WASHINGTON — A fiercely divided House Judiciary Committee approved two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Friday, setting up a historic vote before the full House that would make him only the third president to be impeached.
The impeachment articles, passed over fierce Republican protests, accused the president of abusing the power of his office and obstructing Congress. The votes and a fractious two-day debate preceding them reflected the realities of the hyperpartisan divisions in U.S. politics that have grown wider during Trump’s three years in office.
With back-to-back votes shortly after 10 a.m., the Democratic-controlled committee recommended that the House ratify the articles of impeachment against the 45th president, over howls of Republican protest. Each passed, 23-17, along strictly partisan lines.
The full House is expected to vote Wednesday to impeach Trump, and he would stand trial in the Senate in the new year.
“Today is a solemn and sad day,” Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y. and chairman of the Judiciary Committee, said after the votes. “For the third time in a little over a century and a half, the House Judiciary Committee has voted articles of impeachment against the president, for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The House will act expeditiously.”
At the White House, Trump was defiant, denouncing impeachment as a “witch hunt” and a “sham” that would come back to bite Democrats the next time their party held the presidency.
“I think it’s a horrible thing to be using the tool of impeachment, which is supposed to be used in an emergency,” Trump told reporters shortly after the Judiciary Committee votes, during a meeting in the Oval Office with President Mario Abdo Benítez of Paraguay.
“It’s a very sad thing for our country,” Trump added, “but it seems to be very good for me politically.”
Despite Trump’s confident prediction, it is far from clear how the impeachment drama, unfolding only 10 months before a presidential election, will affect him or either political party.
Public polls show the country split over impeachment, and some find a small majority in favor of removing the president — roughly the same proportion that voted against him three years ago. But Trump has been buoyed by data that suggests that the issue has increased the intensity of support for him among the most devoted Republicans.
The charges ratified Friday accuse Trump of pressuring Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, his political rival, and an unsubstantiated theory that Democrats conspired with Ukraine to interfere in the 2016 election. He did so, Democrats said, using as leverage nearly $400 million in security assistance for Ukraine’s fight against Russia and a coveted White House meeting for its president.
Trump then sought to conceal the scheme from Congress, the Judiciary Committee charged, ordering unprecedented, across-the-board stonewalling of its investigation unlike any “in the history of the republic.” It amounted to an effort by the president to undermine the separation of powers and limit his accountability, the panel said.
Democratic leaders were poised to sandwich next week’s impeachment vote between the passage of two broadly bipartisan bills. Those measures, approval of a government funding bill and Trump’s new trade deal with Canada and Mexico, could help soften the political liability for moderate Democrats in swing districts.
Still, as the final vote approaches, both parties are retreating to their partisan corners.
Two previously undecided Democratic freshmen from swing districts — Reps. Max Rose of New York and Colin Allred of Texas — said Friday they would support the articles, suggesting defections would be kept to a minimum. Others remained wary of joining in a mostly one-sided vote favoring the president’s removal and prepared to spend their weekends at home in their districts pondering a choice laden with political risk.
Only one Democrat, Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, has indicated he will vote no. No Republicans have come out in favor of the articles.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., weighed which lawmakers she should appoint as impeachment managers to prosecute the case against the president in the Senate, as Democrats on the Judiciary and Intelligence Committees jockeyed intensely to win one of the coveted six to eight slots.
Republicans, who control the Senate, planned to consult through the weekend with the White House about the contours and length of a trial. Confident the process would end in Trump’s acquittal, they were working to sort through divisions over whether to move ahead with a streamlined proceeding or with a more theatrical, drawn-out affair.
A longer trial could feature witnesses presenting a robust defense of Trump, but it could also risk undermining the gravity of the impeachment process.
The votes Friday took place in the Ways and Means Committee Room the morning after a contentious 14-hour Judiciary Committee session that stretched past 11 p.m. Thursday. During that session, Democrats turned back a number of Republican efforts to gut or weaken the charges, and members of both parties feuded over impeaching the president. Republicans argued not only that Trump’s conduct was not impeachable, but also that his actions were entirely justified and explained by more innocent intentions.
Nadler abruptly paused the session Thursday night before bringing the articles to a final vote, saying he wanted members to take the time to “search their consciences” before the historic roll call. After Republicans had dragged out the debate for hours, Democrats said they did not want such consequential action to occur late at night, when the American public was unlikely to be watching.
On Friday morning, 40 members of the panel (one was absent after a heart procedure) solemnly took their places on the wood-carved dais and voted without any further debate. After a week of accusations and recrimination, the votes took only seven minutes, and the committee adjourned immediately afterward.
Democrats had gathered just before the votes in a cloakroom, where Rep. Lucy McBath of Georgia led them in a rare moment of prayer.
Presidents Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998 were both impeached on largely partisan votes but were later acquitted by the Senate. President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 after the Judiciary Committee approved charges against him and just before the House could vote to impeach him.
The charges against Trump paralleled some of the articles drawn up against Nixon. And the votes Friday occurred almost exactly 21 years after the judiciary panel voted to recommend the impeachment of Clinton on charges of perjury, obstruction of justice and abuse of power.
Talk of impeaching Trump began among some liberals as early as his Inauguration Day in 2017. It intensified this year when Democrats reclaimed control of the House amid a swirl of speculation about whether a special counsel investigation would conclude that Trump’s campaign had conspired with Russia to interfere in the 2016 election.
But in the end, the impeachment of Trump has proceeded rapidly and on grounds that emerged only recently. The Judiciary Committee votes came almost exactly four months after an anonymous CIA whistleblower submitted a complaint laying out a systematic campaign by the president to solicit Ukraine’s help in the 2020 election. The House opened its inquiry in late September.
Pelosi and other Democratic leaders have explicitly connected the Ukraine matter to Trump’s embrace of Russian election assistance during the 2016 campaign, accusing the president of a broad and dangerous pattern of conduct. But they chose to focus their articles on the president’s pressure campaign on Ukraine.
Republicans, who have defended Trump’s actions and accused Democrats’ evidence of falling woefully short, declared Friday that Democrats had “tried to railroad the president.”
“It’s so unnecessary,” said Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio. “It was kind of preordained, I’m afraid, when this president got elected, because there were a group of people and they convinced a majority here on the Democratic side that this president needed to go.”
Impeachment votes by the House Judiciary Committee have brought past presidents to their knees. Nixon resigned days afterward. Clinton promptly apologized for his actions and offered to accept a censure resolution by the House in lieu of impeachment.
Trump has insisted he did nothing wrong. His personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, whose intense public pursuit of the investigations into Trump’s political rivals provided the kindling that helped fuel the impeachment inquiry, was seen at the White House on Friday as the Judiciary Committee was voting.
Over the past two weeks, the president declined to send his lawyers to participate in the hearings or offer a White House defense before the House, breaking with the approach of Nixon and Clinton. Trump did not want to lend the proceedings legitimacy and argued he would get a fairer trial in the Senate.
Republican leaders in the upper chamber indicated Thursday, in the run-up to the votes, that they wanted a speedy trial and would work hand in glove with Trump’s defense team — an announcement that quickly drew a rebuke from Democrats, who pointed out that senators take an oath to “do impartial justice” in an impeachment trial.
Asked Friday if he wanted a short trial, Trump said, “I’ll do whatever I want.”
He added, “We did nothing wrong, so I’ll do long or short.”
Sen. Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., the majority leader, predicted there was “no chance” 67 senators — the two-thirds majority needed for a conviction — would vote to remove Trump in an election year.
The conclusions by the House Intelligence Committee were based on documents and testimony from more than a dozen senior U.S. diplomats and White House officials. They said that over the spring and fall, Trump empowered Giuliani and a group of allies inside the government to toss out official U.S. policy toward Ukraine and supplant it with the president’s personal interests in what one witness called “a domestic political errand.”
However, the House never heard from some of those closest to Trump who could have shed further light on the scheme and the president’s thinking, based on the White House’s orders not to comply. During the debate this week, Republicans accused Democrats of rushing to conclusions without all of the facts.