So this is how the impeachment of President Donald Trump is going to go.
The House this morning cast its first vote in a process that could lead to just the third Senate impeachment trial of a president in U.S. history. When Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced plans for the vote earlier this week, there was at least some promise of drama: Which House Democrats would defect? How many Republicans might defy Trump to back a formal impeachment inquiry that a few of them had signaled their support for?
After all, this was a vote that Republicans and the White House had been demanding for weeks—an official resolution that took the ambiguity and the secrecy out of the closed-door process Democrats had been conducting, a means of forcing every lawmaker to go on record in support of or in opposition to the impeachment inquiry. Pelosi, who had resisted holding such a vote for more than a month, had given in.
Yet when lawmakers gathered in the House chamber this morning, the actual tally turned out to be like so many others in Congress: party-line and partisan, a mere formality. Not a single House Republican voted with Democrats to affirm the impeachment. Not Representative Mark Amodei of Nevada, who had briefly backed the inquiry in the early going. Or Representative Will Hurd of Texas, the ex-CIA officer who earlier this month called Trump’s demand that Ukraine investigate former Vice President Joe Biden “terrible.” Or even Representative Francis Rooney of Florida, who had voiced his openness to impeachment and then promptly announced his retirement from Congress.
The only non-Democrat to vote for the resolution was Representative Justin Amash of Michigan, the former Republican who abandoned his party earlier this year. (Two Democrats voted against it: Representative Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey and Collin Peterson of Minnesota, both of whom represent districts that backed Trump in 2016.)
Count this initial vote as a win for the president, then, however modest and fleeting it might prove to be. Trump’s critics will dismiss the vote as a procedural affair, which is almost always a straight party-line vote in the House. But in other ways, this resolution—merely affirming an impeachment investigation, not judging any articles themselves—should have been the easiest for Republicans to go along with. Instead, lawmakers once again retreated to their corners of comfort. Trump will begin the formal impeachment process with his party still behind him, the House having sent a signal of GOP unity to potential wobblers in the Senate.
When the vote was over, Republicans, led by Representative Morgan Griffith of Virginia, briefly protested, demanding that the resolution be reconsidered. “Rules! Order!” they shouted. Democrats ignored them, moving on to their next order of business. The House was scheduled to leave Washington for a week-long recess, and lawmakers had planes to catch.
The debate that preceded the resolution mirrored the respective talking points that have dominated cable and internet chatter for weeks. Democrats spoke in grave and solemn tones, invoking the Constitution and vowing, as Pelosi declared during her turn to speak, to “defend our democracy.” Republicans complained about the process outlined in the resolution, denouncing it as “a sham” that was unfair to the president. While Democrats argued that their inquiry would give Trump the same or even more rights than were afforded to Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton before him, Republicans pointed out that the resolution gave Democratic chairmen such as the Intelligence Committee’s Adam Schiff too much latitude to stack the deck.
“This is not a fair process, nor was it ever intended to be,” GOP Representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma said. “It was preordained from the beginning.”
Democrats tried to insist otherwise. “We are not here in some partisan exercise,” declared Representative Jim McGovern of Massachusetts, the Democratic sponsor of the impeachment resolution.
That may have been the Democrats’ intention, and it was one pursued out of necessity: It would ultimately take both parties’ participation to impeach and remove Trump from office. But it was not the outcome, at least in this initial vote. Republicans don’t have much say as the minority party in the House, but they have the power, with their votes, to determine what’s partisan and what’s not. And this morning, they voted to make impeachment a partisan exercise, to the benefit of Donald Trump.
Elaine Godfrey contributed reporting.