The Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee has passed a vote to set the rules for hearings on impeaching Donald Trump – a move seen as a major step forward in the panel’s investigations into the president.
The resolution passed on Thursday is a technical step, and the committee would still have to introduce impeachment articles against Mr Trump and win approval from the House to bring charges against him.
It’s unclear if that will ever happen, as house speaker Nancy Pelosi has urged caution on the issue, saying the public still isn’t yet supportive of taking those steps.
The president immediately responded on Twitter with a quote he attributed to Al Green, one of the first Democrats to call for an impeachment vote: “‘We can’t beat him, so let’s impeach him!’ Democrat Rep. Al Green,” Mr Trump wrote.
It was not immediately clear whether the congressman had in fact said that exact quote, though in a TV interview in May he said: “I’m concerned that if we don’t impeach the president, he will get re-elected.”
Despite the Democratic leadership’s reticence, the committee pressed forward, with chair Jerrold Nadler saying: “We have a constitutional, historical, and moral obligation to fully investigate these matters.”
Before the vote, he said: “Let us take the next step in that work without delay. I urge my colleagues to adopt this resolution, and I yield back.”
The vote passed on party lines, with all Democrats voting in favour of the resolution and all Republicans voting in opposition.
However, even if the house does recommend impeachment charges against the president, the Republican-led Senate is unlikely to convict him and remove him from office. Mr Nadler has said that the committee will push forwards with impeachment hearings this autumn, bolstered by lawmakers on the panel who roundly support the move.
The vote on Thursday set rules for those hearings, empowering staff to question witnesses, allowing some evidence to remain private and permitting the president’s counsel to respond to testimony.
The committee says that the resolution is similar to procedural votes taken at the beginning of the impeachment investigations into presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.
“The adoption of these additional procedures is the next step in that process and will help ensure our impeachment hearings are informative to congress and the public, while providing the president with the ability to respond to evidence presented against him,” Mr Nadler said in a statement. “We will not allow Trump’s continued obstruction to stop us from delivering the truth to the American people.”
The committee has also filed two lawsuits against the administration after the White House repeatedly blocked the panel from obtaining documents and testimony. Ms Pelosi has said she wants to see what happens in court before making any decisions on impeachment.
The first hearing under the new impeachment rules would be with Corey Lewandowski on 17 September.
Mr Lewandowski, the president’s former campaign manager, was frequently mentioned in former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, which the committee has been investigating.
According to the report, Mr Trump asked Mr Lewandowski to deliver a message to then-attorney general Jeff Sessions, asking him to limit the federal probe.
The committee has also invited two other witnesses mentioned in the report, former White House aides Rick Dearborn and Rob Porter. The White House has previously blocked former employees from testifying, but Mr Lewandowski never officially worked for the White House.
Associated Press contributed to this report
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