Washington D.C/United States (13/12). THE HOUSE JUDICIARY Committee is now slated to vote Friday morning on two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump after an all-day hearing ended late Thursday with Democrats unexpectedly pushing the deciding vote off until morning.
In separate votes on each article, the committee is expected to advance a measure along party lines that says Trump committed high crimes and misdemeanors in his dealings with Ukraine, which included an abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Approval would send the resolution to the House floor for a historic vote to impeach just the third U.S. president in history.
A decision to postpone the final committee tally came after the marathon markup, which lasted for three hours on Wednesday night and surpassed 14 hours on Thursday. The session was punctuated by long-winded debates on the resolution and a series of proposed amendments. And while it wasn’t as bitter and tense as past hearings before the Judiciary Committee, it did turn uncharacteristically personal.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler’s decision to abruptly end Thursday’s session and suspend the final vote until 10 a.m. Friday sent Republicans into a tailspin. Ranking Member Doug Collins of Georgia, who briefly and dramatically walked out of the hearing at one point earlier in the evening, vented his frustrations that the chairman didn’t consult him and torpedoed lawmakers’ schedules. Rep. Louie Gohmert of Texas called it “Stalinesque.” But Democrats made a last-minute schedule change so they could hold a televised vote at a more regular hour.
The articles of impeachment accuse Trump of using his office to push a foreign country to benefit his reelection – as a consequence, jeopardizing U.S. national security and the 2020 election – and engaging in an “unprecedented” blockade of congressional subpoenas compelling witness interviews and the collection of documents related to the investigation.
Republican committee members argued that Democrats have no evidence that Trump wanted to influence the 2020 election. But Nader disputed the GOP’s assessment, arguing that Democrats are pursuing impeachment because Trump’s actions have eroded the “safeguards” of democracy by challenging “free and fair elections” and the separation of powers that allow Congress to investigate.
“If you want a dictator, then you subvert the ability of Congress to hold the executive in check,” the New York Democrat said. “What is central here is: Do we want a dictator? No matter how popular he may be, no matter how good or bad the results of his policies, no president is supposed to be a dictator in the United States.”
Democrats have been investigating Trump’s July 25 call with Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, during which he pushed Ukraine to open investigations into unfounded claims of 2016 election interference emanating from the country and into the Bidens. They have asserted that Trump used a potential White House meeting that was very important to Ukraine’s leader and congressionally approved military aid as leverage to compel cooperation.
Democrats and Republicans continued Thursday to disagree on the contents of the July 25 call, which Trump has insisted was “perfect.” Committee members sought to parse the line in which Trump asked Zelenskiy “to do us a favor though.” Democrats have leaned on the word “favor” to demonstrate that Trump was engaged in a quid pro quo, or bribery. But the GOP pushed back that Trump was being inclusive and using the word “us” to mean the entire country and that the favor in reference was to tackle corruption.
For nearly two hours at the onset of the markup, Democrats and Republicans sparred over whether Trump abused the powers of the presidency by asking Ukraine to pursue political investigations, and they relitigated past impeachment proceedings.
The first GOP amendment proposed by Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio sought to nix the abuse of power article. Hours later, another Republican proposed an amendment that sought to strike the obstruction of Congress article.
During the debate of Jordan’s amendment, lawmakers also clashed over the 1998 impeachment of former President Bill Clinton when comparing it to the allegations against Trump. Four articles of impeachment were brought against Clinton, but only two passed the House: perjury and obstruction of justice.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat who served on the committee during Clinton’s impeachment, pushed back on arguments implying that Clinton abused his power when lying about a sexual affair while Republicans denied Trump misused his office by pressuring a foreign country to benefit his own election.
But Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican who also played a role in the 1998 proceedings, countered that Clinton’s impeachment was different because he lied to a grand jury, which is a crime.
“This is not what is happening here. Big difference,” he added.
Rep. Matt Gaetz introduced an amendment to take out a reference to Trump seeking an investigation from Ukraine into his 2020 rival Joe Biden and replace it with Hunter Biden’s name and Burisma. Republicans argued that the younger Biden was the real focus, but the memo of the July 25 call shows Trump talking to Zelenskiy about both Bidens.
In response to Gaetz’s criticism of the younger Biden, Rep. Hank Johnson, Georgia Democrat, made a thinly veiled reference to the Republican congressman’s own 2008 arrest on a DUI charge while calling on his GOP colleagues to stop with the “character assassinations.”
“I would say that the pot calling the kettle black is not something that we should do. I don’t know what members, if any, have had any problems with substance abuse, been busted in DUI. I don’t know. But if I did, I wouldn’t raise it on this committee,” Johnson said.
Republicans proposed half a dozen amendments, all of which were struck down along party lines. Nadler was the only Democrat to introduce an amendment, seeking to change Trump’s name to Donald John Trump in the resolution instead of only using his middle initial.
The approval of the impeachment resolution means the measure will likely be taken up for a floor vote next week as Congress prepares to leave for the year by Dec. 20. The impeachment vote is expected to pass mostly along party lines with the likelihood of a handful of Democratic defections from members in swing districts. So far, one Democrat – freshman Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey – has confirmed he won’t vote for impeachment.
Meanwhile, House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California signaled Thursday that he expects Republicans to be a united front during the impeachment vote.
“I don’t think there’s a need to whip the vote,” he said.