On Thursday, five weeks after Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump, the House adopted a resolution confirming that inquiry. The timing is somewhat confusing: The House has had success in several recent court cases, and there’s nothing in the Constitution or in House rules that requires it to adopt a resolution to conduct an impeachment inquiry. So why now?
So far, the impeachment investigation has developed in mostly the same way as previous congressional investigations and impeachments. The recent depositions and testimonies taken by the Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, and Oversight Committees are similar to the discovery process done by the Senate’s Select Committee on Watergate. It, too, was an investigative arm; a formal impeachment inquiry wasn’t initiated in the House until a year later, in February 1974.
The depositions and evidence fundamental to Richard Nixon’s impeachment occurred through Congress’s normal oversight authority and capacity. It also eroded both his political support on Capitol Hill and his public approval, which plummeted 41 points between January of 1973 and January of 1974.
So for now, given the House’s support from the courts and ability to obtain critical information in the Ukraine scandal, you would think that passing a resolution is unnecessary, or at least bad timing.
But the opposite is true: In cases like this, formalizing procedures establishes an unmistakable political and institutional intent. It is unlike political theater — press hits, speeches, storming a “sensitive compartmented information facility” at the Capitol — which politicians use to sway public opinion.
Procedures are where the rubber meets the road. Formalizing the impeachment investigation represents a significant shift from preliminary and largely behind-the-scenes work to much more public legal and political steps toward impeachment. It puts a spotlight on the elephant in the room: The political decisions have been made, and the House will impeach President Trump. [Continue reading…]