United States lawmakers will cast the first vote on Thursday in the impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump as the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives takes up a measure that sets up the next steps in the fast-moving effort.
The vote will be the first formal test of support for the inquiry launched on Sept. 24.
Democrats, who control 234 seats in the 435-seat chamber, need a simple majority to approve the resolution.
The measure calls for public hearings and the release of transcripts from closed-door proceedings.
It also outlines what rights Republican lawmakers and Trump himself would have to participate as the process moves ahead.
Republicans have accused Democrats of trampling on Trump’s rights and keeping the process too secret.
Representative Jim McGovern, who authored the legislation to be voted on, said as the debate kicked off:”I do not take any pleasure in the need for this resolution.”
“There is serious evidence that President Trump may have violated the Constitution.
“This is about protecting our national security and safeguarding our elections,” McGovern, Chairman of the House Rules Committee, said in a House speech.
Representative Tom Cole, the committee’s top Republican, complained that rules being set by Democrats for the impeachment procedure mark “a partisan exercise.”
“Today’s resolution fails to give the minority the same rights as were present during the Clinton impeachment and it fails to offer the same due process protections given to Presidents Nixon and Clinton,” Cole said referring to House investigations of former Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.
The U.S. Constitution gives the House broad authority to set ground rules for an impeachment inquiry and Democrats say they are following House rules on investigations.
They have promised to hold public hearings on the case against Trump.
The impeachment inquiry focuses on a July 25 telephone call, in which Trump asked Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelenskiy to investigate his Democratic political rival Joe Biden, a former U.S. vice president, and his son Hunter, who had served as a director for Ukrainian energy company Burisma.
Trump has denied wrongdoing and called the inquiry a sham.
Lawmakers on Thursday plan to hear closed-door testimony from Tim Morrison, the top Russia specialist on Trump’s National Security Council.
Morrison resigned from his position on Wednesday, a senior administration official said.
Members of the three committees conducting the investigation expect Morrison to fill in more of the details about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
Morrison listened in on the July 25 phone call and said the call “could have been better,” according to acting U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Bill Taylor.