Despite all the headlines and breathless commentary on impeachment from the media, House Democrats have yet to hold a vote that would formally — constitutionally — authorize an impeachment inquiry.
What is Speaker Nancy Pelosi worried about?
Last week, she seem poised to bring the issue of impeachment to the floor of the House for a vote. But yesterday, Pelosi decided to once again delay a vote.
After back-to-back meetings with party leaders and then the full caucus, Pelosi announced that no such vote would take place. Democratic aides emphasized, however, that the process remains fluid and that Pelosi may reverse course and stage such a vote at any point in the future.
“There’s no requirement that we have a vote, and so at this time we will not be having a vote,” Pelosi told reporters during a last-minute press briefing in the Capitol.
Pelosi’s major headache is that there are two parties represented in the House and one of them is going to do its best to draw the process out and throw a monkey wrench into Democratic plans. Democrats are worried because Republicans will almost certainly demand documents and testimony relating to Joe Biden’s own role in the Ukraine. For these reasons, Pelosi has hesitated to formalize the impeachment process, allowing Democrats the luxury of freezing the GOP out of the various investigations.
The decision arrives as Trump and his Republican allies are amping up the pressure on Pelosi to hold a formal vote to begin the investigation — a move they believe would grant the GOP more power and influence in the process, including the ability to call and subpoena their own witnesses.
“The minority has been shut out of the process,” Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), the ranking member on the Foreign Affairs Committee, told reporters Tuesday. “It is being done in a … classified briefing room behind closed doors when it should be in front of the American people so that all can see in a very transparent way the testimony of these witnesses.”
The lack of a formal process has allowed the White House to stonewall Democrats, the argument being that without a vote by the House, the president and his people are not legally bound to turn over any document or obey any subpoenas. It’s a thin argument and Democrats would probably win in a federal court, but Pelosi and the Democratic leadership don’t want to take that chance.
It still doesn’t fully explain delaying a full House vote. One Democratic congressmen doesn’t think a vote is necessary.
“I don’t consider it necessary myself,” said Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.). “I think all these process arguments are diversions, put out there by people who don’t want to talk about the substance because the substance is so incredibly damaging.”
He didn’t mention that the “process arguments” are “constitutional process” arguments. The Judiciary Committee needs a formal vote to begin impeachment proceedings. Anything less would appear illegitimate in the eyes of the public.
Another reason that Pelosi may be hesitating is that Democrats may have a hard time agreeing on just what they want to impeach Trump for. If the caucus can’t agree on reasons to boot Trump, they will expose impeachment as the irrational outburst of rage that it is.