WASHINGTON – The House of Representatives voted late Wednesday to impeach President Donald Trump on charges that he abused his office and obstructed Congress, with Democrats declaring him a threat to nation and branding an indelible mark on the most turbulent presidency of modern times.
After 11 hours of fierce argument on the House floor between Democrats and Republicans over Trump’s conduct with Ukraine, lawmakers voted almost entirely along party lines to impeach him. Trump becomes the third president in U.S. history to face trial in the Senate – a proceeding that will determine whether he is removed from office less than one year before he stands for reelection.
On Trump’s 1,062nd day in office, Congress brought a momentous reckoning to an unorthodox president who has tested America’s institutions with an array of unrestrained actions, including some that a collection of his own appointees and other government witnesses testified were reckless and endangered national security.
The Democratic-controlled House passed two articles of impeachment against Trump – abuse of power and obstruction of Congress – related to the president’s attempts to withhold military aid to Ukraine and pressure its government to investigate former vice president Joe Biden, a potential 2020 Democratic opponent.
The House voted 230 to 197 to approve the article charging abuse of power, with the gavel falling about 8:30 p.m. On the obstruction of Congress vote, which followed soon after, the tally was 229 to 198.
All Republicans voted against both articles. Among Democrats, two voted no on the first article and three on the second, with one – Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii – voting “present” both times.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., framed the day’s proceedings through the long lens of history, reciting the Pledge of Allegiance and singling out the line, “the republic for which it stands.”
“Very sadly, now our founders’ vision of a republic is under threat from actions from the White House,” Pelosi said. She added, “If we do not act now, we would be derelict in our duty.”
The Senate is widely expected to acquit Trump, since conviction and removal would require 67 votes in a chamber where Democrats and their allies hold 47 seats. If Trump were acquitted, it would launch an unpredictable stretch of his presidency; his reaction would be uncertain after opponents had taken a powerful but ultimately unsuccessful shot at removing him.
After Wednesday’s votes, Pelosi left open the possibility of delaying a procedural step that triggers a Senate trial, saying she may not name House impeachment managers and deliver the articles to the Senate unless Republicans there establish a “fair” process. In doing so, Pelosi was effectively attempting to gain leverage over the Senate’s process for weighing the charges against Trump.
“So far we have not seen anything that looks fair to us,” Pelosi said.
Wednesday’s action punctuated a quarter-century of increasingly poisonous partisanship in Washington, one that arguably began during Bill Clinton’s presidency, was extended with rebellions against presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama, and is culminating in the Trump era.
The intensity and polarization of the debate on the House floor vividly illustrated the extent to which leaders of the two parties now believe entirely different facts and are motivated by different concerns. At times they sounded almost as if they were representing different countries.
Democrats characterized Trump as an immediate threat to the nation he was elected to lead, casting his actions as an unprecedented affront to American values. Republicans denounced those charges as unsubstantiated and the process as illegitimate, repeatedly accusing the Democrats of seeking to illegally overturn the results of the last election.
Trump, who has nursed deep feelings of persecution as his impeachment has grown more likely, watched the debate unfold from the White House. Ten minutes after press secretary Stephanie Grisham issued a statement saying the president was “working all day,” Trump vented his fury on Twitter: “SUCH ATROCIOUS LIES BY THE RADICAL LEFT, DO NOTHING DEMOCRATS. THIS IS AN ASSAULT ON AMERICA, AND AN ASSAULT ON THE REPUBLICAN PARTY!!!!”
Just before the House voted, Trump took the stage in Michigan, where he rallied an estimated 10,000 supporters at a sports arena in Battle Creek – a muscular display of political potency even at the historic low point of his presidency.
“This lawless partisan impeachment is a suicide march for the Democratic Party,” Trump told the crowd. He added, “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.”
Back in Washington, Pelosi sought to rebut allegations from Republicans that her party has cast about since Trump took office for a reason to impeach him, saying no lawmaker of either party came to the Capitol to remove a president. She said Trump had forced Congress’s hand because he had “violated the Constitution.”
“He gave us no choice,” Pelosi said, drawing applause from Democrats by declaring that “we are here to defend democracy for the people.”
Barring a drastic shift in momentum, Trump is expected to be acquitted in the Senate, where a two-thirds supermajority is required to remove a president who has been impeached. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has said he is planning a short trial and declared himself partial to protecting Trump.
Nevertheless, Trump’s impeachment by the House will be a defining mark on his legacy. Wednesday’s action cemented on a constitutional level the opposition party’s view that Trump is unfit to serve, elevating the informal resistance to his presidency, which has raged from coast to coast, into the permanent historical record.
After Democrats surfed an anti-Trump wave in the 2018 midterm elections to seize the House majority, Pelosi reclaimed the speaker’s gavel she had lost eight years before with a clear mandate from her party’s base to serve as a check on the president’s power and investigate his conduct.
Pelosi at first resisted pressure from the left to impeach Trump, however, arguing that such a move would be unnecessarily divisive. But she formally opened an inquiry in September after a whistleblower reported concerns about Trump’s conduct on a July 25 phone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, in which Trump explicitly asked Zelensky to investigate Biden.
Marathon hearings last month before the House Intelligence Committee produced damaging testimony detailing Trump’s actions and those of his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani, among others. That helped solidify the support of even centrist Democrats for moving against the president, and the House Judiciary Committee then drafted the two articles of impeachment.
Democrats said Wednesday that declining to punish a presidential demand that a foreign government influence an American election would be an unacceptable abdication of constitutional responsibility. Such an action clearly meets the standard of “high crimes and misdemeanors” that the Constitution lays out for impeachment, they said.
“The evidence is clear that President Trump took advantage of Ukraine’s vulnerability and abused the powers of his office to pressure Ukraine to help his reelection campaign,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. “This is the highest of high crimes, and President Trump must be held to account.”
Democrats and Republicans took turns at the rostrum delivering short, impassioned speeches – a furious debate that in many ways showcased how much Trump has remade the two parties.
The Republicans, mostly white men, stood staunchly behind the president and repeated many of his statements vilifying the opposition. The Democrats, notably more diverse in race and gender, uniformly attacked the president’s conduct as an affront to American values.
“When we say we uphold the Constitution, we are not talking about a piece of parchment,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif., chairman of the House Intelligence Committee. “We’re talking about a beautiful architecture in which ambition is set against ambition, in which no branch of government can dominate another.”
He added, “That is what it means to uphold the Constitution. If you ignore it, if you say the president may refuse to comply, may refuse lawful process, may coerce an ally, may cheat in an election because he’s the president of our party, you do not uphold our Constitution.”
Republicans responded that Democratic leaders had concocted a scheme to oust the president because they were afraid they could not beat him at the polls in next November’s election.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said, “Democrats have wanted to impeach President Trump since the day he was elected – and nothing was going to get in their way, certainly not the truth.”
Though some Republican lawmakers defended Trump on the substance of the allegations, many spent most of their time airing grievances about the process. They often echoed the rambling, six-page letter Trump issued to Pelosi on Tuesday, and they repeated the president’s claims of personal persecution in sometimes overheated terms.
“When Jesus was falsely accused of treason, Pontius Pilate gave Jesus the opportunity to face his accusers,” said Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga. “During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than the Democrats have afforded this president in this process.”
Other GOP House members described impeachment as the outgrowth of insidious forces.
“I have descended into the belly of the beast. I have witnessed a terror within,” Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., said.
Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., drew a parallel to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941. After quoting then-President Franklin Roosevelt calling Dec. 7 “a date that will live in infamy,” Kelly said, “Today, December the 18th, 2019, is another date that will live in infamy.”
Democrats captured the House majority last year in part by winning in suburban areas where Trump had prevailed two years earlier. Virtually all the incoming Democrats from such Republican-leaning districts announced they would vote to impeach Trump, risking their seats in the face of aggressive campaigns in their home districts pressuring them to break ranks.
The Democrats’ defectors were Reps. Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey. Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, voted in favor of the abuse of power article and against obstruction of Congress.
While no Republicans supported impeachment, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, who left the party earlier this year to become an independent over frustration with the GOP’s fealty to Trump, did so.
Republicans vowed to use the impeachment vote as a political cudgel against Democrats in next year’s elections.
“Those who vote ‘yes’ on today’s articles of impeachment must carry the heavy burden of shame and guilt for as long as they serve in Congress – which won’t be long, because the American people will remember in November,” Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., said.
Democrats, meanwhile, seemed eager to turn the page and refocus on health care and other issues that propelled them to victory in 2018.
“No one came to Congress to impeach a president,” said Rep. Ben Ray Luján, D-N.M., who ran House Democrats’ campaign organization last year. “We came here to solve the mighty issues that impact the lives of the constituents we pledge to serve.”
But, he added, “this moment has found us.”
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The Washington Post’s Rachael Bade, Aaron Blake, Mike DeBonis, Colby Itkowitz and John Wagner contributed to this report.
Video: House Republicans attempted to block the House proceedings to debate and vote on two articles of impeachment against President Trump on Dec. 18.(The Washington Post)
Video: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Dec. 18 opened the House debate on two articles of impeachment against President Trump by saying he had “violated the Constitution.”(The Washington Post)
Video: Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) received a standing ovation from House Democrats after she finished her opening remarks on Dec. 18.(The Washington Post)