A starkly divided House of Representatives Wednesday impeached President Donald J. Trump, making him only the third U.S. president ever to suffer that fate.
In votes that concluded at 8:34 p.m. and 8:51, the House approved two articles of impeachment, one for abuse of power and one for obstruction of Congress, almost 21 years to the day after Bill Clinton was impeached. Many lawmakers voted with red or green paper slips, rare in a chamber that usually votes electronically. They appeared to want to save the papers as mementos.
The votes, almost strictly along party lines, came after a daylong debate that reflected the national divisions — over the president’s conduct, but also over basic facts — that have come to define American politics.
Nearly every Democrat supported both articles of impeachment, charging Trump for his actions in pressing Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden while withholding vital military aid and a coveted White House visit. One of the party’s presidential candidates, however, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D., Hawaii), voted “present.” Every Republican opposed the impeachment in a show of support for the president.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.), wearing a black dress and a gold pin of the Mace of the Republic, a symbol of the House’s authority, opened by saying lawmakers had gathered to “exercise one of the most solemn powers that this body can take.”
“If we do not act now, we will be derelict in our duty,” Pelosi said. “It is tragic that the presidents’ reckless actions make impeachment necessary. He gave us no choice.”
She said “it is a matter of fact” that Trump “is an ongoing threat to our national security and the integrity of our elections, the basis of our democracy.”
A short time later, Trump responded on Twitter: “SUCH ATROCIOUS LIES BY THE RADICAL LEFT, DO NOTHING DEMOCRATS. THIS IS AN ASSAULT ON AMERICA, AND AN ASSAULT ON THE REPUBLICAN PARTY!!!!” It was one of about 50 tweets the president sent Wednesday.
He arrived in Battle Creek, Mich. for one of his signature rallies just as lawmakers neared the vote that would forever mark his presidency. “Doing good,” he said briefly to reporters.
Unlike the two previous presidents who have been impeached, Trump, because he faces the charges in his first term, will get to litigate his case in an election, allowing the public to ultimately issue its own verdict on the charges that have split Congress and will almost certainly result in an acquittal by the Republican-controlled Senate.
Despite the gravity of the votes, the outcome had been sapped of drama, its results widely accepted. For much of the day a sparse public audience watched the debate, and the House floor had mostly empty seats.
But that changed as the debate neared a close after more than 10 hours of arguments. Lawmakers began to heckle one another with boos. The chamber filled as the House prepared to vote. Democratic women, who wore white to Trump’s State of the Union speech in February to celebrate women’s suffrage, mostly wore black Wednesday, following Pelosi’s lead to mark impeachment.
Republicans wore solid red ties, like the ones Trump favors.
Lawmakers in each party warned that history would judge the other side darkly. One Republican said Trump was treated more unfairly than Jesus was.
Democrats will go down as “the Joe McCarthys of our time,” said Rep. Kevin Brady (R., Texas), referring to the infamous senator who tried to railroad suspected communists decades ago.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R., Calif.) said Democrats were simply outraged by the notion of a President Donald J. Trump.
“He is president today, he will be president tomorrow, and he will be president when this impeachment is over,” McCarthy said to cheers from Republicans. “When they accept that, maybe this house can get back to work for the American people.
Republicans repeatedly called the process “a sham” driven by hatred of Trump and Democrats’ fear of losing the 2020 election.
Democrats responded that Trump’s actions show he is a threat to that very election.
“When you see something that is not right, not just, not fair, you have a moral obligation to say something, to do something,” said Rep. John Lewis (D., Ga.), an icon of the civil rights movement. “We have a mission and a mandate to be on the right side of history.”
Later, Rep. Adam Schiff (D., Calif.) said, “When the history of this period is written, it will show that when my colleagues found that they lacked the courage to stand up to this unethical president, they consoled themselves by attacking those who did.”
Among the few lawmakers in either party who planned to break ranks is Rep. Jeff Van Drew, a Cape May County Democrat whose decision has proved so explosive that he’s expected to become a Republican. In the Trump presidency, Van Drew’s shift shows, U.S. politics are now defined by whether you are with Trump or against him. The impeachment process has made that as clear as ever.
Several Republicans approached him to shake hands or clap him on the shoulder during early votes. As the formal impeachment debate began, he sat on the Republican side of the aisle.
There are expected to be almost no cross-over votes Wednesday, and polls have shown hardened partisan attitudes on impeachment after an initial shift, with few voters moved in either direction by long hours of sworn, televised testimony.
A poll released hours before the vote showed how the split in Congress mirrored the divide in the nation.
Some 48% of Americans believed that Trump should be impeached and removed from office, and 48% said he shouldn’t be, according to the NBC News/Wall Street Journal survey. The numbers were virtually unchanged from late October, before the televised hearings laying out the evidence.
The initial machinations began about 9 a.m.. Republicans sought to adjourn minutes after the U.S. House came into session, the first of two procedural maneuvers shot down by the majority Democrats.
Rep. Jim McGovern (D., Mass.) cited Benjamin Franklin and his words at the Constitutional convention in Philadelphia. He accused Trump of betraying his oath of office.
“This is a democracy-defining moment,” McGovern said.
Shortly after noon, as debate on the articles formally began, the House reading clerk recited them aloud. “Resolved, that Donald John Trump is impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors,” he began.
Republicans called it the “most partisan” impeachment in history, noting that no Republicans are expected to support it, and accusing Democrats of conducting a rushed, unfair process with too little evidence.
“I believe Democrats are tearing this country apart. They’re tearing families apart,” said Rep. Debbie Lesko (R., Ariz.).
The GOP-led Senate is widely expected to clear Trump in a trial in January, but the divisive issue is sure to reverberate far longer as the president campaigns for reelection and Democrats try to unseat him.
Democrats have accused Trump of abusing his office and undercutting national security by using aid to help Ukraine fend off Russia as leverage to advance his personal political ends. They have cited the sworn testimony of nonpartisan career diplomats who all came to the same understanding: that Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, was running a shadow foreign policy focused on the president’s political interests, and that Trump withheld about $400 million in aid and a coveted White House visit from Ukraine’s new president while seeking investigations into Biden and a discredited conspiracy theory that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 presidential election.
Democrats say Trump has also obstructed their lawful investigation by refusing to allow top aides to testify or turn over documents that would offer more insight into his actions, and potentially firmly connect the dots laid out by the witnesses who did speak.
“The president undermined our democracy,” McGovern said Wednesday morning. “The evidence is as clear as it is overwhelming.”
Trump, in an open letter Tuesday, said he was putting the country’s interest first, not seeking campaign help, and that his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, a conversation at the center of the impeachment, was “totally innocent.”
For the most part, Republicans have not disputed the facts of the situation, though they have argued that Trump was within his rights to withhold aid or seek investigations into corruption — even though the president only mentioned Biden and the hacking theory, not wider corruption, in his call with Zelensky.
Rep. Tom Cole (R., Okla.), noted that the aid to Ukraine was eventually released without an investigation (though Democrats argue that happened only after Trump’s actions began coming to light). He said Trump’s actions were “open to interpretation” and that the Democratic case is based “on cherry-picked evidence.”
Those debates raged on the House floor for hours Wednesday.
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