The U.S. House Wednesday night took the historic step of impeaching President Donald Trump, setting the stage for a Senate trial that is widely predicted to acquit the president.
House Democrats overwhelmingly voted in favor of the articles of impeachment for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, with a couple Democrats defecting to join Republicans in rejecting the measures.
Trump is the third president to ever be impeached, following Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton. President Richard Nixon resigned when impeachment and removal from office seemed inevitable.
The article for abuse of power passed 230-197, while obstruction of Congress passed 229-198. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Democratic presidential candidate, voted “present” for both articles.
Lawmakers spent Wednesday on the House floor debating the articles, capping off the three-month inquiry into whether Trump improperly pressured Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden while withholding military aid.
“It is tragic that the president’s reckless actions make impeachment necessary,” Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, in opening the debate on the articles of impeachment. “He gives us no choice.”
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler and ranking member Rep. Doug Collins guided the speeches from members. Also spotted on the House floor were Judiciary Committee counsel, including Norm Eisen and Barry Berke, who were hired earlier this year for their legal expertise.
Nadler said lawmakers can’t wait for the 2020 election to see if voters remove Trump from office as a result of his conduct on the Ukraine claims, saying Trump “has demonstrated a clear pattern of wrongdoing.”
Democrats’ belief that Trump poses a danger to the country and the Constitution was a theme that ran throughout their floor speeches.
“He’s shooting holes in our Constitution on Pennsylvania Avenue,” Judiciary Democrat Rep. Cedric Richmond said, invoking Trump’s infamous comment that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue in New York and not lose voters. “And our House, the People’s House, must defend our Constitution from a domestic enemy to the rule of law, Donald Trump.”
Republicans, who were united in voting against the articles, at first tried to delay the proceedings, starting with a motion to adjourn at 9 a.m. Wednesday.
But during their floor speeches, they warned that Democrats are setting a dangerous precedent by moving forward with impeachment without hearing from more witnesses and getting more documents as part of the probe.
“This will set a dangerous precedent where impeachment becomes the norm, rather than the exception,” warned GOP Rep. Steve Chabot, who was a House manager during the Clinton impeachment.
“If they don’t agree with the president, take it to court,” he said. “Let the third branch decide, they’re the refs.”
As the House debated the articles on one side of the Capitol, senators on the other half prepared themselves for trial.
Trump had declined to participate in the House’s impeachment inquiry, claiming—through White House counsel Pat Cipollone—that he was deprived of due process rights generally not given during investigations. Rather, the president is turning to the friendlier Republican Senate as a forum to refute the charges.
Legal experts, like University of Missouri’s Frank Bowman, author of “High Crimes and Misdemeanors: A History of Impeachment for the Age of Trump,” have already come in to brief Senate Democrats on trial processes and procedures.
For Republicans, Cipollone has been coming to Senate lunches to talk about the upcoming trial.
And Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said that he and Cipollone will coordinate on the trial rules and procedures, a comment that has raised red flags for House and Senate Democrats.
“Since when do any of the Trump people act in a fair way,” Senate Judiciary Democrat Mazie Hirono said, when asked if she trusts Cipollone to help run a fair trial.
McConnell is reportedly eyeing a short Senate trial, whereas Trump is seeking a chance to fully refute the articles of impeachment. The president wants to call witnesses and introduce documents that he believes will clear his name.
Senate Democrats also want witnesses, like acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton, to testify during the trial. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer over the weekend called for McConnell to call those witnesses. McConnell rejected that demand, calling it “dead wrong.”
But a trial could be delayed, at least for a few days. The Washington Post reported Wednesday that House Democrats are internally discussing the possibility of Pelosi withholding the articles for impeachment from the Senate, as leverage for witnesses or other trial procedures.
Pelosi said at a press conference shortly after the vote that the articles wouldn’t be sent to the Senate Wednesday night, as the impeachment managers—or House members picked to argue for impeachment during the trial—hadn’t been selected.
But she did say that the trial is “a serious matter.”
“The majority leader of the U.S. Senate, for the foreman of the jury, to be in cahoots with the lawyers of the accused, that doesn’t sound right to us,” Pelosi said.