WASHINGTON — With opening statements out of the way, the House Judiciary Committee will turn Thursday to voting on the two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump.
The committee will eventually vote separately on each of the articles: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The accusations are that Trump abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political rival and then obstructed lawmakers by directing his administration to defy subpoenas for documents and testimony. But Trump has said he acted justifiably with Ukraine and he refused to cooperate with the investigation he viewed as partisan and biased
Before those final votes, the committee will consider potential amendments, when Republicans could attempt to remove or limit the accusations. But Democrats outnumber Republicans on the panel 24 to 17, so they are expected to control any contested votes.
One lingering dispute is that Republicans sought a hearing for witnesses that they choose before voting on the articles. Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the panel, had argued that Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., couldn’t block such a hearing with a vote.
But Nadler didn’t schedule the GOP hearing before scheduling the voting session, despite repeated Republican requests.
Personal moment for lawmakers
Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., said tonight was a deeply personal moment for many lawmakers, knowing that it would become a piece of history that future members of Congress may use to guide them.
“We spent months collecting the facts about what the president had done and we spent many weeks examining the Constitution to the law. And this was our opportunity to integrate all of it into our own lives in our own careers,” he said. “And I think that this hearing tonight will go down as an historic moment. No one really quite expected it, but I think it is going to have a spectacular breakthrough effect.”
Swing district Democratic lawmaker takes a stance
Rep. Lucy McBath, D-Ga., who has so far been publicly undecided on voting for impeachment articles, came out in support of both articles of impeachment during tonight’s Judiciary Committee hearing.
She led into her speech by retelling the story of her son Jordan’s shooting death in 2012, saying that she entered politics to stand up “for families like mine.”
McBath then took a stance on the impeachment articles.
“I believe the president abused the power of his office, putting his own interests above the needs of our nation, above the needs of the people I love and serve – and for that, I must vote my conscience,” McBath said. “And I do so with a heavy heart and a grieving soul.”
McBath explained after the hearing that she supported both articles of impeachment.
She concluded by saying she wanted to fight for an America that “I pray that my son Jordan, would be proud of.”
McBath is one of two Democrats on the committee to represent competitive districts. She narrowly won her Atlanta-area district in the 2018 elections.
Rep. Correa says his story is example of American dream
In English and Spanish, Rep. Lou Correa, D-Calif., spoke about being the son of immigrants and the road that allowed him – the son of a woman who cleaned hotel rooms for $1.60 an hour – to become a member of Congress.
“My election to Congress is an example of the American dream and how hard work can make the American dream come true,” he said, explaining that he feels Trump’s conduct cuts through one of the ideals that make America so great.
Correa spoke in Spanish for the millions of Americans who consider that their first language, explaining why he believed it was the job of Congress to conduct such oversight.
“I do not take impeachment lightly,” he said. “I’m here to do my job as a member of Congress and to protect the American dream. It’s my Constitutional job to ensure that no one, no one is above the law.”
Democrat says ‘nobody is above the law’
Rep. Val Demings gave a personalized speech about how her humble background propelled her to challenge the most powerful figure in the country.
The Florida Democrat described herself as the descendant of slaves. She grew up the youngest of seven children, born to a maid and a janitor. She was the first in her family to attend college. Then she joined the Orlando police department and eventually became its first female chief.
“I enforced the laws and now I write the laws,” Demings said. “I know that nobody is above the law.”
She didn’t dwell on the details of the accusations in the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. Instead, she argued that the law means nothing if a suspect is allowed to destroy evidence, block witnesses from testifying and blatantly refuse to cooperate with an investigation.
“I ask you to name somebody in your family or your community who can do that,” Demings said. “Nobody is above the law.”
Democrats reference a Republican lawmaker who voted for Nixon’s impeachment
Democratic lawmakers used Rep. Lawrence Hogan, a Maryland Republican who had crossed the aisle to vote for President Richard Nixon’s impeachment, as an example of how Republicans had stood up against their party.
Hogan had been the first Republican on the Judiciary Committee to come out in favor of impeachment in 1974 and later voted for the articles of impeachment.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., quoted Hogan as saying he could not ignore the evidence against Nixon.
“Party loyalty, he said, must fall before the law itself,” Rep. Jamie Raksin, D-Md., said, quoting Hogan.
Hogan paid a political price for his votes, losing a bid for governor of Maryland, a position later won by his son Larry Hogan.
“I lost a lot of friends, a lot of supporters, a lot of contributions, by voting against him and lost the nomination because of my vote against Nixon,” he told public radio station WYPR in 2015.
Put country over party?
Members of both sides sparred over their obligations to the nation and told each other to cross the aisle.
Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., said Trump “will not be accountable” if he can get away with interference in the 2020 presidential election.
“He works for us. We the people,” he said, urging his Republican colleagues to “put country over party.”
Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., said the witnesses in the impeachment inquiry had shown “courage” – an example to the lawmakers.
“If they can show that type of courage and risk everything, why can’t my Republican colleagues? The facts are not in dispute,” he said.
In his statement, Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., shot back at Democrats, quipping that he wanted his Democratic colleagues to “put country over party” and vote against impeachment.
“The founders of our country warned against a single party impeachment,” Johnson argued. Such an impeachment, Johnson said, would divide the country.
Rep. Gaetz called Democrat impeachment case ‘sloppy’
Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., gave one of the most fiery speeches of the night, arguing that the Democratic impeachment proves they are clarifying nothing but their partisanship.
“This is the quickest, thinnest, weakest, most partisan impeachment in all of American presidential history,” Gaetz said. “It’s their lies that continue to fuel this scorched earth strategy of impeachment.”
Democrats accused Trump of being an agent of Russia, but special counsel Robert Mueller found no conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and that country. Despite Democrats accusing Trump of obstruction of justice, Gaetz said they couldn’t make the case.
During the Ukraine investigation, Democrats suggested that Trump withholding a White House visit and military aid from Ukraine could constitute bribery or extortion. But Gaetz said those criminal charges weren’t included in the articles of impeachment because the evidence didn’t support them.
“This is nothing more than the sloppy, straight to DVD brainless sequel to the failed Russia hoax,” Gaetz said. “If it seems like you’ve seen this movie before, it’s because you have.”
Rep. Buck says impeachment effort will cost Democrats the House majority
Rep Ken Buck, R-Colo., toyed with House Democrats over their quest to impeach the president, telling them that they should say goodbye to many of their colleagues and their majority status.
“I tell my colleagues, go ahead, vote to impeach President Trump,” he said. “But when you walk out of this hearing room, call your freshman colleagues and tell them they’re not coming back and you hope they’ve had their fun. Say goodbye to your majority status and please join us in January of 2021 when President Trump is inaugurated again.”
Buck went through the tense history between House Democrats and the president, from protesting his inaugural address to various calls to oust him from office over the years from concerns that ranged from emoluments in the Constitution to his mental stability and 25th Amendment.
He said he believed people will remember this impeachment effort “unkindly.”
Rep. Gohmert names person outlets have claimed is the whistleblower
During the Judiciary Committee’s hearing on the articles of impeachment, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, uttered a name conservative media outlets have claimed is the whistleblower who sparked the impeachment inquiry.
While listing witnesses Democrats had not allowed to testify, including Alexandra Chalupa and Nellie Ohr, Gohmert also mentioned the person some have claimed is the whistleblower.
“The abuses, the obstruction of Congress have come from Congress,” Gohmert said, slamming the proceedings.
The whistleblower’s identity has not been revealed or verified publicly.
Asked about Gohmert’s uttering of a name conservative media outlets have claimed is the whistleblower who sparked the impeachment inquiry, Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., replied, “I don’t know who the whistleblower is.”
Jordan says Democrats ‘don’t like’ Trump voters
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, boiled down the impeachment effort as a scheme in the making since Trump was voted into office. He said the effort started with the 2016 election and Russia, two things House Democrats did not include in articles of impeachment, and has continued with the Ukrainian controversy.
“The Democrats don’t care about the facts and they’re never going to stop,” said Jordan, who has become the president’s loudest defender in the House. “It’s not just because they don’t like the president, they don’t like us. They don’t like the 63 million people who voted for this president.”
Jordan said the effort targeting Trump should scare Americans.
“It would be well to remember that what can be done to a president can be done to any of us,” he said. “This is scary stuff, it’s serious stuff.”
Democrat says investigation forced him to support impeachment
Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., said he didn’t support impeaching President Donald Trump before the investigation began, but he changed his mind.
Johnson said it wasn’t enough when Trump pardoned his political cronies, diverted money from troops to pay for the southern border wall or when his administration tore babies from their migrant mothers at the border.
“I didn’t call for his impeachment then, not because I supported this president’s actions. I simply felt that impeachment should be reserved for moments when our democracy itself is in danger,” Johnson said. “When the sign says, ‘In case of emergency, break glass,’ that better be one heck of an emergency.”
Johnson said he changed his mind because the facts are clear that Trump undermined U.S. foreign policy to pursue what his own political staff called a domestic political errand. Johnson, a black man representing Georgia who was born when Jim Crow was alive and well, said he was familiar with election tampering.
“To me, the thought that elections could be undermined is not theoretical,” Johnson said. “We’re here because President Trump tried to sabotage that fragile process. He didn’t want to let the voters decide. He decided to cheat in the upcoming election. And he got caught.”
Rep. Zoe Lofgren: ‘loyalty to our country and to our Constitution must be greater’
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., noted her prior experience working on impeachment efforts that targeted presidents, Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon, saying that “a third time brings me no joy.”
She was a staff member for the House Judiciary Committee during Nixon’s impeachment and a member of Congress during the Clinton saga.
“We have an obligation to live up to our oath of office,” she said, adding that should remain their job even if the president does not.
Lofgren said she has been waiting for Republicans to have a “Chuck Wiggins moment,” a nod to the House Republican who was Nixon’s most vocal defender before realizing that Nixon had lied.
“But it seems like we live in an alternate reality,” she says. “It’s understandable that Republicans feel loyalty to the leader of their party. But loyalty to our country and to our Constitution must be greater.”
How will this impeachment inquiry impact future presidents?
Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., has noted that as a former chairman of the Judiciary Committee, he has managed four impeachments — for former President Bill Clinton and three judges — that he said was the most anyone had handled in history. He noted Wednesday that the panel is considering its third presidential impeachment in about 45 years. But he blasted the case as based on hearsay and “trashing the rules of the House.”
“What we’re debating here, in my opinion, is the weakest case in history,” Sensenbrenner said.
He noted that Trump wasn’t charged with bribery or extortion, leaving vaguer terms such as abuse of power that was open to interpretation. He warned that the Democratic strategy could lead to impeachment proceedings any time Congress and the White House are controlled by different parties.
“This bar is so low that what is happening is that a future president can be impeached for any disagreement,” Sensenbrenner said.
Collins says Democrats are abusing their power with impeachment
Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee, denounced the Committee’s hearing as the culmination of Democrats’ desire to impeach the president since his inauguration.
Trump’s impeachment, he said, “is a bit like the holiday season,” he said, “It doesn’t just sneak up on you.”
“What has this great committee come to?” he said, adding that Democrats were “tearing down the leader of the free world” and the leader of Ukraine.
Collins accused Democrats of abusing their power by not allowing “exculpatory evidence” and spinning the narrative about Trump’s conduct in Ukraine.
He argued impeachment had done “institutional damage” to Congress.
“This is the year you put a dagger in minority rights,” he said.
Nadler says Trump threatens ‘integrity’ of 2020 election, must be impeached – live updates
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said the panel must act urgently in moving to impeach President Donald Trump because he threatens the integrity of the 2020 election.
“If we do not respond to President Trump’s abuses of power, the abuses will continue,” Nadler said. “We cannot rely on an election to solve our problems when the president threatens the very integrity of that election.”
The committee is considering two articles of impeachment, accusing Trump of abuse of power and of obstruction of Congress. The articles allege that Trump withheld a White House meeting and $391 million in military aid from Ukraine unless the country began investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and a conspiracy theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election rather than Russia, as the U.S. intelligence community concluded. Then Trump stonewalled by having his administration defies subpoenas for documents and testimony.
“These were not legitimate requests. Neither was supported by the evidence,” Nadler said. “The evidence proves that these requests were not related to any real interest in rooting out corruption. President Trump eagerly does business with corrupt governments every day.
Nadler said Congress must act or lawmakers will be responsible if Trump continues his alleged misconduct.
“If the president can first abuse his power and then stonewall all congressional requests for information, Congress cannot fulfill its duty to act as a check and balance against the executive – and the president becomes a dictator,” Nadler said.
GOP signs go after ‘impeachment squad’
Republicans put up three signs on their side of the room. One criticized Democratic leaders as the “Coastal impeachment squad,” touting the Electoral College as a check on Democratic influence.
Another noted the number of House Democrats who had voted for impeachment. And a third sign quoted Nadler on President Bill Clinton’s impeachment when Nadler said: “there must never be a narrowly voted impeachment.”
Nadler explains how tonight’s deliberation will work
Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., opened the Committee’s deliberation of impeachment articles against President Donald Trump.
Tonight’s hearing, he explained, would be the first session in the committee’s consideration of the articles, and would involve opening statements from all members. Committee sessions normally have opening statements from only the chair and ranking member.
“I believe that for such an important and solemn occasion as this, it would be appropriate for all members to have an opportunity to make an opening statement,” said Nadler.
What happens next?
If the panel adopts one or both articles, it would be for only the fourth time in history. The full House would then vote as early as next week on whether to impeach Trump. If approved, the Senate would hold a trial in early 2020, to decide whether to remove the president from office.
What are the articles of impeachment?
The articles of impeachment announced Tuesday – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress – closely track the Intelligence Committee’s findings about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine. The panel found Trump withheld a meeting and military aid from Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky while pressuring his counterpart to investigate Trump’s political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
Impeachment articles:In hard-line Congress, moderates boosted with Trump impeachment articles, trade deal
The first article alleges Trump abused his power by urging the Ukraine investigation. The second article alleges Trump obstructed Congress by refusing to cooperate with the House investigation, including defying subpoenas for documents and testimony.
“A president who declares himself above accountability, above the American people, and above Congress’ power of impeachment, which is meant to protect against threats to our democratic institutions, is a president who sees himself as above the law,” Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said Tuesday in unveiling the articles. “We must be clear: No one, not even the president is above the law.”
The inquiry bitterly divided Congress along party lines. Democrats contend Trump represents an urgent threat because he sought to interfere in the 2020 election.
What has been Trump’s reaction?
But Trump has called the inquiry a partisan “WITCH HUNT!” a phrase he tweeted again Tuesday, and a “hoax.” Trump met Zelensky and released the $391 million in aid without an announcement of investigations. Congressional Republicans contend Trump had the authority to suspend aid and set foreign policy.
Stephanie Grisham, the White House press secretary, called the articles a “baseless and partisan attempt to undermine a sitting president” when the articles were unveiled.
“House Democrats have long wanted to overturn the votes of 63 million Americans,” Grisham said. “They have determined that they must impeach President Trump because they cannot legitimately defeat him at the ballot box.”
Only two presidents have been impeached – Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 – but neither was removed. Former President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 after the Judiciary Committee approved articles of impeachment, but before a full House vote.
Trump’s response to articles:Trump denounces articles of impeachment as ‘very weak’ as Democrats push ahead with proceedings