WASHINGTON – It’s official: President Donald Trump is the subject of a U.S. House impeachment inquiry.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced Tuesday that the legislative body is moving forward with an “official impeachment inquiry” into the president in the wake of reports that he pressured the Ukranian president to investigate his political opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.
“The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law,” Pelosi said after a meeting Tuesday afternoon with the House Democratic caucus.
“The actions taken to date by the president have seriously violated the constitution,” she added. She said she had directed six committee leaders already investigating the president to continue under the framework of a formal impeachment inquiry.
The announcement came after escalating pressure within the Democratic caucus to launch an official impeachment probe, a topic that has divided the caucus so far this year.
Some Democrats have been pushing for impeachment for months, but many moderates and leaders of the party were reluctant to take what could be a politically perilous route for some. But in light of recent reports about Trump pressuring the Ukranian president, moderate Democrats and leaders said there was no alternative to impeachment proceedings.
According to The New York Times, 180 members of the House have publicly backed an impeachment inquiry by Tuesday evening, representing more than two-thirds of the Democratic caucus and one independent lawmaker, Justin Amash from Michigan. Impeachment backers would need 218 votes for the House to approve articles of impeachment.
House lawmakers said they expect the chamber to move forward rapidly on the matter, although the exact timeline remains unclear. The House is slated to go on recess for the next two weeks.
Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire is expected to testify before the House Intelligence Committee Sept. 26. Lawmakers have demanded he turn over a whistleblower’s complaint related to Trump’s call with the Ukranian president. House Democrats announced a vote Wednesday on a resolution expressing disapproval over the administration blocking the release of the complaint.
Democrats stressed that the Ukraine controversy offers a clear trigger for the impeachment inquiry that isn’t as complicated as some of their other allegations, like accusations that Trump has violated the emoluments clause or claims that he obstructed justice.
“People don’t know what emoluments are, but they get this. Or, how do you prove collusion, but you get this. Those things will continue and they’re still egregious, but this is something that’s easier to put out in a tweet, or easier to explain,” said Rep. Dina Titus (D-Nev.).
Her staff was keeping track of the calls coming in Tuesday. She estimated her office got about 50 calls about impeachment only two were against it.
Titus said the official inquiry brings a new urgency to the investigations and that there were discussions about bringing lawmakers back early from the scheduled recess to dig in.
Impeachment prospects in the Senate are far from certain. It appears highly unlikely that the GOP-controlled chamber would vote to convict Trump after an impeachment trial, if the proceedings went that far.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) accused Democrats of an “obsession with relitigating 2016” on Tuesday.
He said Pelosi’s announcement “confirms that House Democrats’ priority is not making life better for the American people but their nearly three-year-old fixation on impeachment.”
Meanwhile, the Senate voted unanimously Tuesday for the whistleblower complaint to be turned over to congressional intelligence committees.
As impeachment talk dominated Capitol Hill, Trump tweeted Tuesday, “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT” and “total Witch Hunt Scam by the Democrats.” Trump also said he authorized the release of the transcript of his call.
Late Tuesday, Politico reported that Trump had also approved releasing the whistleblower complaint that should have been sent to Congress weeks ago, under federal law.
House Republicans similarly decried Democrats’ decision to plow ahead with impeachment proceedings.
Rep. Denver Riggleman, a freshman Republican from Virginia who serves on the Judiciary Committee, called the announcement a “head scratcher.” He said Democrats have wanted to impeach Trump since his 2016 election.
“As a new congressman, it just feels like we can’t get anything done for our districts as they continue down this rabbit hole and it’s very frustrating,” he said.
Rep. Paul Gosar, a Republican from Prescott, said Democrats will suffer political consequences.
“Good luck,” Gosar said. “It’s caustic.”