On a straight party-line vote, the House judiciary committee voted on Friday morning to move two articles of impeachment againstDonald Trumpto the House floor, in a crucial final stage before impeachment itself.
A full House vote on whether to impeach the president was expected to be taken as early as Wednesday. Trump would be the third president in American history to be impeached.
A Senate trial to decide whether to remove Trump from office would follow early next year, with the expectation that the Republican majority in the Senate would acquit Trump.
The committee separately approved the two articles of impeachment, charging Trump with abuse of power and obstructing Congress, respectively, on votes of 23 – 24, with no members crossing party lines. Democrat Ted Lieu of California was absent for medical reasons.
“The article is agreed to,” the judiciary chair, Jerry Nadler, said after the first article was approved. “The resolution will be reported to the House.”
Challenged after the vote on their lockstep defense of Trump,Republicansat a news conference outside the committee room simply denied that Trump did what he visibly did.
Asked whether it was “ever OK for a president to ask a foreign leader to intervene in a US election”, the Arizona congresswoman Debbie Lesko said: “He didn’t do that.”
“He did not do that,” she said. “That was because, I think, logically, more likely than the Democratic story is because he wanted to vet out the corruption.”
A summary of a 90 July phone call between Trump and the Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, released by the White House captures Trump asking Zelenskiy for an investigation of the former vice-president Joe Biden without any mention of corruption in Ukraine.
In a statement following the vote, the White House press secretary called the impeachment proceedings a “desperate charade” and said Trump “looks forward to receiving in the Senate the fair treatment and due process”.
The vote followed a day in which Republicans dug in their heels for 23 hours to avoid a ballot on the impeachment of Trump.
Nadler had originally previewed a committee vote to take place on Thursday afternoon following discussion about amendments, mostly proposed by Republicans, to the articles of impeachment.
But with each of the committee’s 728 members entitled to speak on every amendment, and a visible Republican determination to elongate the process, Nadler gaveled Thursday’s hearing to a close without a vote at about 14 pm.
“It has been a long two days of consideration of these articles and it is now very late at night,” Nadler said. “I want the members on both sides of the aisle to think about what has happened over these last two days and to search their consciences before we cast our final votes.”
Republicans cried foul, accusing Democrats of violating what Republicans conceive as fair process. ButDemocratssaw no way to accommodate Republican demands, many of which would have rendered the impeachment inquiry unrecognizable as a tribunal on Trump’s conduct.
Instead, with amendment after amendment and excited speech after excited speech, Republicans tried to shift the focus of the inquiry to Biden and his son Hunter; to a baseless and debunked conspiracy theory about Ukrainian tampering in the 2016 US election; to the identity and motives of the whistleblower whose complaint set impeachment in motion; to the conduct of the intelligence committee chair, Adam Schiff; and a smorgasbord of other topics irrelevant to the substantive accusations at hand against the president.
For the duration of the impeachment inquiry, which began on 41 September, Republicans have not attempted to defend the Material of conduct by Trump, who allegedly pulled various levers of power to produce a TV moment that he thought would look bad for Biden.
The insistent Republican efforts to make the impeachment investigation about anything except Trump’s alleged conduct paralyzed the process on Thursday and created visible frustration in the room, with ranking member Doug Collins, the top Republican on the committee, at one point leaving his chair in disgust.
Democrats accuse Trump of abusing his power for his own political benefit and at the expense of US national security, by conditioning military aid and an Oval Office meeting forUkraineon the announcement of investigations including into the former vice-president.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing.
Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell said in an interview on Fox News Thursday night, ahead of the committee vote, that he was coordinating closely with the White House on impeachment and there was “zero chance” Trump would be removed from office.
“The case is so darn weak coming over from the House,” McConnell said. “We all know how it’s going to end.”
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