Judiciary panel debates Trump impeachment, moves toward vote
WASHINGTON – The House Judiciary Committee launched a lively, marathon session Thursday ahead of voting on articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. a historic step as the deeply partisan panel prepares to send the charges to the full House.
Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., immediately asked for a full reading of the nine-page resolution, airing the two articles against the president introduced by Democrats for the live TV cameras. They charge Trump with abuse of power for asking Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden while withholding aid as leverage and with obstruction of Congress for stonewalling the House’s investigation.
The top Republican, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, swiftly interjected that the proceedings are a “farce” and should be halted until their side is provided its own chance for a GOP hearing. The request was denied, with the chairman saying the process was in line with the impeachment hearings of Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton.
Lawmakers quickly dug in for the second day of the Judiciary session, only the fourth time in U.S. history a president is facing impeachment, for what is expected to be a long day of fights over amendments, primarily by Republicans trying to stop the impeachment. They are likely to be rejected by Democrats on party lines.
First up was GOP Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who tried to delete the first charge against Trump. “This amendment strikes article 1 because article 1 ignores the truth,” Jordan said.
Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., argued there is “overwhelming evidence” that the president, in pushing Ukraine to to investigate rival Biden, was engaged in an abuse of power “to corrupt American elections.”
Thursday’s hearing picked up where Wednesday’s late-night session left off.
Into the night, Democrats and Republicans delivered sharp, poignant and, at times, personal arguments for and against impeachment. Both sides appealed to Americans’ sense of history – Democrats describing a strong sense of duty to stop what one called the president’s “constitutional crime spree” and Republicans decrying the “hot garbage’’ impeachment and what it means for the future of the country.
Cicilline asked Republicans standing by Trump to “wake up” and honor their oath of office. Republican Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana responded with his own request to “put your country over party.” Rep. Lou Correa, D-Calif., shared his views in English and Spanish.
One Democrat, Rep. Val Demings of Florida, told the panel that, as a descendant of slaves and now a member of Congress, she has faith in America because it is “government of the people” and in this country “nobody is above the law.” Freshman Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath of Georgia emotionally talked about losing her son to gun violence and said that while impeachment was not why she came to Washington, she wants to “fight for an America that my son Jordan would be proud of.”
Jordan insisted Democrats are impeaching because “they don’t like us” and read out a long list of Trump’s accomplishments.
The committee is considering two articles of impeachment introduced by Democrats. They charge Trump with abuse of power for asking Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden while withholding aid as leverage and with obstruction of Congress for stonewalling the House’s investigation.
On Thursday, the committee will likely vote to send the articles to the full House, which is expected to vote next week. That could come after hours of debate over Republican amendments, though the articles aren’t likely to be changed. Democrats are unlikely to accept any amendments proposed by Republicans unified against Trump’s impeachment.
Democrats are also unified. They have agreed to the articles’ language, which says that Trump acted “corruptly” and “betrayed the nation” when he asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and the 2016 U.S. election. Hamstrung in the minority, Republicans wouldn’t have the votes to make changes without support from at least some Democrats.
Nadler said the committee should consider whether the evidence shows that Trump committed these acts, if they rise to the level of impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors and what the consequences are if they fail to act.
“When his time has passed, when his grip on our politics is gone, when our country returns, as surely it will, to calmer times and stronger leadership, history will look back on our actions here today,” Nadler said. “How would you be remembered?”
Republicans are also messaging to the American people – and to Trump himself – as they argue that the articles show Democrats are out to get the president. Most Republicans contend, as Trump does, that he has done nothing wrong, and all of them are expected to vote against the articles.
Collins argued that Democrats are impeaching the president because they think they can’t beat him in the 2020 election.
Democrats think the only thing they need is a “32-second commercial saying we impeached him,” Collins said.
“That’s the wrong reason to impeach somebody, and the American people are seeing through this,” Collins said. “But at the end of the day, my heart breaks for a committee that has trashed this institution.”
Republicans are expected to offer an array of amendments and make procedural motions, even if they know none of them will pass. The Judiciary panel is made up of some of the most partisan members on both sides, and Republicans will launch animated arguments in Trump’s defense.
In the formal articles announced this week, the Democrats said Trump enlisted a foreign power in “corrupting” the U.S. election process and endangered national security by asking Ukraine to investigate his political rivals, including Biden, while withholding U.S. military aid as leverage. That benefited Russia over the U.S. as America’s ally fought Russian aggression, the Democrats said.
Trump then obstructed Congress by ordering current and former officials to defy House subpoenas for testimony and by blocking access to documents, the charges say.
Trump tweeted that to impeach a president “who has done NOTHING wrong, is sheer Political Madness.”
The House is expected to vote on the articles next week, in the days before Christmas. That would send them to the Senate for a 2020 trial.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that he would be “totally surprised” if there were the necessary 67 votes in the chamber to convict Trump, and signaled options for a swift trial. He said no decision had been made about whether to call witnesses.
— Associated Press writers Alan Fram and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.