Democrats rammed a package of ground rules for their impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump through a sharply divided House on Thursday in the chamber's first formal vote in a fight that could stretch into the 2020 election year.
The vote was 232-196, with all Republicans against the resolution and two Democratic defectors, who both represent GOP-leaning districts, joining them. The House's lone independent member, a former Republican, voted with the Democrats.
Colorado's House delegation split along partisan lines, as the state's four Democrats voted to authorize the next stage of an impeachment inquiry over fierce objections by the three Republicans.
The vote laid down the rules as lawmakers transition from weeks of closed-door interviews with witnesses to public hearings and ultimately to possible votes on whether to recommend Trump's removal from office.
The action also took on more than technical meaning, with each party aware that the impeachment effort looms as a defining issue for next year's presidential and congressional campaigns.
The Halloween morning vote drew a familiar response from Trump, who tweeted: "The Greatest Witch Hunt In American History!"
Democrats invoked the Founding Fathers to describe lawmakers' duty to defend the Constitution, while Republicans cast the process as a vindictive attempt to railroad a president Democrats have detested since before he took office.
"The House's impeachment inquiry has exposed the truth and uncovered significant evidence that the president abused his power," said U.S. Rep. Joe Neguse, D-Lafayette, in remarks on the House floor minutes before the vote.
Added Neguse: "To honor the oath to defend the Constitution that each of us took, we must move forward with this impeachment inquiry; for, as Thomas Jefferson once said hundreds of years ago, a sacred respect for the constitutional law is the vital principal, the sustaining energy of a free government."
Before casting his "no" vote, U.S. Rep. Doug Lamborn, R-Colorado Springs, railed against what he called "a Soviet-style kangaroo court, a star chamber," in an appearance on KVOR AM 740.
"They just hate Donald Trump. They want to undo the election," Lamborn said, referring to his Democratic colleagues.
"We're less than 13 months away form an election next year, where the American people can decide. But in their anger and hatred, they want to force him out of office — I don't believe they will — but that's what they're trying to do, they're trying to subvert democracy here. It's horrible, and I'm doing everything I can to oppose what they're doing."
U.S. Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Denver, chaired the House for a procedural vote that preceded the final tally. In a statement issued once the resolution had passed, she argued that lawmakers were defending the Constitution by approving the inquiry.
“The president has been accused of abusing his power, betraying the American people and undermining our national security," DeGette said. "He’s openly invited some of our biggest adversaries to intervene in our elections and has blocked Congress’s every attempt to get to the truth. Every member of Congress swears an oath to defend our Constitution and, by approving this resolution today, we are taking the appropriate steps to do exactly that.”
The investigation is focused on Trump's efforts to push Ukraine to investigate his Democratic political opponents by withholding military aid and an Oval Office meeting craved by the country's new president.
Democrats said the procedures — which give them the ability to curb the president's lawyers from calling witnesses — are similar to rules used during the impeachment proceedings of Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. Republicans complained they were skewed against Trump.
"What is at stake in all this is nothing less than our democracy," said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif. Underscoring her point, she addressed the House with a poster of the American flag beside her and began her remarks by reading the opening lines of the preamble to the Constitution.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Trump had done nothing impeachable and accused Democrats of trying to remove him "because they are scared they cannot defeat him at the ballot box." Noting that elections are just a year away, he added, "Why do you not trust the people?"
U.S. Rep. Ken Buck, R-Greeley, who moonlights as the chairman of the Colorado Republican Party, charged Thursday morning in a tweet that "House Democrats have been conducting an impeachment inquiry without due process, fairness or transparency for over a month."
"Today’s vote is nothing more than a Halloween trick to try to give this sham some credibility," he added.
"No one is above the law," U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter, D-Arvada, said in a statement.
“The evidence clearly shows President Trump extorted a foreign government for political gain — a clear abuse of power, betrayal of national security and corruption of our elections," Perlmutter said.
"This impeachment investigation is moving into the next phase so all Americans can see for themselves the blatant abuse of power and cover up. This is an important next step in the process and reaffirms that any effort by the President or his allies to block the investigation is obstruction of justice.”
Four of Colorado's House members sit on committees tasked by Democratic leadership with handling elements of the impeachment inquiry — DeGette on the oversight and reform committee, Perlmutter on the financial services committee, and Neguse and Buck on the judiciary committee. The other panels involved in the inquiry are the House Intelligence, Foreign Affairs and Ways and Means committees.
A poll of Colorado voters conducted by Democratic firms in mid-October found that 54% of voters supported the impeachment inquiry that launched in late September, with 48% already in favor of removing Trump from office. The survey found that 43% of voters statewide oppose the impeachment inquiry, and 44% don't want the president ousted.
It is likely to take weeks or more before the House decides whether to vote on actually impeaching Trump. If the House does vote for impeachment, the Senate would hold a trial to decide whether to remove the president from office.
Both parties' leaders were rounding up votes as Thursday's roll call approached, with each side eager to come as close to unanimity as possible.
Republicans said a solid GOP "no" vote would signal to the Senate that the Democratic push is a partisan crusade against a president they have never liked.
Democrats were also hoping to demonstrate solidarity from their most liberal elements to their most moderate members. They argued that GOP cohesion against the measure would show that Republicans are blindly defending Trump, whatever facts emerge.
"It will show the other party has become the party of Trump. It's really not the Republican Party any longer," said Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich.
Republicans said they'd use the vote to target freshman Democrats and those from districts Trump carried in 2016. They said they would contrast those Democrats' support for the rules with campaign promises to focus on issues voters want to address, not on impeaching Trump.
The House GOP's campaign arm sent emails to reporters all but taunting some of those Democrats including freshman Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H. "Pappas wants to be a one-termer," one said.
GOP leaders called the rules "Speaker Pelosi's sham process designed to discredit the Democratic process" in their daily impeachment email to lawmakers.
Pelosi decided to have the vote following weeks of GOP claims that the inquiry was invalid because the chamber had not voted to formally commence the work.
The rules lay out how the House Intelligence Committee — now leading the investigation by deposing diplomats and other officials behind closed doors — would transition to public hearings.
That panel would issue a report and release transcripts of the closed-door interviews it has been conducting.
The Judiciary Committee would then decide whether to recommend that the House impeach Trump.
According to the rules for hearings, Republicans could only issue subpoenas for witnesses to appear if the entire panel approved them — in effect giving Democrats veto power.
Attorneys for Trump could participate in the Judiciary Committee proceedings. But in a bid for leverage, panel Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., would be allowed to deny "specific requests" by Trump representatives if the White House continued refusing to provide documents or witnesses sought by Democratic investigators.
The rules also direct House committees "to continue their ongoing investigations" of Trump.
Top Democrats think that language will shield their members from weeks of Republican complaints that the inquiry has been invalid because the House had not formally voted to begin that work.
Democrats have said there's no constitutional provision or House rule requiring such a vote.
Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Matthew Daly, Andrew Taylor and Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.