The House of Representatives has impeached Donald Trump for soliciting foreign interference in next year’s election and stonewalling an investigation into the scandal, making him the third president in U.S. history to face the sanction.
In votes that fell almost entirely along party lines Wednesday evening, the Democratic-controlled chamber approved counts of abuse of power and obstruction of justice against Mr. Trump after a full day of debate.
The President will face trial in the Republican-controlled Senate, which would have to vote by a two-thirds majority in favour of conviction to remove him from office.
The Democrats have suggested they may not immediately send the articles of impeachment over, which would hold the sword of Damocles over Mr. Trump in an election year.
The articles passed 230 to 197 and 229 to 198, with a handful of Democratic defections and none from the Republicans.
The momentous day capped a whirlwind, three-month impeachment push by congressional Democrats and marked another dramatic moment in Mr. Trump’s tumultuous presidency. It is certain to define the 2020 campaign, with the President using the fight to rally his base and Democrats casting Mr. Trump as an existential threat to the rule of law that goes beyond partisan politics.
The President’s public schedule was light on Wednesday, and he spent a lot of time live-tweeting his own impeachment.
SUCH ATROCIOUS LIES BY THE RADICAL LEFT, DO NOTHING DEMOCRATS. THIS IS AN ASSAULT ON AMERICA, AND AN ASSAULT ON THE REPUBLICAN PARTY!!!!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 18, 2019
At an election campaign rally in Michigan Wednesday evening that unfolded at the same time as the vote, Mr. Trump put on a brave face.
“By the way, it doesn’t really feel like we’re being impeached,” he told the cheering crowd as he took the stage, before insisting that the Democrats were on a “death march” for impeaching him.
Earlier, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi received an ovation from fellow Democrats as she opened the debate by accusing the President of jeopardizing the integrity of the country’s elections.
“It is tragic that the President’s reckless actions make impeachment necessary. He gave us no choice,” she said. “What we are discussing today is the established fact that the President violated the Constitution.”
American diplomats testified last month that Mr. Trump had orchestrated a campaign to get Ukraine to tarnish Joe Biden, the front-runner for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, and the Democratic National Committee by announcing corruption investigations into them.
Mr. Trump withheld nearly US$400-million in military aid to Kyiv, and a coveted White House invitation for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, to ramp up the pressure, they said.
Mr. Trump also refused to participate in the congressional inquiry into the matter and ordered all government officials not to testify or turn over documents.
Adam Schiff, the Democrat who led the impeachment inquiry, framed Mr. Trump’s actions as a betrayal of America’s geopolitical interests by failing to support a key ally against autocratic Russian President Vladimir Putin.
“When the President sacrifices our interests, our national security, for his election, he is sacrificing our country for his personal gain,” Mr. Schiff said.
Republican members largely adopted process arguments, saying the inquiry was unfair to Mr. Trump.
“Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than Democrats have afforded this President in this process,” said Barry Loudermilk, a Republican from Georgia. Mike Kelly of Pennsylvania compared the impeachment with the bombing of Pearl Harbor. “Today, December 18th, 2019, is another date that will live in infamy,” he said.
House Republicans tried to stall the debate with procedural manoeuvres, including a motion to adjourn debate as soon as it began. Democrats voted the move down.
Mr. Trump’s re-election campaign, meanwhile, sought to raise funds off the impeachment. “It’s up to YOU to end this. Contribute NOW,” read one text message to supporters sent during the debate.
It is unclear exactly how the Senate trial will work, but Republican leaders are confident of its outcome.
“He is President today, he’ll be President tomorrow and he will be President when this impeachment is over,” Kevin McCarthy, the Republican leader in the House, said at the close of debate.
Republican Senate Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated that he prefers a shorter process, in which senators would hear from House Democrats and the President’s lawyers, and then vote without calling witnesses. But Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer is pushing to hear testimony from senior Trump administration officials, such as White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, which could prolong the proceedings.
Ms. Pelosi acknowledged Wednesday that she may delay sending the articles to the Senate until Mr. McConnell agrees to a process the Democrats prefer. Such a move would also keep psychological pressure on Mr. Trump. “So far, we haven’t seen anything that looks fair to us,” Ms. Pelosi told reporters shortly after the vote.
Both previous presidents to be impeached, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, remained in office after the Senate failed to convict them. Richard Nixon resigned before the House could vote on articles of impeachment.
The rancorous scene outside the Capitol Wednesday provided some indication of how the battle inside will play out among a sharply divided electorate.
Mark Kampf, a retired accounting executive who travelled from Nevada to support Mr. Trump, stood outside the building with a sign referring to Ms. Pelosi as “the devil.”
“Trump is the greatest president in the history of this country,” said Mr. Kampf, 65. “He’s lowered taxes. He’s trying to solve the crisis at the border.”
Nearby, several hundred anti-Trump activists belted out impeachment-themed Christmas carols in the clear, sunny morning: “We wish you would leave the White House,” they sang to the tune of We Wish You a Merry Christmas.
“It’s very clear the President used his power of office for a corrupt personal purpose, and it’s incredibly dangerous to our democracy,” said Betsy Karasik, a 63-year-old retired lawyer who toted a hand-painted sign emblazoned with a peach.
Democratic leaders long held off on impeaching Mr. Trump, even after special counsel Robert Mueller reported earlier this year that the President had tried to shut down his investigation into Russian efforts to tip the 2016 election to Mr. Trump.
All of that changed in September after a whistle-blower report that exposed the Ukraine scandal. Since then, Congress has moved swiftly to investigate.