WASHINGTON – A historic vote to impeach President Donald Trump is expected next week in the Democrat-led House of Representatives, a move likely to trigger a trial to remove the president from power early next year in the Republican-controlled Senate.
On Friday, the House Judiciary Committee approved two articles of impeachment – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress – moving the articles to a full House vote. A vote in the full House could happen Wednesday or Thursday, according to Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., the chairman of the House Rules Committee.
Impeaching Trump equates to nothing more than approving formal charges against him, but is important because it requires the Senate to hold a trial over whether to convict the president of the charges. Impeachment also carries a historical weight because just two presidents in U.S. History – Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 – have been impeached. Richard Nixon resigned before the matter came to a full House vote.
But before the House moves to officially impeach Trump – and well before Senators get a crack at the case – a number of things must happen.
The first is approving the rules for the House vote:
The House vote
McGovern said the panel would meet Tuesday to debate the rules for the floor debate, such as how long debate will last and how many amendments – if any – will be allowed. The Rules Committee is smaller committee than Judiciary, with nine Democrats and four Republicans.
One of the most hotly debated points could focus on the lack of a Judiciary Committee hearing with witnesses chosen by Republicans. The absence of the hearing fuels Republican complaints the process is unfair and partisan. Such a hearing is promised in the House rules, but not the timing. Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., chose not to schedule one before voting.
The Rules Committee will also determine whether to allow votes on Republican amendments to the articles of impeachment on the floor. Democrats could easily block amendments with their majority on the panel. But a hint of what Republicans might propose is evident from five amendments proposed in the Judiciary Committee, such as attempts to remove the articles.
The abuse of power charge relates to Trump withholding first a White House meeting and then $391 million in military aid until Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky announced investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter, as well as a debunked allegation Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election.
Trump and congressional Republicans have dismissed the allegation because the president eventually met with Zelensky and released the aid without the announcement of investigations. But Democrats contend he released the aid only after the scheme became public.
The Trump administration directed aides and agencies to defy subpoenas for documents and testimony, although some officials still testified. The defiance is what led to the accusation of obstruction of Congress. Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said Trump’s refusal to cooperate with any congressional subpoena was worse than any president in history, including Nixon.
“Nobody can be a dictator,” Nadler said.
But Republicans argued the articles detailed no specific crimes.
“What we’re debating here, in my opinion, is the weakest case in history,” said Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., former chairman of the committee who participated in four impeachments for former President Bill Clinton and three judges. “This bar is so low that what is happening is that a future president can be impeached for any disagreement.”
Rep. Mike Johnson, R-La., said presidents have never been forced to comply with every congressional request of every subpoena. The results are often negotiated as part of the checks and balances between the branches, he said.
“There’s no evidence of any impeachable conduct with that,” Johnson said. “It’s very commonplace.”
Democrats control the House with a large enough majority to impeach Trump even if a few members vote no. The chamber has 233 Democrats, 197 Republicans and an independent, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, who is expected to support impeachment. Four seats are vacant.
If the Democrats are successful in impeaching Trump, the Senate will hold a trial.
The Senate trial
The Senate would then hold a trial to determine whether to convict and remove Trump from office. Conviction and removal would require a two-thirds majority, which is considered unlikely in the Republican-led Senate.
Trump has indicated he would like a swift trial to vindicate himself and would like to call witnesses to undermine the whistleblower complaint about his July 25 call with Zelensky, which sparked the impeachment inquiry in September. White House lawyers are meeting with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to negotiate details.
“I’ll do long or short. I’ll do whatever they want to do,” Trump said Friday. “It doesn’t matter.”
Trump continued to deny wrongdoing.
“It’s a witch hunt. It’s a sham. It’s a hoax. Nothing was done wrong. Zero was done wrong,” Trump said. “I think it’s a horrible thing to be using the tool of impeachment, which is supposed to be used in an emergency.”
McConnell said no decision has been made on whether to call witnesses for testimony on the Senate floor after the lawmakers hear opening arguments. Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts will preside over the trial, but McConnell expected Roberts to submit motions to the Senate for votes on issues such as whether to call witnesses, rather than make rulings himself.
House managers, lawmakers who have not yet been named, but who serve as prosecutors, will make their arguments. Trump’s lawyers will respond. Then McConnell said a majority of the Senate – 51 lawmakers – could vote to either call witnesses or decide that they’ve heard enough.
McConnell said the Senate is obligated to hold the trial, despite the expected outcome.
“I said I would be totally surprised if there were 67 senators who would remove the president,” McConnell said. “That remains my view.”
Democratic concerns about trial
Some House Democrats have voiced concerns about McConnell saying he is working closely with the White House about how to structure the trial. Senators serve essentially as a jury, but Democrats on the Judiciary Committee recommended articles of impeachment are worried McConnell will make decisions favoring his fellow Republican, the president.
“To have the foreman of the jury, the person who sets all of the rules in the Senate for this trial, to come out and say he’s closely coordinating with the chief defendant, the White House, and that he has already decided that it’s not going to happen,” said Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash. “I think that is an outrage, and the American people will think it’s an outrage as well.”
Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., said if the House sends articles of impeachment to the Senate, every senator will take an oath to render “impartial justice.”
“Making sure the Senate conducts a fair and honest trial that allows all the facts to come out is paramount,” Schumer said.
Contributing: Ledyard King, Christal Hayes, Nicholas Wu and Courtney Subramanian