Although it isn’t constitutionally required, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi is right to hold a House vote to formally authorize the impeachment inquiry and establish rules to govern the process. As I’ve argued before, an authorization vote is important to give such a momentous process the strongest possible foundation of legitimacy.
It is, of course, something Republicans have been demanding, so if the House formally authorizes the impeachment inquiry on Thursday, that should address their biggest process objection. Rest assured it won’t, however. They will merely generate new grievances. After all, it’s easier to inveigh against the process than to defend the president’s misconduct.
Misconduct sufficient to justify such an inquiry is now well established. As has been made clear in written statements and testimony reported from the closed Intelligence Committee hearings, the Trump administration tried to twist US foreign policy toward Ukraine to serve the president’s political purposes. Most damningly, he wanted Ukraine to open an investigation into the completely unsupported allegation that, while vice president, Joe Biden pushed Ukraine to fire a prosecutor because he was investigating Hunter Biden in connection with his role on the board of a Ukrainian natural gas company.
For anyone able to read and reason, the president’s pressure campaign was obvious from the rough transcript of his July 25 call with Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky. And for anyone without those important civic skills? Well, none other than Mick Mulvaney, the White House Acting chief of staff, subsequently confirmed the Trump administration had delayed US aid to pressure Ukraine to investigate a crackpot conspiracy theory. Although Mulvaney later denied the clear meaning of his own comments, that effort was so pathetic as to be painful to watch.
And besides, his attempt at (self-directed) damage control was itself rendered moot by Bill Taylor, a career public servant and top US diplomat in Ukraine, whose opening statement demolished any lingering doubt about what the president was demanding of Ukraine. So it should now be clear to everyone that Donald Trump and personal attorney Rudy Giuliani were, to repurpose a line from another time, behaving like rogue elephants on a partisan rampage.
On Tuesday, Lieutenant Colonel Alexander Vindman, a top National Security Council aide on Ukraine policy, underlined his own concerns about the president’s push to get Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. In particular, Vindman said that when a Ukrainian delegation sought a meeting between their president and Trump, Gordon Sondland, Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, “started to speak about Ukraine delivering specific investigations in order to secure the meeting with the President.” That, mind you, comes from someone from inside Trump’s own White House.
The president’s tinny tactic has been to accuse his critics of being “never Trumpers” and to equate them with “human scum.” In Vindman’s case, Trump’s lackeys and hacks have questioned his loyalty to the United States. That, wondrous to relate, brought an objection from Republican Liz Cheney of Wyoming, usually ready at a moment’s notice to man the Republican ramparts in any political battle.
“It is shameful to question their patriotism, their love of this country,” Cheney said.
It’s odd to hear a Republican member of congress speak of shame these days. As with independence, the ability to feel shame has largely been shorn from a servile GOP in the Trump era.
Now, however, Republicans will have to decide what they are made of.
Mind you, Thursday’s vote isn’t the truly tough one. It’s not a roll call on whether to approve articles of impeachment and send them to the Senate. Rather, it’s only to formalize the current inquiry and hold public hearings.
If they vote no, Republicans will be saying that they aren’t at all concerned about the president’s attempt to weaponize US foreign policy. With their no votes, they will be declaring they put president over principle, party over country.