US House panel approves two articles of impeachment charging Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Washington, DC – A key committee of the Democrat-led US House of Representatives is poised to approve two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
After working late into the night on Wednesday in an unusually solemn meeting, the House Judiciary Committee continued debating the impeachment charges for more than 12 hours on Thursday before unexpectedly breaking for an overnight recess. The panel’s chairman, Jerrold Nadler, said the panel will reconvene for a vote on the impeachment articles at 10am (15:00GMT) on Friday. If approved, the articles would then go to the full House for a vote next week.
“President Trump has not only abused his power in the upcoming election he has used a foreign power to do it,” said Representative Zoe Lofgren, a senior Democratic member of the Judiciary Committee.
The looming House vote sets in motion a process in a divided Congress that is politically risky for both Democrats and Republicans ahead of national elections in 2020.
Democrats have introduced two articles of impeachment, charging that Trump abused the powers of his office by soliciting the interference of Ukraine in the upcoming 2020 presidential election.
The first article charges Trump and his aides pressured Ukraine to announce an investigation of former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic candidate, to help Trump’s re-election.
Trump also sought an investigation by Ukraine into a discredited theory promoted by Russia that Ukraine, not Russia, interfered in the 2016 US election.
Trump pressured Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy to go along with the scheme by withholding a White House meeting for the newly elected Ukraine president and freezing $391 million in military aid, Democrats said.
As a result, Democrats allege Trump – through “corrupt motives” – injured US national security to “obtain an improper personal political benefit”.
The second article of impeachment charges Trump with obstructing the House’s effort to investigate the matter with an “unprecedented, categorical and indiscriminate defiance of subpoenas issued by the House” in a manner “subversive” of the US Constitution.
It names nine officials who Trump directed not to comply with House subpoenas for testimony preventing investigators from obtaining a full picture of Trump’s actions.
“When the president violates the constitutional order, we have an obligation to deal with that,” Lofgren said.
Republicans disputed the Democrats arguments and said the impeachment drive was a partisan campaign to hurt Trump ahead of 2020.
Trump has denied any wrongdoing and labelled the impeachment inquiry a “witch-hunt” and “sham”. This week, he called the impeachment articles “very weak” and then added the Democrats were “very weak”.
Representative Jim Sensenbrenner, a senior Republican on Judiciary, decried the “pre-ordained conclusion” in the Democrat’s action on “the weakest case in history” based not on any “crime” but on “policy differences”.
“I would submit that given the definition of ‘treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanours’ that does not mean that policy differences should be enough to remove a president from office,” Sensenbrenner said.
Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee retorted that Trump had “perpetrated constitutional crimes”. Democrat Eric Swalwell called it a “constitutional crime spree”.
Neither side of the political aisle appeared willing to concede to the views of the other even as they appealed to each other for understanding.
“It reflects the polarised, partisan age that we are in, that there is so little common ground between the Republicans and Democrats about how to approach the president’s conduct and how to think about it relative to the impeachment,” said Keith Whittington, a political science professor at Princeton University.
American public opinion is split. A running average of polls of US public opinion compiled by RealClearPolitics.com suggests 47 percent of Americans say Trump should be impeached and removed from office, while 46 percent say he should not be impeached.
“The American people deserve a process that puts politics aside,” said Republican Representative Martha Roby who slammed Democrats for failing “to arrive at undisputed facts”.
“The bar to impeach a president of the United States has not been met,” Roby said.
Democrats said they hoped some Republicans would look past their partisan perspective to confront Trump’s abuses rather than defend their party leader.
“It seems like we live in an alternate reality with Republicans here who say that if it swims and quacks like a duck it’s a piano,” Lofgren said.
Debating the vote before a primetime national television audience, the partisan animosity between Republicans and Democrats at times appeared personal.
“It’s not just because they don’t like the president,” Representative Jim Jordan, a Republican from the US Midwest said of Democrats.
“They don’t like us, people who voted for this president. All of us in flyover country. All of us coming from Ohio, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Texas,” Jordan said.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Wednesday that if the House votes to impeach the president, a trial in the Republican-led chamber would be senators’ “first order of business”.
How the trial might proceed remains to be seen. Trump has said he wants a full trial that could turn the tables on Democrats by demanding testimony from Biden and others.
McConnell warned Republicans on Wednesday that calling witnesses could backfire politically, resulting in a longer-than-necessary and potentially more damaging trial.
Senate Republicans and the White House had been “going back and forth” over whether to call witnesses, a White House legislative aide told Al Jazeera after meeting privately with Republicans. “The president has talked a lot about that.”
A conviction in the Senate where Republicans hold a 53-47 majority over Democrats, would require 67 of 100 senators to vote to remove the president, an unlikely outcome.
“Trump will be the first president to be impeached who has the possibility of being elected to a second term and so the 2020 election is going to be hanging over the entire Senate proceeding,” Whittington told Al Jazeera.