Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Cal.), has again refused to hold a House floor vote to formally start an impeachment investigation. I have previously said that the allegation of self-dealing in the Ukrainian call could be an impeachable offense if a quid pro quo is established. However, Pelosi has undermined the position of the House by refusing to allow a vote that preceded the investigations in the Nixon and Clinton impeachments. As I stated in a recent column, this is a mistake if House Democrats are serious about pursuing an impeachment. Recently, in the case concerning Trump tax records, one of the three judges dissented on the basis that there has been no vote to establish the start of an impeachment investigation. Pelosi seems to believe that she can hold a press conference and expect courts to accept that a formal impeachment process has begun. Some judges are likely to be uncomfortable with such an immaculate impeachment.
Pelosi announced Tuesday that she will not hold the vote despite calls from many to follow past practices.
As I have previously discussed, the Constitution does not require anything other than a majority vote of the House to impeach a president. It is silent on the procedures used to reach that vote, and courts have largely deferred to Congress to create its own internal rules and processes in fulfilling constitutional functions. Historically, a vote of the chamber as a whole was required to commit a matter to the House Judiciary Committee or a select committee for an impeachment investigation of a sitting president.
The reason for that traditional practice is obvious. Before the House takes the momentous step toward impeachment of an American president, all of its members should be on record with that consequential action. Whether it was former President Nixon or former President Clinton, House members felt a responsibility to vote on whether to start the process. Most importantly, it gives clarity to a federal court in balancing congressional demands against executive privilege.
The “impeachment by press conference” action of Pelosi is an entirely new animal. After her press conference, I told The Washington Post that this was not any recognizable process and that the approach taken by Democrats on presidential impeachment was “casual to the point of being conversational.” It is now clear that the casual approach is by design. The question is ‘why’.