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House Democratic leaders double down to guarantee party unity on impeachment process

House Democratic leaders expect their party to be nearly unified in support of an upcoming vote related to the ongoing impeachment inquiry on Capitol Hill.

They came to that conclusion after a day spent assessing support for a resolution that will affirm the ongoing House investigation into possible impeachable offenses by President Donald Trump and lay out parameters for the next phases of the inquiry, including public hearings.

House leaders used the “whipping” process in which they survey members about support for a particular piece of congressional legislation to determine whether the measure is likely to pass or fail.

On the impeachment related resolution, members on the team — led by House Majority Whip Jim Clyburn, D-S.C. — asked their Democratic colleagues to commit to voting “yes” or “no” and attempted to persuade lawmakers who were opposed or undecided to vote in support of it.

At House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s instruction, Clyburn alerted members Tuesday evening that he would launch a whip effort in preparation for a vote on Thursday.

“(This is) part of our process to ensure we have an accurate vote count,” a Clyburn spokesperson told McClatchy. “We’re confident that we’ll have the votes to pass the resolution.”

By Wednesday evening, leadership aides and lawmakers close to the whip operation confirmed that Democrats would adopt the resolution by a very comfortable margin. One aide said defections would be “negligible.”

The decision to formalize a whip operation around the measure signaled a strong desire to make sure the full Democratic caucus speaks with one voice on Thursday.

At this point, almost all House Democrats have said they would support an impeachment inquiry into whether Trump withheld foreign aid to Ukraine in exchange for a promise the foreign government would investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.

However, many of these same members, including vulnerable incumbents, have been reluctant to vote on any piece of legislation related to the inquiry short of actual articles of impeachment.

And Republicans are taking a victory lap surrounding the Democrats’ decision to move forward with a resolution, claiming credit for forcing them to take a vote the GOP believes could expose vulnerable Democrats to defeat in 2020.

“There is no doubt in my mind that the overwhelming response House Democrats heard from the American people and Senate Republicans in support of my resolution forced their hand,” said Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who introduced a resolution last week to condemn House Democrats for not voting to formally authorize proceedings.

The whip operation around the House Democratic resolution suggested there might have still been holdouts who needed to be swayed. It also indicated that leaders saw this vote as a political vote rather than one of conscience — in the latter case, members of the whip team don’t lean on their colleagues too heavily, allowing members to “vote their will.”

Whipping the resolution also presented a chance for Democrats to reinforce their party’s own messaging about what the resolution is and isn’t, and to put any reluctant Democrats at ease.

Though the resolution is being called an “impeachment resolution,” Democratic leaders are emphatic that it is simply the vehicle that allows the House to move into the next phase of its impeachment inquiry.

The whip process also helped provide more information to lawmakers as some Democrats grumbled about being forced to vote on a resolution that isn’t technically necessary.

“There’s a fairly good understanding that this is about process and not prejudging a conclusion,” said Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich., a senior member of the whip team. “Clarifying what the content of (the resolution) is has been helpful because I think it was not immediately clear what the language would be.”

A senior Democratic aide also told McClatchy the resolution to be considered Thursday is not without precedent.

During the impeachment proceedings involving President Richard Nixon in the 1970s, lawmakers adopted a series of resolutions enabling or empowering them to take a variety of actions related to their inquiry, from issuing subpoenas to the functioning of the committees of jurisdiction.

During President Bill Clinton’s impeachment proceedings in the 1990s, the House adopted a resolution providing for the receipt by the House Judiciary Committee of independent counsel Kenneth Starr’s report.

The current resolution is necessary on a number of fronts, said the Democratic aide, including to allow the transmission of certain documents to the relevant congressional committees and permit the House Intelligence Committee to hold open hearings.

Rep. Ron Kind, D-Wis., who is from a district that Trump carried in 2016, is still wary about supporting impeachment proceedings against the president, but said he would vote for the Democratic resolution Thursday because of precedent and guaranteed transmission of documents.

“Tomorrow’s vote really is a procedural one so we can transfer documents from the intelligence community to the Judiciary Committee,” Kind said. “It’s the main reason I voted for the Clinton inquiry when it came up in 1998 ... it empowered us to collect certain information.”

This is an updated version with lawmaker comments.

Emma Dumain covers Congress and congressional leadership for McClatchy DC and the company’s newspapers around the country. She previously covered South Carolina politics out of McClatchy’s Washington bureau. From 2008-2015, Dumain was a congressional reporter for CQ Roll Call.