Washington, D.C.

House convenes to debate two articles of impeachment

Votes expected largely on party lines
Day breaks over the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday morning, Dec. 18, 2019.
Day breaks over the Capitol in Washington on Wednesday morning, Dec. 18, 2019.

The House of Representatives convened Wednesday to debate whether to impeach the president for the third time in U.S. history as Democrats bring forward two articles of impeachment charging President Donald Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Republicans attempted to block the proceeding by moving immediately after the opening prayer and Pledge of Allegiance to adjourn the House, a vote they were certain to lose but was part of a strategy of registering their protest against impeachment. Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona made the motion for Republicans, and the vote progressed along party lines.

Once the motion is defeated, the debate over the articles of impeachment is also expected to fall sharply along party lines. Democrats will assert that Trump committed high crimes and misdemeanors by pressuring Ukraine to tarnish Democratic rivals to aid his reelection campaign while Republicans will argue that the majority was engaged in a partisan witch hunt against a president they fear they could not beat at the polls. The House plans to vote by the end of the day.

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In a letter Tuesday, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi invited all Democratic members to be present on the floor Wednesday as the chamber convened to debate the articles at what she called a “very prayerful moment in our nation’s history.”

In the morning, the House was expected to vote to adopt the rules that the House Rules Committee hashed out Tuesday. This will be the first procedural vote by the full chamber to lay the groundwork for formally impeaching Trump.

Early in the day, expect a lot of parliamentary moves by the Republicans to register their opposition and slow the process, which could lead to multiple procedural votes that don’t amount to much. The votes everyone is waiting for — on the two articles of impeachment — are expected in the evening, most likely between 6:30 and 7:30 p.m. ET. The House will hold a separate vote on each of the two articles.

The House may also vote to empower Pelosi to name impeachment managers, whose identities are likely to become public in the coming days. The managers are House members who act much like prosecutors in the impeachment trial to is to follow in the Senate, presenting the findings of the House inquiry to their colleagues across the Capitol. Senators decide whether to acquit the president or to convict and remove him from office, which requires a two-thirds vote, or 67 senators if all are present.

Trump comes out swinging as Democrats lock up enough votes to impeach him for high crimes and misdemeanors.

House Democrats head into the debate with the 216 votes they need (with four vacant seats) to pass the articles of impeachment already in their pocket, according to a survey of members by The New York Times.

The president Wednesday called on his Twitter followers to “say a prayer” ahead of the House vote.

“Can you believe that I will be impeached today by the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats, AND I DID NOTHING WRONG! A terrible Thing. Read the Transcripts. This should never happen to another President again. Say a PRAYER!” he wrote on Twitter.

Trump set the tone Tuesday with an aggrieved and hectoring six-page letter to Pelosi accusing her of “declaring open war on American Democracy” with “an illegal, partisan attempted coup” that he called a “perversion of justice and abuse of power.” He complained he was being railroaded: “More due process was afforded to those accused in the Salem Witch Trials.”

Even as the House has enough Democratic members to pass the impeachment articles, Democrats and Republican will most likely engage in hours of passionate and even angry debate before the roll is called.

Republicans will almost surely pick up many of his points on the floor Wednesday, while Democrats make their case that Trump put his own political interests ahead of those of the country by withholding U.S. security aid from Ukraine even as he pressed the country’s new president to announce investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden and other Democrats.

If the House, as expected, approves both of the articles, Trump will find himself in the company of Presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, who were the other presidents impeached. President Richard Nixon resigned after the House Judiciary Committee approved articles of impeachment but before the full House could vote. Both Johnson and Clinton went on to be acquitted in a Senate trial, and by all accounts, it looks as if Trump will follow that pattern as well.

For Democrats, the only question is how many of their own balk at impeaching Trump.

With the final outcome seemingly preordained, perhaps the only suspense about the vote Wednesday will be how many Democrats break with the party and oppose impeachment.

Two House Democrats who registered their opposition to the inquiry by voting against its ground rules in October, Reps. Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, plan to vote against the articles as well — and Van Drew is expected to leave the party altogether to become a Republican.

Another 14 Democrats have said they were undecided or have not responded to The Times survey, but only one of them, Rep. Ron Kind of Wisconsin, represents a district won by Trump. The rest of the so-called front-line Democrats representing Republican areas announced their support for impeachment in recent days, suggesting that the party was rallying behind the effort.

No Republican has announced support for impeachment, and while 30 have not said how they would vote, few expect any to break with the president.

While the House debates, the Senate looks ahead to a trial with the rules still unsettled.

Assuming the House proceeds with impeachment as anticipated, the fate of Trump’s presidency will soon be in the hands of the Senate, whose leaders are already quarreling over how to put on a fair trial in an era of deep divisions.

Sens. Mitch McConnell of Kentucky and Chuck Schumer of New York, the Republican and Democratic leaders, hardly waited for the House vote to debate how to proceed. On Tuesday, McConnell rejected Schumer’s proposal to call four witnesses who did not testify in the House inquiry, arguing that it was not the Senate’s job to complete a rushed and inadequate investigation by the House.

But even as McConnell and other Republicans assailed House Democrats for not hearing from key witnesses, they generally did not fault the White House for blocking those witnesses from testifying in the first place. Instead, they said the blame lay with Democrats for not going to court to challenge the White House refusal to cooperate, an approach that Democrats rejected because they concluded the judicial process would take too long.

McConnell was navigating a tricky position of balancing Trump’s desire for vindication through a trial and the positions of vulnerable Republican senators who are concerned that an abbreviated trial or one that seems tilted to Trump would make it look like they did not take the charges seriously.

The various sides will continue to try to formulate a plan for the trial Wednesday even as the House formally decides whether one will be needed.

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