WASHINGTON – The House Judiciary Committee approved two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Friday, setting up a vote by the full chamber next week that is likely to make Trump the third U.S. president to be impeached.
The articles – accusing the president of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress – relate to Trump’s attempt to have Ukraine investigate his political enemies, a scheme Democrats described as a threat to democracy as the United States braces for another bitter election.
“Today is a solemn and sad day,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., the committee chairman, said in brief comments to reporters after the vote.
Nadler surprised Republicans late Thursday night by concluding the hearing after 14 hours of withering debate, delaying the vote until Friday morning to defang a potential Republican claim that the Democrats were voting when most Americans weren’t watching.
He urged members to “to search their consciences” before making their decision, but the votes on both counts broke along party lines as expected – all 23 Democrats voted yes and all 17 Republicans voted no.
Republicans told reporters after the votes that Democrats would pay a political price for what they called a blind pursuit of the president.
“They predetermined they were going to do it, and they did it,” said Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz.. “They had no proof, no evidence, no crime. But they went ahead anyway, and they’re tearing the country apart. And they should be ashamed.”
The Democratic-controlled House is expected to impeach Trump on Wednesday or Thursday of next week by approving “H. Res. 755, Impeaching Donald John Trump, President of the United States, for high crimes and misdemeanors.” Passage would set up a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate in January, which is all but certain to acquit the president and leave him in office.
“This desperate charade of an impeachment inquiry in the House Judiciary Committee has reached its shameful end,” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement. “The president looks forward to receiving in the Senate the fair treatment and due process which continues to be disgracefully denied to him by the House.”
There have been disagreements among Republicans about how to handle the trial, and some of Trump’s fiercest allies want a drawn-out process with witnesses.
“I understand their desire to just get it behind us. But the country needs to hear what a farce this was,” said Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has sent signals that he would prefer a short trial, but said Thursday night that he would work with the White House to design the rules for the trial.
“I’m going to take my cues from the president’s lawyers,” he told Fox News.
McConnell’s comments outraged Democrats, who accused him of abandoning his duty to conduct a fair process.
“If Senator McConnell is saying there’s no chance that there’s a conviction and he’s coordinating with the White House, he essentially has surrendered the constitutional mandate that the Senate conduct a trial,” said Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md..
After weeks of investigations, public hearings and nightly sniping on cable news, the final marathon session in the Judiciary Committee featured the most direct confrontation yet between members of Congress over whether Trump’s actions merit impeachment and removal from office.
Republicans dragged out the proceedings by repeatedly floating amendments to eliminate or water down the impeachment articles, forcing lengthy debates that inevitably ended with Democrats swatting down the proposals. With no witnesses to question and little chance of substantive changes, the markup session – spread over three days – took on the tone of people arguing politics at a bar, albeit with more flowery language and strict procedural rules.
“No matter what they threw at the wall, no matter what spaghetti they were throwing at the wall, it wasn’t sticking because it’s not real,” Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said of Republican attempts to derail the process. “And so I think we just have to continue to bring it back to the facts.”
Democrats maintained that they were reluctant to impeach Trump, but argued that Congress serves as the last line of defense against a presidency that they say has veered out of control.
“This is a moment of personal conscience,” said Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas. “This is a moment where we had to hold the president accountable.”
Republicans said it is Democrats, not the president, who overstepped their authority in their push for impeachment. They said the case against Trump was the product not of careful investigation, but intense hatred of the president and his supporters.
Democrats’ case against Trump focuses on his push for Ukraine to launch investigations that would help him politically. He pressed Ukraine to announce an investigation of Joe Biden, the former vice president who could be his Democratic opponent in next year’s election. Biden’s son Hunter had served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.
Trump also wanted Ukraine to investigate a debunked conspiracy theory involving the Eastern European country and the hacking of Democratic Party emails in 2016, an operation that was carried out by Russia.
Trump “betrayed the nation by abusing his high office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections,” according to the articles of impeachment. He also “abused the powers of his high office” by directing administration officials to defy congressional subpoenas.