, “No, we’re not in an impeachment investigation.”
Both Mr. Cicilline and Ms. Jayapal hoped that Thursday’s vote will give members a better idea and more narrow definition of the ongoing investigation.
“I think it would be better for everybody to have the same message that we are currently in an impeachment investigation, which there seems to be some confusion for our members over August,” Ms. Jayapal said.
However, Rep. Ro Khanna of California, who sees the committee’s work as a formal investigation, said that the back and forth is really just an issue on semantics.
In terms of Democrats’ legal strategy, Mr. Schwinn said that there isn’t any additional constitutional authority behind Congressional subpoenas in a “formal impeachment proceeding,” but it could be help the Democrats sway the courts to their side.
Despite the confusion within the caucus, Rep. Zoe Lofgren of California is confident that Democrat’s legal arguments remains clear.
“I think that we’ve been clear in court and we have the right to oversight and we’re doing it,” she said.