WASHINGTON — Colorado lawmakers are positioned to have more sway in presidential impeachment proceedings than ever before.
Altogether, four of Colorado’s seven members of the U.S. House sit on committees that are investigating allegations of abuse of power and other misdeeds by the president.
And two of them — Rep. Joe Neguse (D-2nd) and Rep. Ken Buck (R-4th) — have key positions on the House Judiciary Committee, which will ultimately decide whether to present impeachment charges to the full House.
Colorado did not have any members on the Judiciary Committee in the last two presidential impeachment proceedings against Presidents Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon. And Colorado was not yet a state during the nation’s first impeachment of President Andrew Johnson in 1868.
This time around, Colorado lawmakers could have a major role in the debate.
Neguse, in his first term in Congress, has already been at the center of the issue — with roles on House leadership and the Judiciary Committee. He has defended the impeachment inquiry on national television, saying there is significant evidence that Trump has abused his power.
“It is clear that this president has engaged in an abuse of power and ultimately Congress has a constitutional responsibility under Article One of the Constitution to hold him accountable, and I hope we will do so,” Neguse recently told MSNBC.
The congressional investigation is centered on whether Trump abused his power by attempting to pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate a political opponent.
Buck has been another strong voice, but in opposition to the impeachment proceedings.
The Colorado Republican also sits on the Foreign Affairs committee, another panel tasked with investigating Trump. Buck has criticized the closed-door meetings that have dominated the proceedings so far and said Trump’s conduct “does not rise to the level” of an impeachable offense.
“It’s a process that should not go forward,” Buck said of impeachment, in a televised interview with Fox Business on Oct. 21. “It’s a process that should be before the Judiciary Committee, we should be holding open hearings and the public should be able to evaluate, as we proceed.”
The Intelligence Committee, designated as the lead for the investigation, will hold its first public hearings this Wednesday and Friday. Colorado doesn’t have any representatives on that panel.
In total, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) tasked six committees to investigate the president when she first announced the impeachment inquiry in September.
Reps. Scott Tipton (R-3rd) and Ed Perlmutter (D-7th) have spots on another one of those panels, the Financial Services Committee. Their committee is tasked with looking into whether Trump had illegal financial ties, but has not been not front and center on impeachment. They have five public hearings scheduled for November, none of them on impeachment. The committee had nine hearings in October about other financial issues.
Tipton has come out against the impeachment proceedings. Perlmutter supports the investigation — writing on Twitter this week that Trump has “undermined foreign policy and jeopardized national security.”
Like most lawmakers, Colorado’s congressional delegation has followed party lines in response to the Trump investigation. The state’s four House Democrats — Neguse, Perlmutter, Rep. Jason Crow (D-6th) and Rep. Diana DeGette (D-1st) — all voted in favor last week of the resolution that formalized the impeachment inquiry. The three Republicans — Tipton, Buck, and Rep. Doug Lamborn (D-5th) — opposed it.
The measure passed on partisan lines by a vote of 232-196, with no Republicans backing the resolution. One independent, Justin Amash of Michigan, voted in favor of the resolution. Two Democrats voted against it — neither were from Colorado.
Colorado’s impeachment history
The Colorado delegation was not as divided when the House voted on the resolution to allow the inquiry into Nixon’s impeachment in 1974. All five of Colorado’s House members voted in favor of that resolution, including two Republicans.
Indeed, the full House was nearly unanimous, voting 410-4 for that resolution, which gave subpoena authority to the Judiciary Committee to conduct its impeachment inquiry. After the Judiciary Committee voted in favor of impeachment, Nixon resigned before it could go to the full House.
There was another prominent new lawmaker from Colorado in Congress that year, who was almost placed on the Judiciary Committee. Rep. Pat Schroeder (D) was elected as Colorado’s first female member of Congress in 1974 and went on to serve for 24 years in the House before her retirement.
Schroeder told the Denver Post in 1998 that she was courted for the Judiciary Committee but declined, opting to take a spot on the House Armed Services Committee instead. She said she was grateful she avoided the panel during the impeachment debate.
“My first thought was that somebody was watching over me and I wasn’t in there,” Schroeder told the Denver Post. “I don’t think anybody runs for office to get in the middle of those things.”
A graduate of Harvard Law School, Schroeder served on the Judiciary Committee later in her career.
‘Judged by a different standard’
When Congress took up the impeachment resolution for Clinton in 1998, Colorado’s delegation voted along party lines.
Colorado’s two Democrats in the House, DeGette and Rep. David Skaggs, voted against it. The four Colorado Republicans in the House voted in favor. The House voted 258-176 on that resolution, with 31 Democrats joining Republicans to support the investigation.
The House ultimately impeached Clinton, who had lied about his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. The Senate acquitted him the following year.
Former Colorado Sen. Benjamin Nighthorse Campbell, who began his career as a Democrat and joined the Republican party in 1995, voted “guilty” at Clinton’s impeachment trial. Campbell said at the time that, although he liked Clinton personally, he voted against him because of his lies.
“Every one of us knows that when we step into the public arena, we are judged by a different standard. Being honest and truthful becomes more important because we must set the examples,” Campbell told his colleagues at the trial, according to a statement he released at the time.
Reflecting on the trial 20 years later, Campbell told the Colorado Independent in an interview this week that he is not sure he made the right choice in his vote.
“In retrospect, I am not sure what he did rose to the level of endangering the nation. He made a real error in judgement, but I am not sure it jeopardized the nation,” Campbell said.
“When years go by and things go by, I think by and large Clinton was a good president. I like him personally, he was very fair-minded,” Campbell said. “Everybody has a flaw somewhere. You are not electing a pope, you’re electing a president.”
As for the Trump impeachment investigation, Campbell said he thinks it is a “waste of time,” especially given the Republican majority in the Senate, where a two-thirds vote to convict would be a tall order.
“The cost of this and what it does to the country, it kind of tears the fabric of the nation apart,” Campbell said.