WASHINGTON (AP) — A majority in U.S. House has voted to impeach President Donald Trump on the charge of abuse of power for enlisting a foreign ally to investigate a political rival ahead of the 2020 election.
With voting still underway, Trump is on track to become the third president in U.S. history to be impeached, and the only one in modern times to be running for reelection facing the political equivalent of an indictment, an indelible mark on a purposely disruptive presidency.
Democrats led the voting on the first article of impeachment, abuse of power, and were expected to approve another, obstruction of Congress, in what many framed as their duty to protect the Constitution to uphold the nation’s system of checks and balances. Republicans stood beside the party’s president who tests the bounds of civic norms calling the whole affair a “witch hunt,” a “hoax” and a “sham,” and sometimes all three.
As the House debated the articles of impeachment, Trump’s tweets switched to all capital letters: “SUCH ATROCIOUS LIES BY THE RADICAL LEFT, DO NOTHING DEMOCRATS. THIS IS AN ASSAULT ON AMERICA, AND AN ASSAULT ON THE REPUBLICAN PARTY!!!!” he wrote.
Impeachment would send the matter to the Senate for a trial, where a two-thirds vote is necessary for conviction. While Democrats have the majority in the House, Republicans control the Senate and expect to acquit the president of the charges in the new year ahead of early state presidential primary voting.
But the focus Wednesday was on the House, which conducted lengthy debate into the evening hours.
“Today we are here to defend democracy for the people,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said as she opened debate.
What Pelosi calls a sad and solemn moment for the country, coming just 11 months after Democrats swept control of the House, actually unfolded in a caustic day-long session that showcased the nation’s divide. The split not just along party lines, but the cultural, regional and racial differences that underscore the partisanship in Congress. People gathered at the Capitol steps, and in protests across the nation, for impeachment.
“President Trump used the powers of the Presidency in a manner that compromised the national security of the United States and undermined the integrity of the United States democratic process,” according to the impeachment resolution.
The president “betrayed the nation by abusing his high office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections,” it said, and then he obstructed Congress’ oversight like “no president”’ in U.S. history.
“President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office,” it said.
Democrats drew from history, the founders and their own experiences as minorities, women and some immigrants to the U.S., seeking to honor their oath of office to uphold the constitution. Rep. Lou Correa, D-Calif., spoke in Spanish asking God to unite the nation. “In America,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., “no one is above the law.”
Republicans aired Trump-style grievances about what Rep. Debbie Lesko called a “rigged” process and what Alabama Rep. Chris Stewart of Utah said was about Democrats who “hate this president” and want to undo the will of voters to remove him.
“We face this horror because of this map,” said Rep. Clay Higgins, R-Ala., before a poster of red and blue states. “This is what Democrats fear…. They call this Republican map flyover country, they call us deplorables, they fear our faith, they fear our strength, they fear our unity, they fear our vote, and they fear our president.”
The outcome brings the Trump presidency to a milestone moment that has building almost from the time the New York businessman-turned-reality-TV host unexpectedly won the White House in 2016 amid questions about Russian interference in the U.S. election — and the rise of the “resistance.”
Republicans argued that Democrats are impeaching Trump because they can’t beat him in 2020. But Democrats warned the country cannot wait for the next election to decide whether Trump should remain in office because he has shown a pattern of behavior, particularly toward Russia, and will try to corrupt U.S. elections in 2020.
“This is not about making history, this is about holding a lawless president accountable,” said Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I.
“This is not a solemn occasion,” said GOP Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia. “You’ve been wanting to do this ever since the gentlemen was elected.”
The political fallout from the vote will reverberate across an already polarized country with divergent views of Trump’s July phone call when he asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy for a “favor” —an investigation of Democrats in the 2016 election and his 2020 rival Joe Biden and his son, Hunter, who worked on the board of a gas company in Ukraine while his father was the vice president.
At the time, Zelenskiy, a young comedian newly elected to politics, was seeking a coveted White House visit to show backing from the U.S. ally as it confronts a hostile Russia at its border. He was also counting on $391 million in military aid already approved by Congress. The White House delayed the funds, but Trump eventually released the money once Congress intervened.
Trump implores Americans read the transcript of the call he said was “perfect.” But the facts it revealed, and those in an anonymous whistleblower’s complaint that sparked the probe, are largely undisputed.
More than a dozen current and former White House officials and diplomats testified in hours of open and closed sessions under oath at the Capitol about what one called the “irregular channel” of foreign policy run by Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani focused on investigating the Bidens and alternative theories of 2016 election interference.
Beyond the impeachments of Andrew Johnson or Bill Clinton, this first impeachment of the 21st century is as much about what president’s past actions as what he might do in the future. And unlike investigation of Richard Nixon, who resigned rather than face the House vote over Watergate, the proceedings against Trump have not fully captivated Americans’ attention as the rarity of impeachment becomes more commonplace.
Pelosi, who brushed back liberals eager to impeach when Democrats won House control in the 2018 election, now risks her majority and speakership. Rank and file Democrats said they were willing to lose their jobs to protect the democracy from Trump.
Top Republicans, including Rep. Devin Nunes on the Intelligence Committee, called the Ukraine probe little more than the low-budget sequel to former special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Mueller spent two years investigating the potential links between Moscow and the Trump campaign, resulting in indictments against a dozen Russian operatives and jail time for the president’s former campaign manager Paul Manafort, personal lawyer Michael Cohen and others. In between questions swirled about Trump’s refusal to turn over his tax returns, hush money payments to porn stars and other activities. But Mueller did not deliver the findings Democrats needed for impeachment in July when he testified on Capitol Hill that his team could not establish that Trump conspired or coordinated with Russia to throw the election. Mueller did say he could not exonerate Trump of trying to obstruct the investigation, but he left that for Congress to decide.
The next day, Trump called Ukraine. Not quite four months later, a week before Christmas, Trump was impeached.