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House Votes To Formalize The Impeachment Inquiry As Proceedings Move Forward


The impeachment inquiry into President Trump has largely been playing out behind closed doors. That is about to change. This morning at the Capitol, House members voted on a resolution that sets the ground rules as these proceedings move ahead. And now the inquiry will be playing out in public before the House Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. NPR's Tim Mak has been tracking today's developments and joins me now from the Capitol. Hey, Tim.

TIM MAK, BYLINE: Hey there.

CHANG: So - all right. Making this next phase of the impeachment inquiry public - how might that phase unfold?

MAK: You know, Republicans had criticized Democrats for not holding open hearings and for not having authorized the proceedings with a full vote of the House, and today's vote was an effort by Democrats to take those arguments away. There will soon be open hearings where lawmakers will be questioning Trump administration witnesses on the conduct of the president.


NANCY PELOSI: It's a sad day because nobody comes to Congress to impeach a president of the United States - no one.

MAK: That's House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who used dramatic language to describe the new developments.


PELOSI: The times have found us, as they found our founders, to declare independence, to fight a war, to win it, to write our founding documents in a way that made us a republic.

MAK: Democrats are using the language of patriotism and the founding and the Constitution as the basis for their actions in the House. They're saying that the United States' system of a republic has been jeopardized by the president's alleged abuse of power.

CHANG: But at the same time, there were two Democrats who voted against this resolution to formalize the inquiry. How did they - how do they explain why they were doing that?

MAK: So those two were Congressman Jeff Van Drew and Collin Peterson; both represent seats where the voters lean Republican. Van Drew said he felt that if the inquiry didn't have bipartisan support, it would only serve to divide the country. And Peterson said that the impeachment inquiry has so far been, quote, "hopelessly partisan," and he said he had some serious concerns with the lack of transparency. So Republicans are seizing on these two votes to point out that there was a bipartisan vote today - that is, a bipartisan vote objecting to proceeding with an impeachment inquiry.

I'll also point out that an independent, Congressman Justin Amash, formerly a Republican, did support the impeachment inquiry proceeding.

CHANG: OK. Republicans, as we pointed out, have been very critical of the process because it was behind closed doors for weeks. So as the public phase gets underway, do you expect Republicans to shift gears with their arguments, their strategy?

MAK: Well, they're not quite done with criticizing the process. For example, Congressman Steve Scalise continues to call the impeachment inquiry a, quote, "Soviet-style" process. But as the impeachment inquiry opens up into public hearings, we're kind of noticing a little bit of a change. House Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy is now defending the substantive behavior of the president.


KEVIN MCCARTHY: By using secret interviews and selective leaks to portray the president's legitimate actions as an impeachable offense, Democrats are continuing their permanent campaign to undermine his legitimacy.

MAK: So as you can see, Republicans are defending the behavior of the president rather than just criticizing the nature of the Democratic-led investigation.

CHANG: OK. And as this vote was happening, a top national security council aide, Tim Morrison, was testifying behind closed doors today. What do we know about what he has been telling House committees?

MAK: So Morrison was on that now famous July 25 phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian president. He said he flagged the phone call for White House lawyers after the phone call occurred. He said he was worried that the call and the request could undermine bipartisan support in Washington, D.C., for the Ukrainian government. But like many Republicans, Morrison said he didn't think anything illegal had occurred.

Congressman Tom Malinowski, a Democrat, was in the room when the testimony was happening behind closed doors. He said that the question of illegality wasn't Morrison's call to make.


TOM MALINOWSKI: The only thing we're interested in here is figuring out what the facts are - not the opinions of various people, but what the facts are with respect to the president's conduct. It's for us to judge whether that's appropriate or not.

MAK: So going forward, we expect more closed-door depositions next week and then, soon after that, for open hearings - authorized today - to start.

CHANG: That's NPR's Tim Mak on Capitol Hill. Thanks, Tim.

MAK: Thanks a lot. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Tim Mak is NPR's Washington Investigative Correspondent, focused on political enterprise journalism.