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U.S. House starts historic session to impeach President Donald Trump

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi speaks as the House of Representatives debates the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump at the Capitol in Washington on December 18, 2019.   | Photo Credit: AP

The U.S. House gaveled in for a historic session on December 18 to impeach President Donald Trump on charges that he abused his power and obstructed Congress, votes that will leave a lasting mark on his tenure at the White House.

U.S, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Mr. Trump posed an “ongoing threat” to the country's security that left Democrats “no choice” but to impeach him. “It is tragic that the president's reckless actions make impeachment necessary. He gave us no choice,” said Ms. Pelosi, launching debate in the House of Representatives on impeaching the U.S. leader.

“What we are discussing today is the established fact that the president violated the constitution. It is a matter of fact that the president is an ongoing threat to our national security and the integrity of our elections,” she said.

Earlier, Ms. Pelosi requested that Democrats, who have the votes to make Mr. Trump just the third U.S. President to be impeached, gather on the floor of the chamber “to exercise one of the most solemn powers granted to us by the Constitution”.

“During this very prayerful moment in our nation’s history, we must honor our oath to support and defend our Constitution from all enemies, foreign and domestic,” Ms. Pelosi told colleagues in a letter on the eve of the vote.

As soon as the session opened, Republicans tried to halt it.

“So we can stop wasting America’s time on impeachment, I move that the House now adjourn,” said Representative Andy Biggs, (Republican Arizona), the chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus.

Also read | Explained: How likely is Donald Trump to get impeached?

Early on December 18, Mr. Trump tweeted his outrage: “Can you believe that I will be impeached today by the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats, AND I DID NOTHING WRONG! A terrible thing.”

The President fired off a furious letter to Ms. Pelosi on December 17 denouncing the “vicious crusade” against him but acknowledging he was powerless to stop the expected outcome. "When people look back at this affair, I want them to understand it, and learn from it, so that it can never happen to another president again,” he wrote.

The rare undertaking to impeach a President, set to unfold over more than six hours of debate on December 18, has split the lawmakers in Congress much the way Americans have different views of Trump’s unusual presidency and the articles of impeachment against him.

According to a tally compiled by The Associated Press, Mr. Trump was on track to be formally charged by a House majority. No Republicans were expected to vote for impeachment as the President’s party stands firmly with Mr. Trump, and the Senate, where the GOP has the majority, is expected to acquit him in a trial in 2020.

“Help them, and help us all,” said the House chaplain, the Rev. Pat Conroy, as he opened the proceedings with morning prayer.

Ms. Pelosi, who warned earlier in 2019 against pursuing a strictly partisan impeachment, nonetheless has the numbers from Democrats to approve it.

"Very sadly, the facts have made clear that the President abused his power for his own personal, political benefit and that he obstructed Congress,” Pelosi wrote to colleagues. “In America, no one is above the law.”

Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (Republican-California) suggested that Republicans would try to undo the vote someday. “Maybe a future Congress would even expunge this vote,” he told Fox News, deriding the months-long impeachment proceedings as the quickest in history.

 

From Alaska to Florida, tens of thousands of Americans marched in support of impeachment on Tuesday evening, from a demonstration through a rainy Times Square to handfuls of activists standing vigil in small towns. They carried signs saying “Save the Constitution - Impeach!!!!” and “Criminal-in-Chief.”

“I really believe that the Constitution is under assault,” said one protester, 62-year-old Glenn Conway, of Holly Springs, North Carolina, attending his first political rally in 30 years. “I think we have a President at this point who believes he’s above the law.”

Mr. Trump implores Americans to “read the transcript,” but the facts of his July phone call with the Ukraine President were largely confirmed by witnesses in the impeachment inquiry. Mr. Trump asked Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Democrats and his 2020 political rival Joe Biden. At the time, the newly elected Ukraine leader was hoping for a coveted White House visit to showcase his standing with the U.S., his country’s most important ally. He was also counting on nearly $400 million in military aid as his country confronts a hostile neighbour, Russia.

The question for lawmakers, and Americans, is whether those actions, and the White House’s block on officials testifying for the House investigation, are impeachable offences.

Mr. Trump appeared to intend his lengthy, accusatory message less for Ms. Pelosi than for the broad audience of citizens — including 2020 voters — watching history unfolding on Capitol Hill.

‘Salem Witch Trials’

Portraying himself as a blameless victim, as he often does, Mr. Trump compared the impeachment inquiry to the “Salem Witch Trials.” Asked later if he bore any responsibility for the proceedings, he said, “No, I don’t think any. Zero, to put it mildly.”

But the House impeachment resolution says that Mr. Trump abused the power of his office and then tried to obstruct the investigation in Congress like “no other” President in history.

Mr. Trump “betrayed the Nation by abusing his high office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections,” the resolution says. “President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office.”

Centrist Democratic lawmakers, including many first-term freshmen who built the House majority and could risk their re-election in districts where the President is popular, have announced they would vote to impeach.

Many drew on the Constitution and the intent of the country’s founders as they considered the role of Congress to conduct oversight in the nation’s system of checks and balances.

Rep. Abby Finkenauer, D-Iowa, referred to the oath she took in January as she was sworn into office as guiding her decision. She announced support for both articles of impeachment to “honour my duty to defend our Constitution and democracy from abuse of power at the highest levels.”

Republicans disagreed, firmly.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell set the partisan tone for the next step, as attention will shift to the Senate which, under the Constitution, is required to hold a trial on the charges. That trial is expected to begin in January.

“I’m not an impartial juror,” Mr. McConnell declared. The Republican-majority chamber is all but sure to acquit the President.

Lawmakers crossing party lines face consequences. One freshman Democrat, Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, is indicating he will switch parties to become a Republican after opposing impeachment. Earlier this year, Michigan conservative Rep. Justin Amash left the GOP when he favoured impeachment.

One new Democrat congressman, Jared Golden of Maine, said he would vote to impeach on abuse of power but not obstruction.

 

“Impeachment is a political decision,” Mr. McConnell said. “The House made a partisan political decision to impeach. I would anticipate we will have a largely partisan outcome in the Senate. I’m not impartial about this at all.”

Also read | Not fair that I am being impeached: Trump

Mr. McConnell’s remarks on Tuesday effectively slammed the door on negotiations for a deal proposed by Democratic leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, who wants to call top White House officials for the Senate trial.

Mr. Schumer’s proposal was the first overture in what were expected to be negotiations between the two leaders. Mr. Trump wants a relatively broad, perhaps showy, Senate proceeding to not only acquit but also vindicate him of the impeachment charges.

Mr. McConnell and most other GOP Senators prefer a swift trial to move on from impeachment. Still, Mr. Schumer wants to hear from John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney and other current and former Trump officials who were instructed by the President not to appear for House proceedings.

"Why is the leader, why is the President so afraid to have these witnesses come testify?” asked Mr. Schumer from the Senate floor. “They certainly ought to be heard.”

Mr. Trump has promoted lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s investigation of Mr. Biden and a widely debunked theory that it was actually Ukraine, not Russia, that interfered in the 2016 election, a conspiracy-laden idea that most other Republicans have actively avoided.


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