With Historic Debate, House Moves Toward Impeaching Trump


WASHINGTON — Republicans and Democrats clashed fiercely on Wednesday as the House of Representatives barreled toward a historic vote to impeach President Trump, debating a pair of charges that would make him the third president in history to face removal by the Senate for “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

The epic debate on the House floor reflected the deep polarization gripping American politics in the Trump era, but the outcome was considered certain. Majority Democrats were expected to push through two impeachment articles, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, over the vehement protests of Republicans. The charges stemmed from Mr. Trump’s attempts to use the powers of the United States government to pressure Ukraine to investigate his political rivals.

A vote on Wednesday morning to lay the ground rules for the proceeding signaled that the final outcome — like the debate itself — would fall almost purely along partisan lines, with nearly every Democrat in favor of impeaching Mr. Trump. The test vote was 228 to 197, with just two Democrats voting with Republicans in opposition. It began six hours of a passionate back-and-forth between Democrats and Republicans, as they warred over whether to charge the president with offenses that could lead to his ouster less than a year before he faces re-election.

Immediately after the test vote, the clerk of the House read aloud the two articles in full to a rapt House chamber, concluding by reciting, “President Trump thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office.”

Speaker Nancy Pelosi, dressed in all black and wearing a small golden brooch that was a replica of the mace of the House of Representatives — a ceremonial staff that represents the chamber’s power — began consideration of the charges by appealing to every member to uphold their oaths to “protect and defend” the Constitution.

“Today, as speaker of the House, I solemnly and sadly open the debate on the impeachment of the president of the United States,” she said. “If we do not act now, we would be derelict in our duty. It is tragic that the president’s reckless actions make impeachment necessary. He gave us no choice.”

The charges against Mr. Trump stemmed from his effort to pressure Ukraine to announce investigations into former Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr. and other Democrats, while withholding nearly $400 million in vital military assistance for the country and a White House meeting for its new president.

They originated in September when an anonymous whistle-blower complaint came to light that called Mr. Trump’s actions part of a scheme to use his presidential powers to solicit foreign interference on his won behalf in the 2020 election. But that account was soon bolstered by a reconstructed transcript of a July phone call between Mr. Trump and President Volodymyr Zelensky of Ukraine, which shows Mr. Trump asked Mr. Zelensky to “do us a favor” and investigate Mr. Biden and other Democrats.

And over a period of weeks, in impeachment hearings launched by House Democrats, a parade of diplomats and other administration officials confirmed and expanded on the whistle-blower’s story, outlining a wide-ranging attempt by Mr. Trump and his allies to bend United States policy on Ukraine toward carrying out what one former White House official called “a domestic political errand” for the president’s personal benefit.

On Wednesday, Republicans accused the Democrats, who fought their way back from political oblivion in 2016 to win control of the House last year, of abusing the power voters had invested in them by manufacturing a case against a president they never viewed as legitimate. Though they conceded few of them, they insisted the facts against Mr. Trump nonetheless fell woefully short of impeachment.

“Today, a dangerous precedent will be set,” said Representative Will Hurd of Texas, one of a handful of Republicans who has been willing to criticize Mr. Trump’s conduct. “Impeachment becoming a weaponized political tool. We know how this partisan process will end this evening. But what happens tomorrow?”

The question loomed over the proceedings, underscoring its stakes for the president — whose legacy will be indelibly marked by the coming vote — and members of both political parties. Democrats, including the most vulnerable moderates, embraced the articles of impeachment with the full knowledge that doing so could damage them politically, potentially even costing them control of the House. Republicans tethered themselves closely to the president as they have since he took office, yoking their political brands and fortunes to his.

Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, predicted: “We win on process and we win on the facts. Why? Because the American people will see through this.”

Far from showing contrition or contemplating resignation in the face of a certain impeachment, as his predecessors have done, Mr. Trump instead offered an indignant defense from the White House, delivered over social media, his favored means of communication.

“SUCH ATROCIOUS LIES BY THE RADICAL LEFT, DO NOTHING DEMOCRATS,” the president wrote on Twitter as lawmakers argued over his fate. “THIS IS AN ASSAULT ON AMERICA, AND AN ASSAULT ON THE REPUBLICAN PARTY!!!!”

While the tenor of the momentous occasion was somber, there was little doubt about the results of the vote, and a sense of inevitability hung over Washington as Mr. Trump awaited his all but certain impeachment, which would send the charges to the Senate for a trial on whether to acquit him or convict and remove him from office.

Regardless of the outcome of that proceeding, impeachment will leave a stain on the presidency of Mr. Trump, who for nearly three years has dodged a seemingly endless series of allegations of corruption and misconduct: Embracing Russian election interference, tax evasion, profiting from the presidency, payoffs to a pornographic film actress and fraudulent activities by his charitable foundation.

In the House chamber, Democrats rose, one by one, to argue forcefully for the president’s impeachment, asserting that Mr. Trump’s actions had put at risk the integrity of the 2020 election and the country itself.

When lawmakers found out about his pressure campaign on Ukraine and sought to investigate, the president ordered his administration to defy every request from Congress, leading to what Democrats charged was a violation of the separation of powers and a de facto assertion by Mr. Trump that he was above the law.

Warning that he posed a continuing threat, Representative Adam B. Schiff, Democrat of California and the Intelligence Committee chairman who led the impeachment inquiry, said the president’s actions toward Ukraine ominously echoed his embrace of Russian election assistance in 2016 and subsequent efforts to thwart federal investigators scrutinizing it.

“The president and his men plot on. The danger persists. The risk is real. Our democracy is at peril,” Mr. Schiff said, warning that Republicans would “rue the day” they disregarded the facts his investigation collected to defend Mr. Trump.

“Donald J. Trump sacrificed our national security in an effort to cheat in the next election,” Mr. Schiff said, “and for that and his continued efforts to seek foreign interference in our elections, he must be impeached.”

Representative James E. Clyburn, Democrat of South Carolina and the party’s longtime third-ranking leader, implored his colleagues to hold Mr. Trump accountable by casting votes for impeachment, saying, “Today we have a president who seems to believe he is a king or above the law.”

But even as most Democrats labored to couch their support for impeachment in terms of the Constitution and the separation of powers, some in their ranks argued that Mr. Trump deserved to be removed by Congress for his policies.

When his turn came, Representative Al Green of Texas, the first Democrat to introduce articles of impeachment against Mr. Trump in 2017, spoke beside a poster-size photograph of a crying migrant girl at the southwestern border, emblazoned with the words “IMPEACH NOW.” Mr. Green said he would vote yes “for the sake of the many who are suffering.”

Democrats defeated a pair of Republican attempts to derail the impeachment debate before it got underway, dispatching with them in strictly party-line votes. Just two minutes after the House was gaveled into session, Representative Andy Biggs of Arizona, the leader of the conservative Freedom Caucus, moved to adjourn, forcing an early-morning roll call vote. Republicans immediately followed with a resolution asserting that the Democrats who led the impeachment inquiry “willfully and intentionally” violated House rules.

Representative Diana DeGette, Democrat of Colorado, who was tapped by the speaker to oversee the proceedings from the House rostrum, briskly dispensed with other Republican parliamentary maneuvers to keep things marching forward.

But the Republican objections went well beyond the process and to the substance of the impeachment charges. Despite the extensive evidence uncovered by the House Intelligence Committee about Mr. Trump’s pressure campaign on Ukraine, his allies in the Capitol insisted he had done nothing wrong.

“There is no proof — none! — that the president has committed an impeachable offense,” said Representative Debbie Lesko, Republican of Arizona.

One Republican, Representative Barry Loudermilk of Georgia, on Wednesday compared Mr. Trump with Jesus Christ, saying that the son of God had been “afforded more rights” by Pontius Pilate than Democrats gave the president.

Mr. Trump was invited to participate in the House impeachment inquiry, but declined to do so, saying he was eager for the matter to reach the Senate, where he would be treated fairly.

In the Senate, where a trial is likely to begin after the new year, Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, said on Wednesday morning that Democrats were poised to “misuse the solemn process of impeachment to blow off partisan steam.” Mr. McConnell has already said that he views the case against Mr. Trump as “weak” and has predicted a speedy acquittal.

Given Mr. McConnell’s position, some Democrats have advocated that Ms. Pelosi temporarily hold back the House’s charges rather than send them quickly to the Senate, as leverage to try to extract promises for a fair trial or simply to deny Mr. Trump the satisfaction of an acquittal. But while Ms. Pelosi was not expected to transmit the articles immediately, it was not clear whether she was considering deliberately delaying the move.

Over lunch, Republican senators huddled with Kellyanne Conway, Mr. Trump’s counselor, to prepare for the trial. She delivered a presentation of polls that the White House argued showed public support for Mr. Trump and his party.

Sheryl Gay Stolberg, Emily Cochrane and Catie Edmondson contributed reporting.

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