WASHINGTON — The House Judiciary Committee argued through a marathon session Thursday ahead of voting to send impeachment charges against President Donald Trump to the full House, the latest big step as the politically split Congress debates whether to remove Trump from office.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi sounded confident Democrats will have the votes to impeach the president next week but said it is up to individual lawmakers to weigh the evidence and decide for themselves. Republicans seem unwavering in their opposition to expelling Trump.
'“The fact is we take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States," Pelosi told reporters. "No one is above the law; the president will be held accountable for his abuse of power and his obstruction of Congress.”
Trump, apparently watching the live proceedings on television, tweeted his criticism of two Democratic women on the panel, Reps. Veronica Escobar and Sheila Jackson Lee, both of Texas. He called their comments about his actions inaccurate.
“Very sad,” Trump tweeted.
As the hearing began, lawmakers dug in for the second day of the Judiciary session, only the fourth time in U.S. history a president is facing impeachment, to consider the two articles brought by Democrats. They charge Trump with abuse of power for asking Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden while withholding aid as leverage and with obstruction of Congress for stonewalling the House’s investigation.
Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., immediately asked for a full reading of the nine-page resolution, airing the two articles of impeachment against the president for the live TV cameras. It was expected to be a long day of fights over amendments, primarily by Republicans trying to stop the impeachment. They were likely to be rejected by Democrats along party lines.
The top Republican, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, called the proceedings a “farce” and said they should be halted until his side was provided a chance for its own hearing. The request was denied, with the chairman saying the process was in line with the impeachment hearings of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.
First up was an amendment from GOP Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who tried to delete the first charge against Trump. “This amendment strikes article 1 because article 1 ignores the truth,” he declared.
Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., argued there was "overwhelming evidence" that the president, in pushing Ukraine to investigate rival Biden, was engaged in an abuse of power "to corrupt American elections.''
Debate on that first Republican amendment lasted for nearly three hours before the panel rejected it, 23-17, on a party-line vote.
Thursday's hearing picked up where Wednesday's late-night session left off.
Into the night, Democrats and Republicans delivered sharp, poignant and, at times, personal arguments for and against impeachment. Both sides appealed to Americans' sense of history — Democrats describing a strong sense of duty to stop what one called the president’s “constitutional crime spree” and Republicans decrying the “hot garbage’’ impeachment and what it means for the future of the country.
Cicilline asked Republicans standing with Trump to “wake up” and honor their oath of office. Republican Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana responded with his own request to “put your country over party." Rep. Lou Correa, D-Calif., shared his views in English and Spanish.
One Democrat, Rep. Val Demings of Florida, told the panel that, as a descendant of slaves and now a member of Congress, she has faith in America because it is “government of the people” and in this country “nobody is above the law.” Freshman Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath of Georgia emotionally talked about losing her son to gun violence and said that while impeachment was not why she came to Washington, she wants to “fight for an America that my son Jordan would be proud of.”
But Jordan insisted Democrats were impeaching because “they don't like us,” and he read out a long list claiming Trump accomplishments.
For all the debate, the articles weren't likely to be changed. Democrats were unlikely to accept any amendments proposed by Republicans unified against Trump's impeachment.
Democrats are also unified. They have agreed to the articles' language, which says that Trump acted “corruptly” and “betrayed the nation." Hamstrung in the minority, Republicans wouldn't have the votes to make changes without support from at least some Democrats.
Nadler said the committee should consider whether the evidence shows that Trump committed the acts he's accused of, whether they rise to the level of impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors and what the consequences will be if Congress fails to act.
“When his time has passed, when his grip on our politics is gone, when our country returns, as surely it will, to calmer times and stronger leadership, history will look back on our actions here today,” Nadler said. “How would you be remembered?"
Republicans are also messaging to the American people — and to Trump himself — as they argue that the articles show Democrats are out to get the president. Most Republicans contend, as Trump does, that he has done nothing wrong, and all of them are expected to vote against the articles.
Collins argued that Democrats are impeaching the president because they think they can't beat him in the 2020 election.
Democrats think the only thing they need is a “32-second commercial saying we impeached him," Collins said.
“That's the wrong reason to impeach somebody, and the American people are seeing through this,” Collins said. “But at the end of the day, my heart breaks for a committee that has trashed this institution.”
In the formal articles announced this week, the Democrats said Trump enlisted a foreign power in corrupting the U.S. election process and endangered national security by asking Ukraine to investigate his rivals while withholding U.S. military aid. That benefited Russia over the U.S. as America's ally fought Russian aggression, the Democrats said.
Trump then obstructed Congress by ordering current and former officials to defy House subpoenas for testimony and by blocking access to documents, the charges say.
The House is expected to vote on the articles next week, in the days before Christmas. That would send them to the Senate for a 2020 trial.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that he would be "totally surprised'' if there were the necessary 67 votes in the chamber to convict Trump, and signaled options for a swift trial. He said no decision had been made about whether to call witnesses.