Congressional Democrats are charging ahead with a bid to impeach U.S. President Donald Trump for soliciting foreign interference in next year’s election, aiming for a swift vote in the House of Representatives before Christmas.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Thursday announced that she had ordered Jerry Nadler, chairman of the House judiciary committee, to draw up articles of impeachment.
“The facts are uncontested: The President abused his power for his own personal political benefit at the expense of our national security by withholding military aid and [a] crucial Oval Office meeting in exchange for an announcement of an investigation into his political rival,” she said at a Capitol Hill news conference.
Witnesses at congressional hearings last month testified that Mr. Trump orchestrated a campaign to press Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky into tarnishing Joe Biden, the top-polling Democratic presidential contender, by announcing an investigation into him. The President withheld nearly US$400-million in military aid to Ukraine and a White House invitation for Mr. Zelensky to coerce Kyiv, the witnesses said.
If impeached by the Democratic-controlled House, Mr. Trump would become the third president in U.S. history to face the sanction. He would then be tried by the Senate, which requires a two-thirds vote to convict and remove him from office. The Republican Party has a majority in the chamber.
The Democrats’ tight timeline adds impeachment to a packed legislative calendar that already includes negotiations over spending bills necessary to keep the federal government open after Dec. 20, and the ratification of the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement trade deal.
The Republicans have not set out a schedule for the potential Senate trial. But Mr. Trump said Thursday on Twitter that he wanted things to move quickly.
“If you are going to impeach me, do it now, fast, so we can have a fair trial in the Senate, and so that our Country can get back to business,” the President wrote. “I was elected to ‘Clean the Swamp,’ and that’s what I am doing!”
Mr. Trump said he wanted Mr. Biden called as a witness at the trial, suggesting that the President’s defence strategy would entail trying to prove that he had legitimate reasons for asking Ukraine to investigate his rival. There is no evidence Mr. Biden engaged in any wrongdoing in Ukraine.
The Democrats are considering several potential articles of impeachment for Mr. Trump: Abuse of office over his dealings with Ukraine, obstruction of Congress for stonewalling the impeachment inquiry, and obstruction of justice for trying to shut down special counsel Robert Mueller’s earlier investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.
The next step is a judiciary committee meeting Monday to review the evidence.
Rebecca Eissler, a political scientist at San Francisco State University, said Democrats want impeachment done soon to avoid impinging on their presidential nomination race, which kicks into high gear with the first caucuses and primaries in early February. Mr. Trump, for his part, would benefit from having more time to trumpet his likely Senate acquittal on the campaign trail.
“Another factor is the short attention span that people have for political events,” Prof. Eissler said. “A fast impeachment process is good for keeping the storylines clear in the American public’s mind.”
Mr. Trump has repeatedly said impeachment is also holding up passage of USMCA, the rejigged NAFTA that he sees as a signature accomplishment. But the current logjam is over negotiations between Mexico and the Trump administration on a side letter adding Democratic demands to the deal in exchange for ratification.
“I see impeachment and the USMCA ratification process as two separate issues. If anything, Trump is just linking the two to make it appear that the Democrats aren’t working on USMCA,” said Inu Manak, a trade expert at the Cato Institute think tank in Washington.
Both previous presidents impeached by the House, Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998, stayed in office after the Senate failed to convict them. The House drafted articles of impeachment against Richard Nixon in 1974, but he resigned before they could be voted on.
Ms. Pelosi insisted that Mr. Trump’s actions were so clearly unconstitutional that he “leaves us no choice” but to try to kick him out of office. She also pointed to polling that shows half of Americans – and therefore most if not all of the Democratic Party’s voter base – favours impeachment.
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