(Bloomberg) -- Speaker Nancy Pelosi said the House is opening a formal impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, saying he’s violated his oath of office and obligations under the Constitution.
“The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law,” Pelosi said at a news conference Tuesday after a closed-door meeting with her party.
She said that six separate committees will be reporting to her on their findings related to Trump’s actions while in office under the umbrella of a formal inquiry.
It’s not clear how much it will change the direction of existing investigations. Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler has already described his panel’s inquiry as an impeachment investigation and several other committees already have been holding hearings on Trump’s conduct. There was no announcement of a vote on the floor to endorse an inquiry, and Pelosi’s action doesn’t necessarily mean it will lead to actual charges against the president.
@repjohnlewis, who has been reluctant to call for Trump's impeachment, said the Ukraine developments have changed his mind https://t.co/FBnwigPMhL pic.twitter.com/HCjcUG8JEh
— Bloomberg Politics (@bpolitics) September 24, 2019
Still, the announcement is an escalation of the months-long confrontation between the House and the president. After previously tamping down calls from many Democrats to begin impeachment proceedings, Pelosi is now shifting to support the effort despite concerns within her party that the Republican-controlled Senate will continue shielding the president.
QuickTake: All You (and Trump) Should Know About Impeachment
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell was among several Republicans who jumped to Trump’s defense, accusing Democrats of trying to reverse the 2016 election. “The result has been a two-and-a-half-year impeachment parade in search of a rationale,” he said in a statement.
Pelosi’s move comes as a stream of Democrats over the past two days lined up to call for action after revelations that Trump pushed Ukraine’s government to investigate Joe Biden, now the front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2020. Most significant were the calls from a group of first-term Democrats elected from Republican-leaning districts, where backing impeachment is politically risky.
As Pelosi was speaking, Trump dismissed the move by Democrats as “witch hunt garbage.”
The new urgency among Democrats was sparked by a complaint from a whistle-blower in the intelligence community who raised alarms over the president’s interactions with a foreign leader.
Trump withheld military aid for Ukraine days before telling President Volodymyr Zelenskiy he should investigate Biden and his son Hunter, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company. Trump has described part of the conversation publicly this week but said he did nothing wrong.
The House and Senate Intelligence committees are set to question Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire this week about the whistle-blower complaint. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House intelligence panel, said the whistle-blower’s lawyer told them his client would like to speak to the committee.
The Senate on Tuesday unanimously adopted a nonbinding resolution calling for the administration to immediately transmit the whistle-blower’s complaint to the Senate and House intelligence panels. McConnell, a Kentucky Republican, said he initially was reluctant to back a “made for TV moment” offered by Senate Democrat but said he would relent and stated he expects a bipartisan Senate panel examination of the matter.
Separately, Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer said the chamber would vote Wednesday on a resolution “making it clear Congress’s disapproval of the administration’s effort to block the release of the complaint and the need to protect the whistle-blower.
Trump announced on Twitter Tuesday that he’d release a complete transcript of a telephone call with the president of Ukraine. He said Secretary of State Michael Pompeo got permission from the Ukraine government to release it and that “They don’t know either what the big deal is.”
He didn’t say whether he’d release the complaint from the whistle-blower, which has been blocked by the White House.
Biden said he would back House efforts to impeach Trump if the White House refuses to comply with congressional demands for information.
“I can take the political attacks,” Biden told reporters in Wilmington, Delaware. “ But if we allow a president to get away with shredding the United States Constitution, that will last forever.”
Up to now, Pelosi has throttled back the furor for impeachment among Democrats in safe seats as she looked to protect members facing re-election in districts won by Trump in 2016. But many of them began calling for action over the past two days, even though they remain unsure about the political implications.
“There’s people who call my office pushing for impeachment, there’s people who call my office saying, ‘Please don’t drag us into this,’” said Michigan Representative Elissa Slotkin, who defeated an incumbent Republican in 2018. “It wasn’t that I read the tea leaves in my district, it’s that the specter of this particular set of incidents crossed the Rubicon for me on a national security issue, on a constitutional issue.”
New Jersey Representative Mikie Sherrill, one of several first-term lawmakers from swing districts who now back an impeachment inquiry, said Trump’s actions are “a clear violation of our national security.”
Still, she said, “This is so new. I’m not sure how the voters will receive this.”
(Adds Republican reaction, Trump tweet on transcripts beginning in seventh paragraph.)
--With assistance from Laura Litvan, Steven T. Dennis and Daniel Flatley.
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