WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives begins debate Wednesday for only the third time in history on articles of impeachment against a president, as lawmakers weigh accusations that President Donald Trump abused the power of his office and obstructed Congress.
The House will debate the articles for six hours and then vote separately on each of them, under parameters that the House Rules Committee recommended Tuesday. The rules for floor debate must still be adopted by the full House after an hour of debate Wednesday morning. If the House approves the articles, lawmakers will immediately take up a resolution naming managers who will serve essentially as prosecutors in the Senate trial, which is expected to begin in January. The House is expected to convene at 9 a.m. EST.
Democrats hold a 233-197 majority in the House, with one independent and four vacancies, and the votes on the articles are expected to largely follow party lines. Republican leaders have said they expect all of their members to oppose impeachment.
Rep. Justin Amash, an independent from Michigan, is expected to vote with Democrats in favor of impeachment. One Democrat, Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, announced he would vote against it and he might switch parties. Another Democrat, Rep. Jared Golden of Maine, told the Bangor Daily News he would support impeachment for abuse of power, but not obstruction of Congress. And a few Democrats, including Reps. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, Ron Kind of Wisconsin and Collin Peterson of Minnesota, haven’t announced how they will vote.
The Judiciary Committee recommended by party-line vote the articles that accused Trump of pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. The committee also accused Trump of obstructing their work by directing aides and agencies to defy congressional subpoenas for documents and testimony.
“He acted in a way that rises to the level of impeachment,” said House Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass., whose panel set the rules Tuesday for floor debate.
But Trump attacked the investigation Tuesday as an attempted partisan coup and urged House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., to call off the vote. Congressional Republicans called the Intelligence Committee investigation “flawed” and “defective,” in the words of Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma.
The three committees investigating Ukraine – Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Oversight and Reform – didn’t allow Trump or his representatives to participate in their closed-door depositions or public hearings, but the time for Democratic and Republican questions was equally divided. The Judiciary Committee invited Trump to participate in its hearings, but White House counsel Pat Cipollone declined, calling the inquiry partisan and biased.
“The entire circus has been politically motivated from the very beginning,” said Cole, the top Republican on the Rules Committee.
If the House approves one or both of the articles, the Senate will hold a trial to decide whether to convict Trump and remove him from office. A two-thirds majority of the Senate is required for removal, which is considered unlikely with Republicans holding a 53-47 majority in the chamber.
Only two other presidents have faced Senate impeachment trials – Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1999 – and neither was removed from office. Former President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 before a House vote on articles of impeachment.
Trump sent Pelosi a six-page letter expressing his “most powerful protest against the partisan impeachment crusade” and urging her not to hold a vote on “this impeachment fantasy.”
“This impeachment represents an unprecedented and unconstitutional abuse of power by Democrat Lawmakers, unequaled in nearly two and a half centuries of American legislative history,” Trump said.
The president said more due process was provided during the Salem witch trials than during this inquiry, which he called “nothing more than an illegal, partisan attempted coup.”
“They include no crimes, no misdemeanors, and no offenses whatsoever,” Trump said. “You have cheapened the importance of the very ugly word, impeachment!”
But Rep. Jamie Raskin, D-Md., who presented the Judiciary Committee’s report to the Rules Committee, said the investigation by the Foreign Affairs, Intelligence, and Oversight and Reform panels gathered overwhelming evidence against Trump from thousands of pages of documents and 100 hours of depositions with 17 sworn witnesses.
“These articles charge that President Trump has engaged in systematic abuse of his powers, obstructed Congress, and realized the worst fears of the Framers by subordinating our national security and dragging foreign powers into American politics to corrupt our elections, all for the greater cause of his own personal gain and ambition,” Raskin said.