So the die is cast. With a 232-196 vote in the House of Representatives on Thursday, Democrats called the bluff of Republican criticisms that impeachment investigatory committees, in their zeal to remove Donald Trump from office, are "secretive" in the interrogations of witnesses.
With the vote, Democrats called the bluff of the GOP's assertion that no formal vote had been made to pursue the chamber's impeachment inquiry investigation.
With the vote, Democrats called the bluff of Republicans who have mouthed about "the process," of which they disingenuously claimed Republicans were given no part, never mind that in each of the investigative committees almost as many Republicans hold seats as Democrats. The Republicans have simply chosen, largely, not to take part.
With Thursday's vote, the House outlined the rights and procedures that will guide "the process," open the testimony and evidence to the public and allow Trump and his legal team to eventually mount a defense — if they have one.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-California, called the vote a "solemn" and "prayerful" process, and she and other Democrats urged Republicans to view it as a turning point — the moment when every House member must begin engaging with the evidence, not just party talking points.
"I don't know why Republicans are afraid of the truth," Pelosi said in a floor speech. "Every member should support the American people hearing the facts for themselves. That is what this vote is about. It's about the truth. And what is at stake in all of this is nothing less than our democracy."
It marked only the third time the House had taken a vote on an impeachment inquiry into a sitting president, and even the vote itself highlights the stultifying political polarization that suffocates our country a little more than a year before the 2020 elections.
Two Democrats broke with their party to vote against formalizing the impeachment inquiry — Reps. Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey. Republicans, under great pressure from Trump to shut down the impeachment inquiry altogether, unanimously opposed it. The only independent, Justin Amash, voted with Democrats.
Minutes later, the White House press secretary called the vote "a sham impeachment" and "a blatantly partisan attempt to destroy the president."
But in practical terms, the vote shows that Democrats now have enough confidence in the underlying facts about Trump's not-so-perfect phone call and increasingly clear quid-pro-quo dealings with Ukraine to begin publicly airing that evidence and making the case for impeachment in public.
In short, Trump ordered that aid allocated by Congress to help Ukraine fight Russian aggression be put on hold. When Ukraine's new president mentioned the arms they hoped to buy with that aid, Trump asked "a favor, though." The favor he sought was dirt on political opponents — particularly Joe Biden. He also sought to clear Russia in the 2016 election interference. Trump asked that Ukraine work specifically with Trump's attorney Rudy Giuliani and Attorney Gen. William Barr — both of whom had been working for months to further Trump's aims. Then White House attorneys ordered the transcripts of the hugely damaging call be hidden away in a super-secret White House server.
There you have abuse of power, quid pro quo and cover-up. Nicely packaged.
What remains to be seen is whether Republicans can be moved from their game of see and hear no evil even while more of their constituents see and hear the evidence.
Though many of the impeachment rules adopted by the House on Thursday are nearly identical to those Republicans adopted in 1998 when they impeached Democratic President Bill Clinton, Republican leaders still sought to portray the rules as partisan.
"Democrats are trying to impeach the president because they are scared they cannot defeat him at the ballot box," said House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy. And the White House said the vote had approved a process that was "unfair, unconstitutional and fundamentally un-American."
Here's what's fundamentally un-American: Donald Trump, president of the United States of America, betraying his oath of office by trying to enlist a foreign power — again — to tarnish a rival for his own political gain. It would seem he is scared he cannot win at the ballot box without unconstitutional foreign help and cheating.
Republicans now have no excuse to ignore the coming public hearings and testimony — some of which may be repeats of the dozen-plus interviews and 70-plus hours of private testimony that thus far has shown Trump and his henchmen to be blatantly violating the Constitution, abusing their power and obstructing justice.
Confront the evidence, folks. You cannot run from it anymore.