WASHINGTON — The House Judiciary Committee voted Thursday to sharpen the tools Chairman Rep. Jerry Nadler has to pursue impeachment of President Trump, as Republicans tried mockery to derail the investigation.
The committee voted along party lines to set procedures for handling secret grand jury testimony from the Mueller report, to set hearings involving impeachment and to let committee staff lawyers interrogate witnesses instead of just lawmakers.
Nadler told the Daily News in an interview ahead of the hearing that the point is to expedite the investigation of Trump and ultimately determine if the committee will vote out articles of impeachment.
“We have a constitutional, historical, and moral obligation to fully investigate these matters," Nadler said before the vote. "Let us take the next step in that work without delay."
Republicans called the exercise a stunt, and belittled the effort as a ruse to hide the fact that Democrats do not have the votes to pass an impeachment inquiry on the House floor.
"What's happened today is great," said the top Republican on the committee, Rep. Doug Collins (R-Georgia). "The Judiciary Committee has become a giant Instagram filter to make [it] appear that something is happening that's not."
"The difference between formal impeachment proceedings and what we're doing and is a world apart," he added.
"I've wanted for a long time to be able to say this: welcome to Fantasy Island," Collins said.
Florida GOP Rep. Matt Gaetz called the committee's activities "impeachment in drag."
"We've sort of dressed up impeachment like an oversight hearing," Gaetz said. "Perhaps it's low-T impeachment or low-energy impeachment."
Still, other Republicans seemed to acknowledge that the move was extremely serious.
"Today you're changing the rules to make it easier for you to pursue impeachment of the president of the United States," said Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio).
President Trump certainly noticed the committee's markup, blasting out three tweets on impeachment, finally quoting a Fox News host who said, "This should have been over with after the Mueller Report came out.”
Gaetz and Rep. Tom McClintock (R-California) both argued that Nadler simply lacks the support to win approval of an impeachment resolution outside his own committee, and that's why Nadler has not asked for a vote on the House floor.
"I dare you to do it. In fact I double dog dare you do it," said McClintock, arguing that Nadler wants to appease the Democratic base while alarming no one else. "You can have your impeachment and deny it too. That's why you won't pass that resolution."
Indeed, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi has resisted such a vote, and Nadler told the News that passing articles of impeachment would require greater public support than exists currently. But he was also adamant that the committee already has the power to do its investigation without any new votes by the House, because the House already has passed resolutions that grant it investigative powers that the committee didn’t have for previous impeachments.
He said the new resolution is another tool that can help make the case for formal articles of impeachment.
“We are going to hold and set a very aggressive series of hearings,” Nadler said. “I think we’ll have a lot of evidence, I hope we’ll have a lot of evidence and I hope the public pays attention, and we’ll see where we’re at.”