One after the other, almost every Democrat in tough House races across the country voted on Thursday to establish the rules for the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump, despite Republican predictions it will end their political careers.
The vote showed the broad support among Democrats for an investigation that has already raised multiple accounts that the President asked a foreign country to investigate a political rival. Only two out of 234 Democrats joined the Republicans in opposition, Reps. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey and Collin Peterson of Minnesota.
But beneath the display of party unity, many Democrats in competitive districts took pains to explain their vote, while Republicans boasted that it would be a boon to their efforts to retake the House.
"The impeachment-obsessed Democrats just flushed their majority down the toilet," said National Republican Congressional Committee spokesman Michael McAdams.
Vulnerable House Democrats acknowledged the threat. They said they came to Washington to work on behalf of their constituents, not to charge the President with crimes. They said the new rules would provide what Republicans have asked for weeks — public hearings — and provide due process for the President. They said they can still work on the issues they ran on, including health care, infrastructure and veterans' affairs.
It was clear Democrats were wary of how their votes would be perceived.
Rep. Max Rose of New York tried to distance himself from his party by saying he would follow the facts and not its leaders.
Rep. Joe Cunningham of South Carolina bemoaned "how everybody tries to politicize every single thing" before stressing that the vote on Thursday was not on impeachment itself — and that he hadn't yet made up his mind on whether to impeach.
"I'm already being attacked for my vote today in support of the impeachment inquiry," tweeted Rep. Lucy McBath of Georgia, before sending out a link for donations.
Other Democrats said Trump's actions gave them no choice.
In September, a federal government whistleblower unveiled that on July 25, Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate a political rival, the presidential candidate and former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son Hunter. Trump has asserted without evidence that Biden as vice president sought the ouster of former Ukraine prosecutor general Viktor Shokin for investigating an energy company that put Biden's son Hunter on its board. There is no evidence of wrongdoing by the Bidens; Shokin's dismissal was also sought by other Obama administration officials, European governments and anti-corruption groups.
In the past few weeks, current and former Trump administration officials have testified as witnesses in the House impeachment inquiry and have provided further evidence to suggest that Trump attempted to use his public office for political gain. The depositions before Democrats and Republicans on three committees — House Intelligence, Oversight and Foreign Affairs — have taken place in a secure facility in the basement of the Capitol. Republicans have criticized Democrats for holding the inquiry behind closed doors and charged that Trump has not been able to properly defend his case.
The House resolution attempts to address those concerns by setting rules for a new phase of the investigation, as it shifts from gathering information in private to evaluating the allegations in public.
The resolution would grant at least one public hearing before the Intelligence Committee, in which each party will have 45 minutes to question witnesses. It states that the Republicans can issue subpoenas, but only if Democrats sign off on them. And it says the House Intelligence Committee, in consultation with the two other panels, will send a public report to the Judiciary Committee, which can subpoena additional information and write the articles of impeachment.
While almost all of the Democrats said that the new rules would provide greater transparency to the impeachment probe, Peterson said the process "continues to be hopelessly partisan."
National polls indicate that impeaching and removing Trump from office has risen since the probe began in September, and remains at a minimum a plurality position. But support is clearly lower in districts won by Trump. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a Republican Super PAC, announced on Thursday that it would air new digital ads against all 29 Democrats in those districts who voted for the resolution.
"With the House Majority running through Trump Country, voting for impeachment ensures there will be nowhere to hide for Democrats to escape their constituents' wrath next November," said CLF President Dan Conston.
Democrats countered that argument by listing off what else they would do besides the impeachment inquiry. The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee held a political stunt of its own, launching a Halloween-themed website attacking the Republican-controlled Senate as a graveyard for all the bills House Democrats passed.
Rep. Kendra Horn, a Democrat of Oklahoma, noted that she didn't call for an impeachment inquiry in the first place and said she did not come "lightly" to her decision to vote for the resolution.
"As you probably know, this is not where I wanted to be, or anybody I think," Horn told CNN.
She said she'd continue to fight to reduce prescription drug costs and pass the National Defense Authorization Act.
"I'm going to keep doing the work I'm doing," Horn said. "This is not stopping the work of Congress."