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SC Rep. Joe Cunningham to vote for House resolution setting rules for impeachment inquiry

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Election 2020 South Carolina

U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham addresses the South Carolina Democratic Party's convention June 22 in Columbia, S.C. In 2018, Cunningham became the first Democrat to flip a South Carolina congressional seat in decades. (AP Photo/Meg Kinnard)

WASHINGTON — Charleston's U.S. Rep. Joe Cunningham said Tuesday he intends to vote in favor of a House resolution this week that will lay out the ground rules for the ongoing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

The vote, which is expected Thursday, is not over whether to impeach Trump — a question that Cunningham emphasized he remains firmly undecided on — but simply to clarify the process as it moves into an increasingly public phase.

Still, the decision by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to hold a process vote nevertheless placed the vulnerable freshman Democrat in a precarious political position, forcing him to take a side for the first time in a polarizing debate he had generally avoided thus far.

Cunningham was one of the last remaining Democratic holdouts on the impeachment inquiry. His decision means the resolution will almost certainly have enough votes to pass.

In an interview with The Post and Courier, Cunningham said he views the vote as a way to make the investigation more transparent, which he said would make it easier to ultimately reach a conclusion on whether Trump should be impeached.

"It's something that my colleagues from across the aisle have been requesting for weeks now, so I hope this affords them some satisfaction, and overall it's a good measure to shine some light on these hearings and make sure that we respect due process," Cunningham said.

The resolution outlines how the House Intelligence Committee will conduct public hearings and the Judiciary Committee can begin to draft potential articles of impeachment. It also gives the White House an opportunity to "present their case and respond to evidence."

Republicans, who have mostly rejected the entire notion that Trump did anything impeachable by asking the Ukrainian president to investigate his domestic political rivals, are still expected to overwhelmingly oppose the resolution.

Hours before Cunningham's decision, the National Republican Congressional Committee framed it as a moment of truth for whether Cunningham will follow the vast majority of other Democrats in backing the impeachment process.

Trump supporters in South Carolina have protested outside of Cunningham's district offices in recent weeks to try to pressure him to oppose the impeachment inquiry.

Camille Gallo, a spokeswoman for the NRCC, said Cunningham's "deranged base wants to remove the president from office" but noted his 1st Congressional District that stretches from around Charleston to Hilton Head Island supported Trump in 2016.

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The district is expected to be one of the most competitive in the country next year after Cunningham scored an upset victory in the 2018 midterms, becoming the first Democrat to represent the Lowcountry in four decades.

Republicans have made the seat one of their top nationwide targets, while Democrats have vowed to vigorously defend it.

In anticipation of the likelihood that Republicans will frame Cunningham's support of the resolution as a proxy for him backing the broader impeachment question, Cunningham said such a move would be "dishonest."

"It's why people hate politics and really it's why I jumped into the race in the first place," Cunningham said, "because I was tired of seeing these types of antics and shenanigans."

Cunningham did reiterate that he finds the allegations that Trump used military aid as leverage to get Ukraine to investigate the son of Joe Biden "very troubling," even if he has not decided whether it would be impeachable.

"That just highlights the seriousness of it and the need for something like this (resolution) to make sure that there's a level playing field, there's due process and an air of fairness throughout this whole process," Cunningham said.

Given that he is not on the intelligence or judiciary committees, Cunningham said he will remain focused on his other legislative work as the hearings play out in the background. 

On Tuesday, for example, the House Veterans Affairs Committee advanced two of Cunningham's bills — one to allow veterans to appeal remotely from their personal computers and another to direct the Department of Veterans Affairs to conduct a study on access to care for women veterans.

With some of Cunningham's constituents opposing impeachment and others supporting it, the congressman said he is cognizant of the fact that it will be impossible to satisfy them all.

"Where I'm at is let's allow the facts to come out, and where the facts go the law must follow," he said.

Follow Jamie Lovegrove on Twitter @jslovegrove.

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