WASHINGTON — In its first vote related to the impeachment of President Donald Trump, the House on Thursday approved largely along party lines a resolution affirming its investigation and setting rules for public hearings to be held in the coming weeks.
The resolution passed 232 to 196.
All Republicans, who have complained about being shut out of the process, voted against the measure, calling it too little, too late. Two Democrats — Reps. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey and Collin Peterson of Minnesota — joined them.
House Foreign Affairs ranking Republican Michael McCaul of Texas told CNN before the vote that the procedures set in the resolution don't do much. "It's a little cosmetic," McCaul said.
Republicans have argued that the inquiry is invalid because until Thursday there had been no House vote to establish it. And the White House has used the lack of a vote as justification for not complying with the investigation. Democrats and a federal judge noted that a vote is not required under House rules or the Constitution.
But Democrats say the measure will improve transparency and allow Americans to learn more about what witnesses have been saying behind closed doors since the inquiry began last month.
"It's something I think we all felt we needed to do to get to the next stage where we have public hearings," said Rep. Tom Malinowski (D-N.J.).
Democrats and Republicans saw Thursday's vote as an initial proxy for how members will potentially vote on impeachment, though that decision is still weeks away.
Included in the resolution is the authority to make public the transcripts of nearly a dozen depositions taken behind closed doors over the last few weeks, something that could prove pivotal as Democrats work to convince their colleagues, and the public, of the case for impeaching Trump.
The resolution gives Republicans subpoena power, but only with the approval of the chairman or full committee.
The resolution also sets the parameters for when and how Trump can participate in the House process, allowing his counsel to participate in any hearings held by the House Judiciary Committee, the committee that will ultimately decide whether there is enough evidence to recommend articles of impeachment against the president. That means the counsel can suggest witnesses, offer evidence, cross-examine witnesses or object to questions.
But the resolution also limits that participation to the discretion of the committee chairman, stating that if the administration refuses to comply with the investigation, the Judiciary Committee chairman can choose to deny their requests.
It also authorizes the House Intelligence Committee to continue to hold private meetings in the secure information bunker below the Capitol visitors' center. It will hold public meetings at some point.
Republicans say that role is inappropriate because it will distract from the other business of the Intelligence Committee, and heighten partisan tensions on a panel that was once viewed as bipartisan.
"After today the House Intelligence Committee ceases to exist. We now have a full-fledged impeachment committee in the basement of the Capitol," said Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.), the ranking Republican on the committee.
Nunes faced similar complaints about injecting partisan politics into the committee when he was chairman in 2017 and had to apologize for sharing information arising from the Russian election interference investigation with the White House before disclosing it to members of his own committee. Under his chairmanship, the committee also split along party lines over whether Trump's 2016 campaign acted appropriately in its contacts with Russians.