The House Judiciary Committee debated two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump late into Thursday night before Chairman Jerry Nadler gaveled the hearing out to take final votes Friday morning.
The committee had been expected to approve the charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress against the President on two party-line votes Thursday, following a contentious, marathon debate where lawmakers clashed over the allegations against Trump and the repercussions of voting to impeach him.
Instead, Republicans erupted at Nadler when he announced the vote would not take place until 10 a.m. Friday.
The committee’s action helps set the stage for a vote next week in the House of Representatives to impeach Trump, which will mark the culmination of a historic and rapidly moving impeachment inquiry that will shape the legacies of the key players in the midst of it, from Trump to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her committee chairs to the President’s GOP defenders in Congress.
Inside the hearing room Thursday, Democrats and Republicans vigorously debated the facts of the Ukraine case, the veracity of the language in the nine-page impeachment resolution and the repercussions that Trump’s impeachment would have for both the Constitution and the institution of Congress.
The markup lasted late into the evening Thursday, stretching longer than 14 hours as Republicans used the one tool available to them in the markup: the ability to extend it with additional amendments and debate. As Republicans prepared even more amendments, the committee took a break just after 9 p.m. EST, and lawmakers braced for the debate to last late into the night. When they returned just before 10 p.m. EST, however, tensions seemed to cool and the committee held its final debate.
Thursday’s hearing was the latest and clearest sign yet that Democrats will impeach Trump next week, a reality that both ends of Pennsylvania Avenue are preparing for as the impeachment case will shift from the Democratic-controlled House to the Republican-held Senate gearing up for a trial in January.
Democrats charge that Trump must be impeached for abusing his office by pressuring Ukraine to investigate his political rivals while withholding US security aid and a White House meeting, and then covering up his conduct by stonewalling the congressional investigation.
“We’re here today because the President abused his power. We’re here today because he solicited foreign interference in the 2020 election,” said Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a New York Democrat and member of House leadership. “He had welcomed foreign interference as it relates to Russia. He solicited foreign interference on the White House lawn with China, and he did it with Ukraine. He’s a serial solicitor.”
Republicans counter that Democrats are pushing forward with a political impeachment that contains no crime nor evidence of wrongdoing.
“They can’t make a crime,” said Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. “They hold back to the fact that we can impeach him for anything, and that’s what they’ve done.”
That debate — and the intense fighting between the two sides over it — played out amid Thursday’s messy, legislative sausage-making in which Democrats beat back Republican amendments to weaken or kill the impeachment resolution.
Lawmakers sparred at length over amendments to remove entire articles of impeachment, to replace former Vice President Joe Biden’s name in the resolution with that of his son Hunter Biden and Burisma, and to state that Ukraine did receive aid money from the United States.
The committee process for debating and approving the articles is used for hundreds of pieces of legislation on Capitol Hill each year, but Thursday’s debate was as contentious as ever. All of the amendments proposed so far Thursday have been defeated along party lines.
Democratic leadership sources say that for the full floor vote they could lose more than the two moderate Democrats who opposed an earlier procedural vote on the impeachment inquiry, but there’s no concern about major defections that could endanger the articles.
Pelosi said Thursday that she is not lobbying moderates on the fence to vote for impeachment.
“People have to come to their own conclusions,” the California Democrat said.
The White House is also preparing for the proceedings to move to the Senate. White House counsel Pat Cipollone and White House legislative affairs director Eric Ueland huddled Thursday in Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell’s office.
“We are having a lot of good conversations with Senate Republicans,” Ueland said after the meeting. “We will continue to do that here over the next few days and weeks as we work through all these issues and priorities the President has outlined when it comes to where we should go on these articles, which starts with defeating them in the House because they are not based on the facts.”
House Republican leaders, meanwhile, are lobbying their members on the House floor to oppose impeachment, as Republicans work to keep the number of GOP defections on impeachment at zero.
A free-wheeling committee debate
Thursday’s debate was free-wheeling, as any committee member was able to offer an amendment to the impeachment articles and every lawmaker could speak up to debate it.
Republicans proposed two amendments to simply remove the first and second impeachment articles from the resolution. Both were defeated in party-line votes.
Democrats responded that Republicans were ignoring the President’s misconduct, continuing the partisan debate over impeachment that began on Wednesday night when every lawmaker on the 41-member committee delivered an opening statement.
Republican Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida offered the amendment to replace Joe Biden’s name in the impeachment resolution with the “well-known corrupt company, Burisma,” and Hunter Biden, saying that Hunter Biden’s appointment to the Ukrainian energy company “looks dirty as it is.” That amendment was also defeated along party lines.
Explaining the resolution, Gaetz walked through Hunter Biden’s substance abuse problems, which drew a sharp rebuke from Democratic Rep. Hank Johnson of Georgia. “I would say that the pot calling the kettle black is not something that we should do,” Johnson said.
He then alluded to Gaetz’s past DUI arrest, without mentioning him by name: “I don’t know what members, if any, have had any problems with substance abuse, been busted in DUI, I don’t know,” Johnson said. “But if I did, I wouldn’t raise it against anyone on this committee.”
Gaetz was arrested for driving under the influence in 2008, but the charges were later dismissed. He said he was “focused on the President” and didn’t think the public was “hanging on a traffic incident I had a decade ago.”
The impeachment debate even veered back two decades, as two lawmakers who were on the Judiciary Committee when President Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 debated the merits of that case compared to the current impeachment proceedings.
“I would just like to note that the argument that somehow, lying about a sexual affair is an abuse of presidential power, but the misuse of presidential power to get a benefit somehow doesn’t matter — if it’s lying about sex, we could put Stormy Daniels’ case ahead of us,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren, a California Democrat who was also a congressional staffer during the impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon. “We don’t believe that’s a high crime and misdemeanor.”
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, a Wisconsin Republican who was an impeachment manager in 1998, argued there was a clear crime in the Clinton impeachment.
“The important thing is, is that Bill Clinton lied to a grand jury. That is a crime,” Sensenbrenner said. “The article of impeachment that passed the House accused Bill Clinton of lying to a grand jury, a crime, and something that obstructs the ability of the courts to get to the truth. This is not what is happening here. Big difference.”
Republicans’ efforts to change the text of the impeachment articles or block them entirely were ultimately futile, thanks to the Democrats’ 23-17 advantage in the committee. But for each amendment, every member had the opportunity to speak for five minutes — meaning Republicans could extend the committee meeting as long as they wanted to keep talking.
“If we have to fact-check you all night, we will,” Collins said in the afternoon, adding he wasn’t concerned about the congressional ball at the White House taking place Thursday evening.
Republicans also detailed their process complaints about the impeachment proceedings. Collins demanded House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler agree to hold a Republican hearing day before moving forward, but his objection was defeated along party lines.
Committee vote sets up House to impeach Trump next week
House Democratic leaders have not said yet when the impeachment articles will go to the floor, but a vote is expected next week, along with votes to fund the government and hand the President a significant win by approving the new US trade deal.
When the impeachment resolution comes to the floor, the House will take separate votes on each article of impeachment. Two Democratic leadership sources say it’s possible they could lose more than two Democrats — the number who voted against the procedural vote on the impeachment inquiry in October — when the floor vote takes place.
Those two Democrats, Reps. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey and Collin Peterson of Minnesota, have already said they will vote against the impeachment articles. At the same time, Democrats are likely to pick up independent Justin Amash of Michigan.
But the sources acknowledge they could lose a handful more from swing districts on either or both articles. Many vulnerable members are not saying what they’ll do yet, as they head back to their districts this weekend and get feedback from voters.
Democrats are not expecting mass defections and they expect to have more than enough votes for final passage.
Two other Democratic leadership sources say they are not planning to whip their members on the floor vote on the articles, meaning they won’t twist arms to keep Democrats in line. That is intended to back up what Pelosi has been saying throughout the impeachment proceedings: The vote will be a “vote of conscience.”
This story has been updated with additional developments Thursday.