A divided House approved a resolution Thursday formally authorizing and articulating guidelines for the next phase of its impeachment inquiry, a move that signaled Democrats are on course to bring charges against President Donald Trump later this year.
The 232-to-196 vote, which hewed closely to party lines, was expected to fuel the partisan fighting that has accompanied every stage of the impeachment probe and much of the Trump presidency. Nearly all Democrats backed the resolution, and House Republicans, who spent weeks clamoring for such a vote, opposed it.
At issue is whether Trump abused the power of his office to pressure a foreign leader to investigate his domestic political rivals.
In remarks before the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., described the impeachment inquiry as a "solemn" and "prayerful" process - "not cause for any glee or comfort."
At the same time, Pelosi said, "I don't know why Republicans are afraid of the truth."
"Every member should support the American people hearing the facts for themselves," she said in a floor speech. "That is what this vote is about. It's about the truth. And what is at stake in all of this is nothing less than our democracy."
The White House blasted Democrats' "unhinged obsession with this illegitimate impeachment proceeding" in a statement following the vote.
"The Democrats are choosing every day to waste time on a sham impeachment - a blatantly partisan attempt to destroy the President," press secretary Stephanie Grisham stated.
Trump, who had no public events on his daily schedule, tweeted: "The Greatest Witch Hunt In American History!"
House Republicans echoed the White House in their criticism, describing the inquiry as an effort aimed at removing Trump from office.
"Democrats are trying to impeach the president because they are scared they can't defeat him at the ballot box," House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said on the floor before the vote, calling the opposing party's approach a "disaster for democracy."
"To my colleagues on the other side, I say this: Give the people back their power. Let them choose the next leader of the free world. Follow the principles of our Constitution. And do not dilute our democracy by interfering in elections from Washington," McCarthy said.
The House's resolution clears the way for nationally televised hearings as Democrats look to make their case to the American people that Trump should be impeached.
At the same time, House investigators were hearing testimony from Timothy Morrison, the top Russia and Europe adviser on the National Security Council, who was expected to corroborate testimony from a senior U.S. diplomat who gave the most detailed account of the alleged quid pro quo.
Democratic leaders expected that two to four of their members would vote against the resolution. In the end, Reps. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Jeff Van Drew, D-N.J., who represent Republican-leaning districts, opposed it.
Rep. Joe Cunningham, D-S.C., one of the few Trump-district Democrats who has been reluctant about backing an impeachment inquiry, voted yes.
"It's about transparency in the process; I like the fact that the transcripts will be made public and the American public will get the chance to understand what's going on," he said Wednesday, adding that he still is not convinced Trump needs to be impeached. "I am not prejudging anything . . . until I see all the evidence."
Rep. Anthony Brindisi, D-N.Y., who was undecided as of Wednesday night, also supported the resolution.
"I think the vote will allow a fair and open process and will finally let Americans judge for themselves," Brindisi told Syracuse.com on Thursday morning.
Joining the Democrats in voting for the resolution was Rep. Justin Amash, I-Mich., who abandoned the Republican Party in July and has been sharply critical of Trump.
The resolution allows the president and his counsel to request and query witnesses and participate in impeachment proceedings once they reach the Judiciary Committee, which is tasked with writing any articles of impeachment that will be voted on by the House. It also authorizes the House Intelligence Committee to release transcripts of its closed-door depositions to the public, and it directs the committee to write and then release a report on that investigation in the same fashion.
The resolution gives the Republican minority on both the Intelligence and Judiciary committees a chance to subpoena documents and testimony - provided that either the Democratic chairman or a majority of the committee agrees. And it establishes special procedures under which the chairman and top Republican on the panel can take up to 90 minutes to make their cases or defer to a staff lawyer to do so.
As the final minutes of debate ticked by, Republicans loudly jeered Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., chairman of the Rules Committee, when he defended the process and argued that Democrats remain focused on the legislative agenda.
Members of the committees conducting the Trump investigation made their way to the House floor, from the secure basement rooms where they huddle each day for depositions, many carrying several pages of witness statements in their hands or under notepads.
Reps. Dean Phillips of Minnesota and Tom Malinowski of New Jersey, two freshmen who flipped GOP seats last year and helped give Democrats the majority, huddled in the well of the chamber looking at the statement, pointing to passages and scribbling on it - having just left the Morrison deposition.
When the impeachment resolution vote occurred, Pelosi took the chair to read the final vote tally in a sign of the formal nature of the proceedings.
Before the roll call on Thursday morning, partisan tensions were visible on the floor of the House, as Democrats called attention to mounting evidence against Trump while Republicans decried the process as secretive and unfair.
"If we don't hold this president accountable, we will be ceding our ability to hold any president accountable," McGovern said in a speech. "The obstruction from this White House is unprecedented. It's stunning. We don't know if Trump will be impeached but the allegations are as serious as it gets."
"It's a sad day for all of us," said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., McGovern's GOP counterpart. "It's not a fair process. It's not an open process."
Leading Republicans were adamant that not a single GOP member wwould back the measure - and they leaned heavily on Republicans who have openly criticized the president in the past.
"It is still not a fair process in my mind," said Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore.), who, like most Republicans, voted against the resolution."It is still a process where the Democrats call all the shots and we were not consulted along the way. . . . So, no. I'm a no."
The resolution does not deal with the merits of impeaching the president, just procedure. But even Republicans who have expressed concern about points of Trump's conduct - such as Walden, who Democrats believe could be swayable on an ultimate impeachment vote - held the party line on Thursday.
Rep. Francis Rooney, R-Fla., who like Walden recently announced his upcoming retirement and has refused to rule out voting to impeach Trump, also voted against the measure.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is published from a syndicated feed.)