Just after 5 p.m. on Tuesday, Nancy Pelosi formally endorsed an impeachment inquiry into Donald Trump’s behavior in office. The announcement was largely expected by the time the House Speaker took the lectern—despite her reluctance to use the “I-word” as recently as last week. For months, the top Democratic lawmaker has stopped short of supporting impeachment, arguing that it would further divide an already politically broken America. But her backing of an inquiry, which the majority of her caucus has been clamoring for for weeks, marks a sharp turning point for the Democratic Party and perilous new territory for Trump. “Today I’m announcing the House of Representatives is moving forward with an official impeachment inquiry,” Pelosi said. “The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law.”
After months of slow-walking, the breaking point for Pelosi was the revelation that Trump had pressed the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate Joe Biden and his son Hunter in a July 25 phone call, amid the withholding of more than $391 million in aid to the country. As one congressional source put it, the steady drip of troubling reports about Trump’s interactions with the president of Ukraine created a situation wherein there appeared to be “no off-ramp right now for avoiding impeachment.”
“I can say with authority that the Trump administration’s actions undermine both our national security and our intelligence and our protections of the whistleblowers,” Pelosi said. “The actions of the Trump presidency revealed dishonorable facts of the president’s betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of national security, and betrayal of the integrity of our elections.”
Pelosi’s highly anticipated press conference immediately followed a meeting of the full 235-member Democratic caucus. A source familiar with the dynamics in the closed-door meeting described the mood as “somber,” and said Pelosi presented as having no “sense of urgency or pressure”—despite the gravity of the moment. On Wednesday the House is also expected to take a vote on a resolution condemning Trump’s alleged interactions with Zelensky. And in addition to publicly blessing an impeachment inquiry, during a 3:30 p.m. meeting with leadership on Tuesday, Pelosi also tasked the heads of five investigative committees—House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs, Oversight, Ways and Means, and Financial Services—with turning over any evidence they have collected across their various Trump-focused probes to the Judiciary Committee, according to two sources familiar with the matter.
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler had previously requested evidence from four of the investigatory committees in August. The idea, according to sources, is to consolidate all the investigatory evidence under the Judiciary Committee, which would be responsible for drafting articles of impeachment that could eventually be introduced to the House floor for a formal vote. Among Democrats on the panel who have been at the frontline of the impeachment debate, this wouldn’t be a heavy lift. “The articles of impeachment are pretty much writing themselves at this point, and we are going to have to boil down the president’s misconduct to a handful of easily understandable and coherent points of criminal misconduct. I think his day of constitutional reckoning is coming soon,” Congressman Jamie Raskin told me Tuesday morning.
While certainly a sharp symbolic escalation in the investigation into President Trump, it was not immediately clear on Tuesday evening where things will go from here. The Speaker did not provide a timeline for the impeachment inquiry. And she had already signed off on the “impeachment investigation” the House Judiciary Committee has been conducting since the days immediately following Robert Mueller’s congressional appearance. Beyond that, it’s unclear what form this new probe will take. What’s more, while more than 170 Democrats are publicly in support of an impeachment inquiry, the total still falls short of the 218 votes needed to clear the House. (Though it would be safe to assume that Pelosi’s support will sway some remaining fence-sitters.)
As Raskin explained, “Assuming that articles of impeachment were to be voted out of the Judiciary Committee, they would go to the floor of the House, there would be debate on the floor, and there would be a group of impeachment managers who would be sent over to the U.S. Senate to bring the case and to try to persuade the Senate to see things our way.” This group, Raskin said, would likely include lawmakers who both do and do not sit on the Judiciary Committee.