The near party-line vote came as Tim Morrison, a top official on Trump’s National Security Council, testified in a closed-door deposition. Morrison backed up previous testimony that the president withheld nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine to pressure the country into announcing investigations into former vice president Joe Biden and interference in the 2016 election, according to his prepared remarks and people familiar with his testimony, who spoke on the condition of anonymity to discuss the closed-door proceedings. He said he got the information directly from U.S. Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland, the administration official who communicated that apparent quid pro quo to Ukrainian leaders.
Trump has vehemently denied the arrangement, which is the focus of the impeachment probe.
Together, the events marked significant progress for the House’s five-week-old inquiry — and triggered an escalation in the partisan rancor that has dominated the impeachment process and much of Trump’s presidency.
The vote was the House’s first on impeachment and the Democrats’ response to repeated GOP complaints about a closed-door process. The expansive inquiry with a new phase of public hearings is likely to extend into the 2020 election year with a Senate trial.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), who resisted impeachment for months, said this week that she has found the evidence against Trump convincing. Still, she said, there has been no final decision on impeachment.
“We’ve had enough for a very long time,” Pelosi said Monday at a roundtable with columnists, adding that the House investigators would pursue additional corroboration of witness accounts.
Complicating the investigation was a judge’s decision Thursday to hear arguments Dec. 10 on whether Charles Kupperman, a former deputy national security adviser, should be an impeachment witness — a late date that means the issue may not be resolved before a House vote. Democrats also have requested testimony next week from Kupperman’s former boss, onetime national security adviser John Bolton, whose decision could be affected by the judge’s ruling.
After the House vote, the White House accused Democrats of having an “unhinged obsession” with impeachment, with press secretary Stephanie Grisham calling the effort a “blatantly partisan attempt to destroy the president.”
Trump, who had no public events on his daily schedule, tweeted: “The Greatest Witch Hunt In American History!”
In a private lunch with several Senate Republicans, Trump made his case against impeachment and repeatedly praised his own decision to release a rough transcript of the July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, when Trump urged Zelensky to investigate Biden and his son Hunter. Zelensky was awaiting not only the congressionally appropriated aid but a meeting with Trump.
“He said a number of times that he’s really glad there’s a transcript, that he’s really glad he released it,” said Sen. Josh Hawley (R-Mo.), one of the senators who attended the lunch.
House Republicans, who spent weeks calling for a vote on the inquiry, began to pivot from complaints about the process toward a more robust defense of Trump’s actions.
“There is nothing in that phone call that is wrong or impeachable,” said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.).
Morrison’s testimony carried both the significance of a firsthand account and the weight of that testimony coming from someone with a solid Republican résumé.
In his opening remarks, Morrison confirmed the substance of last week’s testimony from the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, William B. Taylor Jr., and noted that he asked the National Security Council’s legal adviser and deputy to review Trump’s call with Zelensky.
Morrison said he did not think it was improper but expressed concern about “how it would play out in Washington’s polarized environment” if the transcript leaked. He also worried that a leak would affect bipartisan support for Ukraine in Congress and Ukraine’s sense of that support.
Morrison’s account of the terms the Trump administration was demanding from Ukraine in exchange for releasing the military aid differed slightly from Taylor’s portrayal: Morrison said Sondland communicated that the United States would be satisfied if Ukraine’s prosecutor general, and not its president, made the public commitment to conduct the investigations.
Partisan tensions that have surfaced in the questioning of witnesses were visible on the House floor Thursday. During the final minutes of debate, Republicans jeered Rep. Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), chairman of the Rules Committee, when he defended the process and argued that in addition to impeachment, Democrats remain focused on their legislative agenda.
“If we don’t hold this president accountable, we will be ceding our ability to hold any president accountable,” McGovern said earlier in the debate. “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.”
Democrats and Republicans used visuals to make their point. Pelosi stood next to a large photo of an American flag; House Minority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.) had a poster of St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow’s Red Square, a hammer and sickle, and the slogan “37 DAYS OF SOVIET-STYLE IMPEACHMENT PROCEEDINGS.”
The negative reference to Russia ignored that the military aid Trump withheld was specifically aimed at countering Russian aggression.
Republicans, who had focused for weeks on the process, shifted their argument, blasting the impeachment inquiry as an underhanded attempt to force Trump from office. They urged Democrats to abandon the effort and let voters decide Trump’s fate in the next presidential election.
“To my colleagues on the other side, I say this: Give the people back their power,” McCarthy said. “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.”
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.
Democratic leaders expected that two to four of their members would vote against the resolution. In the end, Reps. Collin C. 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.
“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.
Rep. Anthony Brindisi (D-N.Y.), who was undecided as of Wednesday night, also supported the resolution, telling Syracuse.com that the vote will “allow a fair and open process and will finally let Americans judge for themselves.”
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.
Leading Republicans were adamant that not a single GOP member would back the measure — and they leaned heavily on Republicans who have openly criticized the president in the past ahead of the vote.
“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.”
Before the vote, Pelosi described the impeachment inquiry as a “solemn” and “prayerful” process — “not cause for any glee or comfort.”
At the same time, she said, “I don’t know why Republicans are afraid of the truth.”
“Every member should support the American people hearing the facts for themselves,” Pelosi 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.”
John Hudson, Paul Kane, Ann E. Marimow, Seung Min Kim and Carol D. Leonnig contributed to this report.