Nancy Pelosi doesn't have to hold House impeachment inquiry vote. But the speaker should.

Nancy Pelosi doesn\
Nancy Pelosi doesn\'t have to hold House impeachment inquiry vote. But the speaker should.  

Let's be clear, if the House of Representatives wants to launch an impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump's conduct, it need not hold a formal vote. The White House argument that failing to do so somehow violates the Constitution is entirely made up.

The document says nothing of the sort. The Constitution merely, succinctly, gives the House "sole power of impeachment," allowing it "may determine the rules of its proceedings."

So when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi last month simply announced the start of a formal impeachment inquiry, she was doing what's allowed. But that isn't the same as doing what's right.

She needs to call for a vote on launching an inquiry - sooner rather than later.

The House has few responsibilities more grave than drawing up articles of impeachment for removing a president - in this case, for abusing powers of his office to pressure a foreign power to dig up dirt on a political opponent.

Americans should know where their elected representatives stand on launching an inquiry. This isn't an impeachment vote. And it isn't a mystery whether it would pass.

Already, 227 Democrats and one independent have expressed open support for the idea. It only takes 218 to form a majority. Republicans, too, should state their positions publicly.

OTHER VIEWS: Democrats' impeachment inquiry is 'baseless, unconstitutional'

Presumably, Pelosi wants to spare Democrats in swing districts from going on the record over such a politically divisive issue. But Americans are tired of this kind of inside-the-Beltway politics; it's a key reason so many abandoned traditional presidential candidates in 2016 to shock the system by electing a frequently bankrupt real estate dealer turned television reality star.

Moreover, such a vote would give the House impeachment investigation a stronger hand in court for obtaining White House documents and testimony.

A federal judge said as much last week in a hearing on a House demand for grand jury material from the Mueller investigation. "Wouldn't it make your request ... a lot easier if the House would have taken a vote authorizing an impeachment inquiry? Easier for all of us?" Chief U.S. District Judge Beryl Howell asked.

A vote would also be the historically fair thing to do given that in each of three previous efforts to impeach a president - Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton - the House passed resolutions to gather facts.

There is also precedent for allowing some semblance of due process during impeachment proceedings, although it would do well for the public to remember that impeachment is akin to a grand jury process. If and when articles are drawn up and approved by the House - tantamount to bringing charges - Trump would be entitled to such full due process rights as cross-examination of witnesses and presentation of defense evidence during a subsequent trial in the Senate.

There should be no illusion that by taking this vote, a White House bent on stonewalling the investigation will suddenly relent and cooperate. That's unlikely short of a court order. And given the Republican propensity for acting in lockstep out of fear of Trump's Twitter rage, a vote may well fall along partisan lines (although that's not certain), and allow the White House an argument that the effort is biased.

Even so, there's a growing momentum - strengthening over days, if not hours - for the government's system of checks and balances to examine Trump's actions in the context of impeachment. Polling shows a majority of Americans now favor an inquiry.

Pelosi should allow the House to join this groundswell, and vote.

USA TODAY's editorial opinions are decided by its Editorial Board, separate from the news staff. Most editorials are coupled with an opposing view - a unique USA TODAY feature.

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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Speaker Nancy Pelosi, time to hold a House impeachment inquiry vote


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