WASHINGTON — Virginia’s congressional delegation voted along party lines on a resolution formalizing the impeachment inquiry focused on President Donald Trump on Thursday.
All 197 Republicans — which includes four congressmen from Virginia, three of whom represent Western Virginia — voted against the resolution that lays out the ground rules for public hearings as lawmakers transition from weeks of closed-door interviews with witnesses. Virginia’s Republicans called the resolution an attempt to preserve what they said has so far been a flawed impeachment process.
“It’s a totally worthless resolution,” Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, said. “It’s putting window dressing on what they’ve been doing.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the opening of an impeachment inquiry five weeks ago. Republicans and Democrats from the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Oversight committees have been focusing the investigation on the Republican president’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden by withholding military aid and a White House meeting with Ukraine’s president.
“I don’t think anything impeachable has happened,” Griffith said.
Griffith attended the House Rules Committee meeting Wednesday that mapped out the resolution prior to the vote. He doesn’t sit on the committee.
Rep. Ben Cline, R- Botetourt, didn’t say whether he thinks an impeachment inquiry should be opened regarding the Ukraine allegations. He said he’s waiting to hear testimony and that “the call speaks for itself,” referring to a phone call Trump had with Ukraine’s president that set off the impeachment inquiry.
“But if it has to happen, then it should happen according to precedent and rules that are fair,” Cline said. “We have seen a process that is not that way right now.”
Republicans for weeks have objected to the process. Cline joined Republicans at a news conference last week to criticize it. His peers continued on to storm the secure facility where impeachment investigators were deposing witnesses, although Cline did not participate in that. The stunt drew criticism for violating House rules and potential security breaches.
Cline defended the move, saying it put pressure on Pelosi to increase transparency.
“I think we’re seeing the results of our calls for transparency in the vote on Thursday, even if it’s still not a process we view as fair,” Cline said.
According to the resolution, the House Intelligence Committee will hold public hearings and eventually write a report that will be delivered to the House Judiciary Committee, which would draft articles of impeachment. The Judiciary Committee could seek additional evidence, including hearing from witnesses. The top Republican on the committee could propose subpoenas for witnesses or document, but Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a Democrat from New York, could object and call for a vote, allowing Democrats to shut down the request.
Cline is the only Virginia representative who sits on the Judiciary Committee. Cline favors the Judiciary Committee having more investigative independence.
“This would be done in order to understand completely the scope and detail of the testimony they gave Intelligence,” Cline said. “It’s very difficult to put the toothpaste back in the tube because the process has been so flawed from the beginning. That’s why simply cementing the rules that have been in place the last month is unacceptable.”
Rep. Denver Riggleman, R-Nelson, took issue with voting on a measure for a proceeding that has been handled behind closed doors so far.
“There’s no way I’m going to vote to affirm an inquiry that’s really partisan,” Riggleman said.
Joining Riggleman, Cline and Griffith in opposition in Virginia’s congressional delegation was Rep. Robert Wittman, R-Westmoreland.
Six of Virginia’s Democratic representatives voted in favor of the resolution: Reps. Elaine Luria, D- Norfolk; Robert “Bobby” Scott, D-Newport News; Abigail Spanberger, D-Henrico; Don Beyer, D-Alexandria; Jennifer Wexton, D-Loudoun; and Gerald Connolly, D-Fairfax. Rep. Donald McEachin, D-Richmond, did not vote because he was recovering from a recent surgery, but he said he supported the resolution.
“Our constituents deserve to hear the many ways the president has betrayed our country and put our national security at risk for his own gain,” McEachin said in a statement.
Griffith said, unlike many of his Republican peers, he doesn’t think it’s too late to start over with the impeachment inquiry and have the Judiciary Committee take the lead like it traditionally has in the past.
“It is tainted, but you can remedy that if you really believe this isn’t political posturing and an impeachable offense has occurred, which I do not,” Griffith said.