Trump Impeached on Two Counts by House, Setting Up Senate Trial
U.S. President Donald Trump gives a thumbs up while walking on the South Lawn of the White House before boarding Marine One in Washington, D.C., U.S. (Photographer: Michael Reynolds/EPA/Bloomberg)  

Trump Impeached on Two Counts by House, Setting Up Senate Trial

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(Bloomberg) -- The U.S. House of Representatives impeached President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstructing Congress, the culmination of an effort by Democrats that further inflamed partisan tensions in Washington and deepened the nation’s ideological divide.

The historic votes on Wednesday evening, which won the support of almost all Democrats in the House but not a single Republican, make Trump only the third president in U.S. history to be impeached -- and likely the only impeached president to win his party’s nomination for re-election.

The Senate will hold a trial early next year to decide whether the president should be convicted on the charges and removed from office, though the Republicans who have the majority in that chamber will almost certainly acquit him.

Trump Impeached on Two Counts by House, Setting Up Senate Trial

House Democrats took depositions from more than a dozen witnesses, held weeks of hearings, and wrote hundreds of pages documenting Trump’s efforts to pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.

Yet public support for Trump’s impeachment and removal rarely went much above 50% in polling, and there is little evidence that the proceedings left him in a worse position politically on the eve of the 2020 election.

After more than six hours of debate, the House voted 230 to 197 to adopt the first of two impeachment articles, one alleging he misused the power of his office to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. The House voted 229 to 198 on a second article accusing him of obstructing Congress.

The final vote left all sides dissatisfied. Republicans fumed at what they called a rushed process, accusing Democrats of ignoring their demands for witnesses and trying to tarnish Trump heading into his campaign.

But Democrats failed to inflict lasting damage to the president, even as the evidence mounted that he had done what they alleged: Attempting to strong-arm a U.S. ally to investigate a prominent political rival by holding back military aid and an Oval Office visit.

“I could not be prouder or more inspired by the moral courage of House Democrats,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said after the votes.

‘No Grounds’

Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, delivering the closing arguments for the GOP, said the legacy of House Democrats will be “the most partisan and least credible impeachment in American history.”

It is a “case is based on second-hand opinions and hearsay,” he said. “Simply put: they have no grounds for impeachment.”

Minutes before the House began voting, Trump took the stage for a campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan, a state that was crucial to his victory in 2016 and his chances for re-election next year, to provide a real-time rebuttal to the impeachment debate.

“After three years of sinister witch hunts, hoaxes, scams, tonight, House Democrats are trying to nullify the ballots of tens of millions of patriotic Americans,” Trump told the crowd. He said Democrats would pay the price in the next election.

Trump Impeached on Two Counts by House, Setting Up Senate Trial

Shift to Senate

The drama will now shift to the Senate for a trial next month that will be presided over by Chief Justice John Roberts. With a two-thirds vote required to convict the president, Trump’s acquittal in the Republican-controlled chamber is all but assured. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already declared that he is “not an impartial juror” and is setting a course to bring the proceedings to a swift conclusion.

“The president is confident the Senate will restore regular order, fairness, and due process, all of which were ignored in the House proceedings,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement immediately after the second article was adopted. “He is prepared for the next steps and confident that he will be fully exonerated.”

It wasn’t clear Wednesday night how quickly the House would send the articles of impeachment to the Senate, a step that would trigger the trial and stop work on any other matters. Pelosi said she was holding off naming House managers for the trial “until we see what the process is in the Senate.”

“This is a serious matter, even though the majority leader in the United States Senate says it’s OK for the foreman of the jury to be in cahoots with the lawyers of the accused,” Pelosi said. “That doesn’t sound right to us.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell plans in a floor speech Thursday to call the House probe the “most unfair impeachment inquiry in modern history.” Trump said on Twitter that if the Democrats decide “not to show up, they would lose by Default!”

The historic debate and vote took place in the same chamber where presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were impeached. The arguments on the House floor mostly replayed those made in Judiciary and Intelligence committee impeachment hearings since last month, and on Tuesday as lawmakers set the ground rules for Wednesday’s floor action.

‘Duty’

Opening the debate, Pelosi called Trump an “ongoing threat to our national security,” and declared that, “If we do not act now, we would be derelict in our duty.”

Trump Impeached on Two Counts by House, Setting Up Senate Trial

Republican Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, a key defender of the president during Judiciary Committee hearings, said in rebuttal that the president did nothing wrong.

“The people of America see through this,” Collins said. “The people of America understand due process and they understand when it is being trampled in the people’s house.”

The House vote culminates a nearly three-month investigation into Trump’s Ukraine dealings by Democrats led by Pelosi, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler and Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff.

The inquiry was set off in September by a still-unnamed whistle-blower’s complaint and the White House’s release of a July 25 transcript of phone call between the U.S. President and Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

Impeachment Momentum

Trump and his Republican backers accuse Democrats of hurtling toward impeachment of the 45th president since the day he won election. In fact, at least a few the most liberal Democrats had been calling for his impeachment since the first reports by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered with the 2016 election to Trump’s benefit.

But Pelosi had staved off those demands, until the Ukraine revelations dramatically shifted the sentiment among Democrats, drawing support from more centrist members of the party who were wary of paying a political price with angry Trump voters in their districts.

Only two of the 31 Democrats representing areas Trump won in 2016, Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, voted against impeaching the president. A third, Maine’s Jared Golden, voted for the abuse of power article but against the obstruction article. Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, voted present on both counts.

Michigan Representative Justin Amash, a Trump critic who left the Republican Party earlier this year and became an independent, voted with the Democrats for impeachment. Trump’s Wednesday night rally was held in his district.

Even if the president evades conviction and removal, the House vote will leave a stain on his time in the White House and his place in history.

Political Impact

With polling before the vote showing the country as sharply divided along party lines on impeachment as was the House of Representatives, Trump and his allies are vowing to make it an issue in coming elections. On Tuesday, the president sent an angry and rambling six-page letter to Pelosi saying the impeachment vote would backfire on Democrats.

“Any member of Congress who votes in support of impeachment -- against every shred of truth, fact, evidence and legal principle -- is showing how deeply they revile the voters and how truly they detest America’s constitutional order,” he wrote.

Although anger surrounding impeachment has animated voters in both parties, it’s not yet clear that it will be the central issue when they cast ballots next November in an election to decide control of the White House and Congress. The cost and availability of health care along with the state of the economy remain the top issues mentioned by voters in most polls. There also may be events over the next 10 months that reshape the campaigns.

“Things move so fast we can’t just assume that things that seem very important now are going to matter later,” Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Chrystal Ball website at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said last week.

©2019 Bloomberg L.P.

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