Democrats continued to send mixed signals on impeachment Thursday, even as the House Judiciary Committee moved ahead with approving procedures for their investigation into President Trump.
The committee voted 24-17 to implement four procedures, marking the first time the panel voted on what Judiciary Democrats are calling an impeachment investigation.
However, not all Democrats are saying the same thing.
The rules would allow Chairman Jerrold Nadler, New York Democrat, to delegate some of the work to subcommittees; give committee staff extra time to question witnesses; govern how information is kept private; and allow for President Trump’s legal team to review and respond.
The vote Thursday was not a question of whether to impeachment the president, but merely lays out investigation rules that would determine whether Democrats should offer articles of impeachment. Mr. Nadler has publicly said his panel is conducting formal impeachment proceedings with this investigation, and attempted to brush aside the debate during Thursday’s vote.
“Some call this process an impeachment inquiry, some call it an impeachment investigation. There is no legal difference between these terms, and I no longer care to argue about the nomenclature,” he said.
Judiciary Democrats have embraced that, saying this impeachment investigation has been going on for a while. Other Democrats have offered different descriptions of what they thought the committee was up to — one member told The Times it was crafting language to start an impeachment inquiry.
On Thursday, a handful of members took up the “impeachment investigation” term, including Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, who had avoided the “i word” just the day before.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, however, is not wavering on her own messaging.
“Impeachment is a very divisive measure, but if we have to go there, we’ll go there. But we can’t go there unless we have the facts,” she said.
Notably, she’s avoided both explicitly shutting down the term “impeachment investigation” and using it herself. Rather, she doubled down on the argument she’s been using for months — impeachment is a possibility but six committees first must finish their months-long investigations.
“I stand by what we have been doing all along. I support what is happening in the Judiciary Committee because that enables them to do their process of interrogation and their investigation. And I salute them for that work,” Mrs. Pelosi told reporters on Thursday.
“That’s all I’m going to way on the subject, and there’s nothing different from one day to the next,” she added.
Republicans argue the confusion and disarray from Democrats on impeachment is because they’re circumventing the proper process.
Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, has repeatedly pushed back on Mr. Nadler’s claim that the committee was working on formal impeachment proceedings, arguing that they would need a full House vote to authorize such an investigation.
“The difference between formal impeachment proceedings and what we’re doing today is a world apart no matter what the chairman just said,” Mr. Collins said.
“The ambiguity — the confusion — is a product of my colleagues’ own making because there is an easy way to know exactly whether this committee is in impeachment proceedings: it’s called a vote — a vote of the full House of Representatives,” he added.
At the GOP retreat in Baltimore on Thursday afternoon, both Mr. Collins and Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio called this latest impeachment push a desperate play for Democrats.
“The reason they want to do this … the reason they want to change the rules is because nothing else has worked for them,” Mr. Jordan said.
Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy said the Democrats’ mixed messaging on impeachment is proof Mrs. Pelosi is struggling to maintain control of her party.
“She has the title but no longer the power to manage the floor,” he said. “You can’t even understand what they’re doing in committee, especially when it comes to Chairman Nadler.”
The top House Republican said he is confident that the Democrats’ work on investigating Mr. Trump will be a boon for GOP House candidates in 2020.
He pointed out that Republicans only need to flip 18 seats to retake the majority — fewer than the Democrats needed going into the 2018 election — and there are 31 Democrats in vulnerable districts the president carried in 2016.
“Tell me, how are Democrats going to go back and ask for reelection on what they have achieved. All they have achieved is investigations that have gone nowhere,” Mr. McCarthy said.
Progressive activists, however, want Democrats to fully embrace impeachment.
Free Speech For People, By the People, CREDO Action, Courage Campaign, Democracy For America, Mainers for Responsible Leadership, and March for Truth are demanding the committee vote on articles of impeachment by Nov. 1 and a full House vote by Nov. 15.
Some Judiciary members have floated the possibility of reaching a decision on whether or not to move forward with articles of impeachment by the end of the year, but haven’t committed to any firm date.
“We will not allow Congress to run out the clock on impeachment,” read a joint statement from the activists. “Congress has now had the Mueller Report — only one data point in a comprehensive case for Trump’s impeachment — for more than four months. Our democracy, our communities that are under attack, and our planet cannot wait any longer for Congress to lead.”
For his part, Mr. Nadler plans to hit the ground running with more hearings.
“With these new procedures, we will begin next week an aggressive series of hearings investigating allegations of corruption, obstruction and abuse of power against the president,” he said after the Judiciary meeting. “The investigation go well beyond the four corners of the Mueller report.”
The Judiciary Committee is also looking into potential corruption, launching probes into Vice President Mike Pence’s stay at a Trump-owned property in Ireland and the president’s effort to host the Group of Seven summit at one of his Miami golf resorts.
The first hearing under the new rules will be on Sept. 17 featuring former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski.