Michigan Democrats, GOP divide on impeachment inquiry vote

Keith Laing
The Detroit News

Washington — Michigan's House delegation voted along party lines Thursday and narrowly supported the chamber's approval of a resolution creating a formal impeachment inquiry process for its investigation of President Donald Trump. 

The House voted 233-196 for the official impeachment inquiry. Michigan's seven Democrats — including freshmen Reps. Haley Stevens of Rochester Hills and Elissa Slotkin of Holly — joined independent Rep. Justin Amash of Cascade Township in approving the inquiry.

"Today I voted for a resolution to open procedures for public hearings and authorize the public release of deposition transcripts," Stevens tweeted Thursday

"This is not a vote to impeach the President," she added. "The House is following a deliberate, fair process to make sure the American people have all the facts."

House members vote on the House resolution to move forward with procedures for the next phase of the impeachment inquiry into President Trump in the House Chamber on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Oct. 31, 2019.

Michigan's six Republicans, including the delegation's senior member Fred Upton of St. Joseph, voted against it. Upton has supported an investigation to get the facts about Trump's July phone call with the Ukrainian president in which Democrats accuse Trump of seeking an investigation of Democratic rival Joe Biden's family in return for U.S. aid, but he wants far less secrecy in the House Intelligence Committee's hearings. 

The approved rules define how the House Intelligence Committee would eventually transition to public hearings, the issuance of a report and the release of transcripts of the closed-door interviews it has been conducting. It would be up to the Judiciary Committee whether to recommend the House impeach Trump.

The Michigan Republicans sent a letter Wednesday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi urging her to inject more transparency into the impeachment inquiry resolution that set the rules for the official probe.

"This president will be in power for only a short time, but excusing his misbehavior will forever tarnish your name," Amash tweeted ahead of Thursday's vote. "To my Republican colleagues: Step outside your media and social bubble. History will not look kindly on disingenuous, frivolous, and false defenses of this man." 

U.S. Rep. Brenda Lawrence, D-Southfield, directly defended the inquiry.

"“I am concerned that President Trump may have withheld much-needed aid to one of our allies in exchange for an investigation into an American citizen," Lawrence said. "We must continue this investigation and bring all of the information before the American people." 

But Upton as well as Reps. Tim Walberg of Tipton, Bill Huizenga of Zeeland, John Moolenaar of Midland, Paul Mitchell of Dryden and Jack Bergman of Watersmeet maintained their argument that the process has problems.

"While the resolution, H.Res 660, attempts to bring a veneer of transparency to the proceedings, it falls far short and instead continues to undermine the bedrock principle of due process,” the Michigan lawmakers wrote in the letter.

Upton later added in a Thursday statement that he voted against the resolution after listening to his constituents, though he "has been troubled by what has come out" about the Ukrainian controversy. But the process has been marred by closed-door hearings and information available only to select members of the House, he said.

"Legitimate questions remain to be answered," Upton said. "But I have been frustrated by how closed-off the process has been so far. This is not how this is supposed to work in any committee, and I believe the resolution we voted on today would fail to put an end to the lack of transparency we have seen throughout this investigation."

Under the rules, Republicans could only issue subpoenas for witnesses if the appropriate committee approves them. It gives Democrats veto power that they argue the majority has traditionally wielded during impeachment inquiries.

Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Flint Township, argued the inquiry is a "tool of last resort" and "a necessary step to uphold and defend our Constitution."

"The President of the United States, by his own admission, used his office to try and pressure a foreign government into investigating a political opponent," Kildee said in a statement. "In doing so, the president endangered our national security by withholding critical military assistance for his own personal gain." 

Walberg countered the "impeachment process has been broken from day one. 

“Today’s resolution does not provide the due process required of such a consequential inquiry and does nothing to eliminate secret depositions," Walberg said in a statement. "Instead, with the integrity of this process on the line, Speaker Pelosi chose to double down on secrecy and the flawed status quo. Repeatedly undermining the fundamental principles of fairness will leave the American people with no confidence in the credibility of these proceedings.”

Trump tweeted almost immediately after the vote: "The Greatest Witch Hunt In American History!" 

"The Impeachment Hoax is hurting our Stock Market," he tweeted earlier while the voting was taking place. "The Do Nothing Democrats don’t care!" 

Pelosi framed the impeachment inquiry as an effort by majority Democrats to fulfill their constitutional obligations to the country. 

"It's a sad day because nobody comes to Congress to impeach a president of the United States," Pelosi said at a Capitol press conference ahead of the Thursday vote. "... We take an oath to defend and protect the Constitution, and that's what we cannot ignore and we will not ignore, when the president's behavior indicates that investigation, that inquiry is necessary." 

Two Democrats representing GOP-leaning districts, Reps. Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, opposed the resolution. All Republicans opposed the measure. 

Four lawmakers — Reps. Jody Hicem, R-Georgia; Donald McEachin, D-Virginia; John Rose, R-Tenn.; and William Timmons, R-S.C. — did not vote on the resolution.