Democrats have eyed Christmas as an unofficial deadline to impeach Trump on the floor and send the articles of impeachment to the Senate, which indicates a pretty quick turnaround if the committee holds hearings into next week.
But Pelosi has publicly insisted there is no hard timetable to vote on articles, which suggests the process could spill into 2020. Any delay would raise new questions about whether Democrats should wait on the outcome of multiple court cases that could force additional witnesses to testify.
How the hearings will go down
The Judiciary Committee hearings will follow a similar format to those of last month’s Intelligence hearings. Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler and his counsel will get the first 45 minutes to question witnesses, followed by a 45-minute round for top Republican Doug Collins and his counsel.
Nadler can call for additional rounds of up to 45 minutes, an option the Intelligence Committee occasionally used. But if he doesn’t, the second round of questioning will revert to traditional committee format: 5 minutes of questioning per lawmaker, alternating between Democrats and Republicans.
Unlike the Intelligence Committee, the Judiciary Committee hearings will also give Trump’s White House lawyers some ability to participate in the process in future hearings.
Under the rules governing impeachment hearings, the president’s counsel has the opportunity to question witnesses under guidelines and limits determined by Nadler. Similarly, if Trump’s counsel chooses to participate, he may raise objections during witness questioning, though Nadler and the Democrat-controlled committee have the final say. Trump’s lawyers also have the chance to submit additional evidence and offer a closing presentation, again subject to Nadler’s judgment.
Republicans on the committee may also call witnesses or offer evidence — including by subpoena — but only with Nadler and the full committee’s approval.
Who to watch
Rep. Jerry Nadler: The chairman of the panel is an impeachment veteran, having played a vocal role opposing Bill Clinton’s impeachment both in committee and on the House floor. He and Rep. Zoe Lofgren, who worked as a committee aide during the Nixon impeachment proceedings, have more constitutional know-how and experience in the process than nearly every other Democrat in the House. Nadler will work to showcase his expertise while fending off efforts by Republicans to turn the hearing into an ugly fight over the process.
Rep. Hakeem Jeffries: Jeffries, the fifth-ranking Democrat in the House who is often mentioned as a possible successor to Speaker Nancy Pelosi, will be an important figure to watch during the hearing. He is both a conduit to leadership and a significant player in his own right.
Rep. Lucy McBath: McBath is easily the most endangered Democrat on the committee, hailing from a district that had been held by Republicans for more than a decade. The freshman is as close as it gets to a bellwether for other vulnerable Democrats anxiously monitoring the process and hoping the politics end in Democrats’ favor when it’s over.
Rep. Val Demings: Demings is a rising star in the Democratic caucus and has emerged as a prominent spokeswoman for the party throughout the impeachment process. A former police chief from Florida, Demings serves on both the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees — giving her a chance to play a prominent role in the public and private Ukraine hearings that form the core of Democrats’ impeachment case.
Doug Collins: The top Republican on the panel is an ardent Trump defender and a skilled procedural brawler. He’s spent the weeks leading up to Wednesday’s hearing advocating for more robust minority rights, sending a series of letters seeking details and pleading with Democrats to conform with due process rules provided during the Clinton impeachment. Collins has been angling for a Senate appointment by the Georgia governor, but he appears likely to be passed over, despite Trump’s support.
Rep. John Ratcliffe: Like Demings, Ratcliffe sits on the Intelligence and Judiciary Committees. He’s a vocal Trump backer who has lent his credibility as a former U.S. attorney to try to undercut Democrats’ impeachment case. Ratcliffe, who was briefly Trump’s pick to be director of national intelligence before his nomination unraveled, has emerged as a hard-nosed questioner who can drive home a sharp counterpoint during his five-minutes of questioning.
Rep. Matt Gaetz: A top Trump defender and Democratic antagonist, Gaetz made headlines during the Intelligence Committee investigation for leading a band of Republicans into the secure hearing room where an impeachment deposition was taking place. The stunt, which led to a lengthy delay, was a headache for Democrats and divided Republicans on the question of his disruptive tactics. He may deploy them again in his role on the Judiciary panel.
Rep. Jim Jordan: Jordan is a co-founder of the hard-line Freedom Caucus and always eager for a fight. He was added to the Intelligence Committee last month so he and a top staffer, Steve Castor, could help lead the president’s defense during the two weeks of public hearings. Now he’s back on familiar Judiciary Committee turf where he’ll play a similar role.