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Pelosi considers, then rejects holding a House vote on impeachment inquiry—for now

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco) and Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) hold a press conference on Oct. 2, 2019 on the impeachment inquiry into President Trump. (Kirk McKoy/Los Angeles Times/TNS)

Amid growing political pressure from Republicans, House leaders on Tuesday began seriously gauging support among Democrats for holding a vote to formally establish the impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump — even though the inquiry is already underway.

But by the end of the day and after pushback from members during a closed-door meeting in the basement of the Capitol, Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., decided there would be no House vote for now, reaffirming her previous stance on the issue.

“At this time, we will not be having a vote,” she said.

Her announcement came as more top White House officials, including Vice President Mike Pence and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, announced their intentions to defy House subpoenas, and others in the State Department continued to provide information in the investigation, putting more cracks in the White House’s attempt to build a wall of resistance.

Earlier Tuesday, Democratic leaders tested the waters among members in moderate or pro-Trump districts to gauge their appetite for holding the inquiry vote, which could be uncomfortable for some. While Congress has been out of session for the last two weeks, polls show public support for the impeachment inquiry. So there was some hope that a vote might be easier for some.

But several lawmakers remained opposed to a vote, saying they did not want to appear to be bowing to GOP pressure or concede to the argument that without a vote, the inquiry is not legitimate.

Rep. Norma Torres, D-Calif., said Trump cannot be allowed to dictate the terms of the impeachment process. “He is not in a position to demand anything,” she said. “The only position that he’s in should be to give us all the information that we’re requesting.”

Pelosi announced three weeks ago that Democrats would begin a formal inquiry, a move that doesn’t require a vote on the House floor, though one was held during the Nixon and Clinton impeachment inquiries.

Democrats have faced pressure from Republicans to hold the House floor vote, arguing that no lawmaker should escape the political ramifications of such a consequential vote.

Holding a vote would undercut a key GOP talking point against the inquiry — that Democrats are conducting a sham, partisan inquiry that gives Republicans little right to participate.

White House officials specifically cited the lack of a House vote in their letter declaring that they wouldn’t participate in the inquiry. But even with a vote, few expect the White House would then cooperate.

Republicans may hope that a formal resolution will include language giving them more powers to participate in the inquiry, such as subpoenaing their own witnesses. But it’s unclear what any resolution might say and it’s doubtful that Democrats would cede such power to the minority party.

“There’s no requirement that there be a floor vote,” Pelosi said earlier this month when asked why the House wouldn’t hold the vote. “That’s not anything that is excluded and, by the way, there’s some Republicans that are very nervous about our bringing that vote to the floor.”

The vote would be politically contentious for a handful of moderates in both parties. But Republicans may have more at stake. Only eight Democrats have not publicly supported an impeachment inquiry. All of them represent districts that Trump won — and five of them are districts where Trump won substantially, by more than 10 percentage points.

Several other moderate Democrats saw little public backlash for their inquiry support during the recess. In fact, Rep. Max Rose, D-N.Y., was applauded at a town hall meeting this month when he announced his support for an inquiry for the first time.

But while a vote would force those moderate Democrats to pick a side, it would force Republicans to do so as well. GOP lawmakers, who have overwhelmingly stuck with Trump through the House’s impeachment investigation, would have to decide whether the president’s actions warrant an inquiry.

A vote would come as the House’s investigation is already in process. Four former or current administration officials have already testified behind closed doors. And more officials are expected for the rest of the week.

That’s despite the White House refusal to participate. Energy Secretary Perry said Tuesday that he would abide by the White House’s noncompliance policy as he faces a deadline of Friday to comply with a subpoena to turn over documents. “We will address it as the White House deems appropriate,” he said.

Pence and the Office of Management and Budget signaled similar intentions to defy House subpoenas.

On Tuesday, lawmakers questioned George Kent, the deputy assistant secretary of State responsible for Ukraine, about Rudolph W. Giuliani’s work in his role as the president’s personal lawyer to push Ukraine’s government to open an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, and to persuade Trump to recall former Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch from her post in Kyiv earlier this year.

Kent, still a State Department employee, was instructed by the White House not to appear but ultimately showed up after the House Intelligence Committee issued a subpoena.


(Times staff writer Eli Stokols contributed to this report.)


©2019 Los Angeles Times

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