United States House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) speaks to reporters as she walks to her office at the US Capitol in Washington, July 9, 2019. (Reuters)
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WASHINGTON – The United States House of Representatives will launch a formal impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump over reports he sought foreign help to smear a political rival, setting up a dramatic clash between Congress and the White House that has spilled into the 2020 presidential campaign.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the inquiry on Tuesday after a closed-door meeting with Democratic lawmakers, saying Trump’s actions appeared to have undermined national security and violated the U.S. Constitution.
“The president must be held accountable. No one is above the law,” said Pelosi, who for months had been reluctant to embrace an impeachment effort.
Trump fired back quickly on Twitter, calling the inquiry “Witch Hunt garbage”.
Congressional allies of Trump said Pelosi was playing politics with the decision. Republican Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called it “a rush to judgement” and said it should have waited until after details of the phone call were revealed.
“It simply confirms that House Democrats’ priority is not making life better for the American people, but their nearly three-year-old fixation on impeachment,” he said in a statement.
The impeachment inquiry could eventually lead to Trump’s removal from office, although that would be a steep task for Democrats. Even if the Democratic-controlled House voted to impeach Trump, the Republican-majority Senate would have to take the next step of removing him from office after a trial. A conviction would require a two-thirds Senate majority.
It will be the first impeachment inquiry in Congress since the 1998 probe of President Bill Clinton for perjury and obstruction of justice in relation to his affair with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
The House voted to impeach Clinton in December 1998, but the Democratic president was acquitted two months later by the Senate and remained in office. The only other president to be impeached, Andrew Johnson in 1868, was also acquitted by the Senate.
Biden said he would back impeachment if the president did not fully comply with congressional investigations.
“If we allow a president to get away with shredding the Constitution, that will last forever,” Biden told reporters in Wilmington, in his home state of Delaware.
Most Democratic presidential contenders support an impeachment inquiry, including U.S. Senators Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Amy Klobuchar; former U.S. Representative Beto O’Rourke; South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg; and former U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Julian Castro. (Reuters)