The firestorm over President Trump’s conversation with the president of Ukraine — and a seemingly related complaint by a whistleblower in the intelligence community — appears to be shifting some Democrats’ attitudes toward impeachment. By his own admission, Trump told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky that “we don’t want our people like Vice President Biden and his son [adding to] the corruption already in the Ukraine.” The conversation took place at a time when U.S. military aid to Ukraine was being held up.
The revelations about the Trump-Zelensky conversation could prove to be an inflection point. Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, who has been cautious about impeachment because of the possible harm it might cause to the reelection campaigns of Democrats from Trump-friendly districts, seems to be about to change course. She is reportedly exploring the possibility of a select committee to handle impeachment proceedings and, according to CNN, she plans to put some sort of Ukraine-related resolution before the House on Wednesday.
That could put pressure on Joseph Maguire, acting director of National Intelligence, to turn over to Congress the unnamed whistleblower’s complaint, which the intelligence community’s internal watchdog found to be “urgent” and “credible.” Maguire is scheduled to testify before the House Intelligence Committee on Thursday.
But the test of Pelosi’s seriousness will be whether she is willing to have the entire House vote on a resolution authorizing such an investigation. The impeachment investigations of Presidents Nixon and Clinton involved resolutions approved by votes of the entire House. So far the Democrats have been pursuing what critics call “impeachment lite” with an embryonic inquiry by the House Judiciary Committee headed by Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.).
A vote by the full House would signal the commitment of the Democratic majority to take the multitude of allegations against Trump seriously. And it would put Republicans on the defensive. If they vote against such a resolution, and more disclosures about Trump seep out, they will look even more like enablers of an out-of-control president. The difference between an inquiry explicitly authorized by a majority of the whole House and the Judiciary Committee’s self-contained effort isn’t just a procedural nicety.
Moreover, it doesn’t matter that Nadler already has started his inquiry. The House Judiciary Committee had been studying the possible impeachment of Nixon before the full House approved a resolution explicitly authorizing the inquiry and granting the panel special subpoena powers.
If Trump’s latest provocation convinces Pelosi that she needs to endorse an impeachment inquiry, she needs to go “heavy.”