GOP looking to step up fight with Democrats over Trump impeachment


House Republicans are gearing up to make life as difficult as possible for Democrats in the impeachment articles markup hearing on Tuesday, signaling they have no intention of allowing Democrats to coast smoothly into their high-stakes vote to impeach President Trump later this week.

In a House Rules Committee markup scheduled for Tuesday morning, GOP lawmakers are expected to amplify their protests against Democrats’ two articles of impeachment — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — that argue Trump’s actions in Ukraine rise to the level of high crimes and misdemeanors.

The Rules Committee hearing follows closely on the heels of public impeachment forums staged by two other House panels — Intelligence and Judiciary — and it’s the last stop on the committee circuit before the Democrats bring those two articles to the House floor on Wednesday.

Chaired by Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), the Rules Committee is much smaller than the other panels and its esoteric function — to set the procedures governing activity on the floor — means its proceedings are frequently treated as a dry formality, largely ignored outside the Beltway. 

But the prominence of the impeachment debate — and the stakes underlying it — suggest Tuesday’s markup will be a different animal altogether, providing a new cast of lawmakers a made-for-TV platform from which to trumpet their closing arguments before the historic vote of the full House.

And the process is not limited to the 13 members of the panel. Any lawmakers outside the committee will be able to put forward an amendment, which means there is a long list of members who can argue for or against the merits of the two impeachment articles.

With that in mind, Democrats are anticipating Republicans will offer a long list of amendments designed to alter or eliminate the impeachment articles — or simply to put Democrats in a tough spot opposing the changes.

None of those proposals are expected to pass, as every Democrat on the Rules panel has already endorsed both articles. But with voters roughly split on whether Trump should be removed from office, the public debate carries outsize significance as both parties prepare to take their impeachment arguments to voters in 2020.

And Democrats are already forecasting that their GOP colleagues will seek to engage in a PR battle over the process and allegations of wrongdoing.

“I think it is really up to the Republicans and how they they continue with their political theater of fighting a process versus presenting actual witnesses and testimony on why they feel so strongly that the president is not guilty and is innocent of all these charges,” said Rep. Norma Torres (D-Calif.), a member of the Rules Committee.

Two key questions surrounding the eventual rule remain unresolved: How many hours of floor debate will be allowed? And how will they be divided between the various committees with jurisdiction over impeachment? Those details won’t be made clear until all the testimony is heard, likely late Tuesday afternoon.

Scheduled to testify before the panel are Reps. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) and Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the leaders of the Judiciary Committee, which approved the articles last week on a strict party-line vote. The witness table will then open up to any House lawmaker of either party who wishes to testify and potentially offer amendments.

As of late Monday night, Democrats on the committee had been informed of no forthcoming amendments, though that’s expected to change Tuesday morning.

All the amendments to be offered Tuesday are expected to come from the Republicans, though some Democrats have expressed a willingness to expand the articles against Trump.

Rep. Al Green (D-Texas), who has introduced past articles accusing Trump of sowing racial divisions, has floated the idea of introducing additional charges. And other Democrats have pushed for the impeachment resolution to encompass allegations of obstruction of justice, highlighted by former special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation, as well as violations of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause, which bars the president from accepting gifts or other benefits from foreign and domestic governments without congressional approval.

But with Democrats hoping to remain as unified as possible, it appears highly unlikely they would expand the articles beyond the Ukraine affair, in which Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce two investigations that would benefit him politically, including one into his 2020 political rival former Vice President Joe Biden.

The Rules hearing arrives after the House Judiciary Committee’s marathon debate on impeachment ended with even more strained relations than it began: Republicans accused Democrats of pulling a cheap procedural shot in order to get GOP members to stop putting forward amendments as the markup on the articles crept into the late hours of Thursday night.

Nadler shocked members on the Judiciary Committee by announcing that, once Republicans stopped putting forward amendments, that the vote would take place on Friday morning, when the country could watch.

Collins, the ranking member on the Judiciary panel, said Republicans received no heads up that the vote would be postponed.

“That was the most egregious violation of trust between a committee chairman and ranking member I think I’ve ever seen,” said Collins, who added that “there was no discussion” about the change of plans.

Republicans, still feeling short-changed, may be further fired up in their efforts to protest the articles this week.

Collins signaled as such on Monday, raising concerns that McGovern would adopt a “special rule” that would prevent GOP lawmakers from raising certain points of order when the articles go to the House floor and further delaying the process.

“If a special rule is adopted, the Rules Committee will have set a dangerous precedent that the Rules of the House don’t apply during impeachment proceedings. For that reason, I implore you not to waive points of order based on violations of the House rules arising from Committee consideration of the articles of impeachment,” Collins wrote in a letter to McGovern.

However the articles reach the floor, Democrats are hoping to move them out of the House and over to the Senate on Wednesday, sending a signal to future presidents that asking foreign leaders to investigate political rivals carries consequences. Voters, they hope, will be watching.

“I think for the most part, the American public has been paying some attention to this,” Torres said. “I think that they're seeing how Republicans are behaving.”

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