The House will start an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump as a swell of Democrats denounce the president over alleged abuses of power, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Tuesday.
Gathering pressure finally broke through the speaker's reluctance to start impeachment proceedings. Concerns have mounted about the president's efforts to push Ukraine to investigate the family of former Vice President Joe Biden, one of his top rivals for the presidency in 2020. At least 187 House members have now backed some action on impeachment, and the number ballooned this week as centrist Democrats and vulnerable freshman lawmakers joined their ranks.
"The actions of the Trump presidency revealed the dishonorable fact of the president's betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security and betrayal of integrity of our elections," Pelosi said in remarks to the nation. "Therefore, today, I'm announcing the House of Representatives is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry. I'm directing our six committees to proceed with their investigations under that umbrella of impeachment inquiry."
Pelosi announced the inquiry after huddling with key House committee chairs, the Democratic leadership team and finally her entire caucus. Her change of heart on the issue came quickly. The speaker has long called impeachment "divisive" as her party tries not to rile up Republican voters ahead of a 2020 election in which Democrats hope to keep their House majority and deny Trump a second term in the White House.
Trump quickly fired off four tweets in response to Pelosi. He saw the inquiry as another Democratic attempt to unfairly target him and distract from his successes in office. The president used the familiar "witch hunt" and "presidential harassment" refrains he deployed during the investigation into Russian efforts to interfere in the 2016 election and his possible obstruction of the probe.
"So bad for our country!" Trump wrote of the impeachment proceedings.
In the meeting with her caucus, Pelosi cited national security concerns in moving forward, according to NBC News. She called it a "moment of truth." The speaker also told lawmakers the House would not set up a select committee on impeachment, meaning they will keep the investigation within their standing panels.
Democrats will take a rare step by starting the formal process of removing a president from office. Only three American presidents before Trump have faced serious impeachment proceedings, and Congress has never booted one from the White House. Even if Democrats eventually impeach Trump, the GOP-held Senate may never find him guilty and remove him from office.
Even so, the announcement marks a dramatic turn for the Democratic-held House. Pelosi held off calls to impeach the president after the special counsel's two-year Russia probe. Her remarks Tuesday follow a confusing period when House Democratic leaders insisted they had not started the impeachment process even as some lawmakers said an inquiry had started.
But the president's reported pressure on Ukraine moved even reluctant Democrats toward impeachment. During a July phone call, Trump pushed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky multiple times to probe the business dealings of Biden's son, Hunter, according to multiple reports. Some reports suggested Trump held up aid to Ukraine as he called for an investigation into Biden.
In tweets Tuesday, Trump said the call was "totally appropriate." The call is believed to be part of an intelligence community whistleblower complaint that congressional Democrats have urged the Trump administration to make available.
The president added that he authorized the Wednesday release of a complete transcript of his call with Zelensky. After Pelosi announced the start of impeachment proceedings, the president lamented that Pelosi and committee chairs had not seen the transcript.
Democrats have called to see the full complaint, saying it would hold key details about what information alarmed the whistleblower that is not contained in the call transcript. In her remarks Tuesday, Pelosi said acting Director of National Intelligence Joseph Maguire must release the complaint when he appears before Congress on Thursday. She called the administration's refusal to release the document a "violation of the law."
The House plans to vote Wednesday on a nonbinding resolution disapproving of the Trump administration's refusal to release the whistleblower complaint. The Senate unanimously passed a measure Tuesday calling for the document's release.
New calls to start impeachment proceedings came from across the House Democratic caucus this week. Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights icon who has represented Georgia in the House for more than 30 years, announced his support for an inquiry in a floor speech Tuesday.
Seven first-term lawmakers who won swing districts last year also made a splash by backing an inquiry Monday night. The lawmakers, who have military and intelligence backgrounds, cited national security concerns in putting their weight behind impeachment.
In typical proceedings, the House Judiciary Committee investigates and then can recommend articles of impeachment to the full chamber. With a simple majority vote, the House can effectively indict the president.
It is doubtful many House Republicans would join Democrats in voting to impeach Trump if articles of impeachment get to the floor. In remarks after Pelosi spoke, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said "our job is to legislate" rather than "continue to investigate ... when you cannot find a reason to impeach this president."
The Senate would then hold a trial where the Supreme Court chief justice presides. The chamber would need a two-thirds majority vote to convict the president and remove him from office.
As currently constituted, the Senate is unlikely to vote to convict Trump. In a statement Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., criticized the House speaker for a "rush to judgment."
Trump spent his Tuesday at the United Nations General Assembly, delivering a speech on his trade war with China and other foreign policy issues. Even so, he addressed the prospect of impeachment as reports emerged that the House would start an inquiry.
"If [Pelosi] does that, they all say that's a positive for me" in the 2020 election, he said, according to a White House pool reporter.
The House GOP's campaign arm also argued the move would backfire on Democrats.
"Make no mistake about it: backing impeachment will cost the Democrats their majority in 2020," National Republican Congressional Committee Chairman Rep. Tom Emmer, R-Ind., said in a statement.
Trump's prospective 2020 opponents, meanwhile, have lined up behind impeachment. Several Democratic primary candidates released statements supporting Pelosi's decision on Tuesday.
Most notably, Biden — who had not yet called for Congress to remove Trump from office — said Tuesday that he backs impeachment if the Trump administration does not release the whistleblower complaint.
"It's time for the Congress to fully investigate the conduct of this president," he said.