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Ruppersberger, Trone Warm to Impeachment as House Launches Official Inquiry

U.S. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) preparing to announce Tuesday that the House will launch a formal impeachment inquiry into President Trump. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

It’s official: President Trump is the subject of a U.S. House impeachment inquiry.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) announced Tuesday that they’re moving forward with an “official impeachment inquiry” into the president in the wake of reports that he pressured the Ukrainian president to investigate a political opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden.

“The president must be held accountable; no one is above the law,” Pelosi said after meeting Tuesday afternoon with the House Democratic caucus.

“The actions taken to date by the president have seriously violated the constitution,” she added. She said she had directed six committee chairmen already investigating the president to continue under the framework of a formal impeachment inquiry.

The announcement came after escalating pressure within the Democratic caucus to launch an official impeachment probe, a topic that has divided the caucus so far this year.

Some Democrats have been pushing for impeachment for months, but many moderates and leaders of the party were reluctant to take what could be a politically perilous route. But in light of recent reports about Trump pressuring the Ukrainian president, moderate Democrats and leaders said there was no alternative to impeachment proceedings.

Rep. C.A. Dutch Ruppersberger (D-Md.), who had been reluctant to embrace an impeachment inquiry, said he was moved by the latest scandal, calling it “the most credible abuse of power we have seen from the administration to date.”

“As a former prosecutor, I have resisted calls to begin formal impeachment proceedings against the President until we had clear, indisputable evidence that transcends politics,” Ruppersberger asserted. “Follow the facts, I’ve said. Jeopardizing our national security is where I draw the line. Withholding duly-appropriated money meant to aid a country that could be overtaken by Russia is reckless and dangerous.”

Ruppersberger, the former top Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, represents a Democratic district with pockets of blue-collar Trump supporters.

Similarly, freshman Rep. David J. Trone (D), who represents the most politically competitive district in the state, with huge swaths of Republican territory in Western Maryland, had not said much about impeachment – until now.

“The President has abused the office of the presidency and broken our public trust,” he said in a statement. Because of this, I support the Speaker’s decision to open an impeachment inquiry and do everything in our power to uncover the truth and save our democracy. ”

Every other Democrat in Maryland’s House delegation issued strong statements of support Tuesday for Pelosi’s newfound resolve to pursue impeachment.

House Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), one of the six committee leaders whose panels have been investigating the Trump administration since the Democrats regained control of Congress in January, said in a statement that he supported impeachment.

“When the history books are written about this tumultuous era, I want them to show that I was among those in the House of Representatives who stood up to lawlessness and tyranny,” he said.

And Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a former constitutional law professor, was succinct in a tweet, saying of Trump, “His day of constitutional reckoning is coming.”

According to The New York Times, 180 members of the House backed an impeachment inquiry by Tuesday evening, representing more than two-thirds of the Democratic caucus and one independent lawmaker, Justin Amash from Michigan, a former Republican. Impeachment backers would need 218 votes for the House to approve articles of impeachment.

House lawmakers said they expect the chamber to move forward rapidly on the matter, although the exact timeline remains unclear. The House is slated to go on recess for the next two weeks.

Acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire is expected to testify before the House Intelligence Committee Thursday. Lawmakers have demanded he turn over a whistleblower’s complaint related to Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president. House Democrats announced a vote Wednesday on a resolution expressing disapproval over the administration blocking the release of the complaint.

Democrats stressed that the Ukraine controversy offers a clear trigger for the impeachment inquiry that isn’t as complicated as some of their other allegations, like accusations that Trump has violated the emoluments clause or claims that he obstructed justice.

But impeachment prospects in the Senate are far from certain. It appears highly unlikely that the GOP-controlled chamber would vote to convict Trump after an impeachment trial, if the proceedings went that far.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Tuesday accused Democrats of an “obsession with relitigating 2016.”

He said Pelosi’s announcement “confirms that House Democrats’ priority is not making life better for the American people but their nearly three-year-old fixation on impeachment.”

Yet the Senate voted unanimously Tuesday for the whistleblower complaint to be turned over to congressional intelligence committees.

As impeachment talk dominated Capitol Hill, Trump tweeted Tuesday, “PRESIDENTIAL HARASSMENT” and “total Witch Hunt Scam by the Democrats.” Trump also said he authorized the release of the transcript of his call.

House Republicans similarly decried Democrats’ decision to plow ahead with impeachment proceedings.

Rep. Denver Riggleman, a freshman Republican from Virginia who serves on the Judiciary Committee, called the announcement a “head scratcher.” He said Democrats have wanted to impeach Trump since his 2016 election. “As a new congressman, it just feels like we can’t get anything done for our districts as they continue down this rabbit hole and it’s very frustrating.”

The lone Republican in the Maryland congressional delegation, Rep. Andrew P. Harris, had not released any public statements on impeachment by late Tuesday evening, but he is a fierce defender of Trump’s.

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Ruppersberger, Trone Warm to Impeachment as House Launches Official Inquiry