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House panel to clarify what exactly it's doing about impeachment issue

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler at a lectern

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler at a lectern in July with Democratic members of the committee. Photo Credit: AP/J. Scott Applewhite

WASHINGTON — The Democratic majority of the House Judiciary Committee plans to hold a vote Thursday on the procedures it will follow in its probes of President Donald Trump for a potential impeachment — and a chance to clarify how to describe what they are doing.

Are they conducting an impeachment investigation? An impeachment inquiry? A formal impeachment process?

Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan), the committee chairman, had used each of those terms — and called the committee’s impeachment activities both an investigation and an inquiry on Monday when he made the resolution on the procedures public Monday.

The confusion over that question of semantics became clear Wednesday when House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer (D-Md.) told reporters there is no “impeachment inquiry” — despite Nadler’s statement Monday.

“It has been an impeachment inquiry and it continues to be,” Nadler told reporters then. “We are examining the various malfeasances of the president with the view toward possibly, the possibility of introducing, of recommending articles of impeachment to the House. That is what an impeachment inquiry is.”

Hoyer later issued a statement to correct what he called his misunderstanding of reporters’ questions when he answered “no” when asked if there was an impeachment inquiry. “I thought the question was in regards to whether the full House is actively considering articles of impeachment, which we are not at this time," Hoyer said.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-Queens), chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, sidestepped the question of what to call the Judiciary Committee’s activities.

“I don't want to get caught in semantics. We all agree, from Speaker [Nancy] Pelosi through every single member of the House Democratic Caucus, that we have a constitutional responsibility to hold an out-of-control executive branch accountable," he told reporters.

But Georgia's Rep. Doug Collins, the Judiciary Committee’s ranking Republican, called the resolution a “meaningless reiteration of existing committee authorities.”

He added, “The House of Representatives is not engaged in formal impeachment proceedings, as House Democrat leaders continue to note. Formal impeachment proceedings have always been authorized by a vote of the full House, which Speaker Pelosi has been careful not to allow.”

The resolution formalizes procedures for the impeachment investigation, said Rep. Jamie Raskin (D-Md.), a committee member.

Under it, Nadler could designate specific hearings as part of an impeachment investigation and authorize subcommittee chairmen to hold those hearings. Committee lawyers could question witnesses for an hour, split between the two parties, after lawmakers finished with their questions. And it lets the committee receive information confidentially and allows the president’s counsel to respond to information and testimony presented to the committee.

Raskin, a former constitutional law professor, expressed frustration at the focus on how to describe the committee’s impeachment probe, saying the focus should be on “the misconduct of the administration.”

“The reason why we don't have a single name for the process we're in is that the Constitution doesn't give it a single name,” he said.

Jeffries said that after Democrats pass the resolution, “then we'll make some determinations as to characterization.”

Asked if the committee will clarify its work Thursday, Rep. Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), also a committee member, said, “Yes, that’s the whole purpose.”

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