A congressional committee has approved two articles of impeachment against U.S. President Donald Trump for soliciting foreign interference in next year’s election, setting up a vote by the full Democratic-controlled House of Representatives next week.
In a 23-17 party-line vote Friday, the House judiciary committee endorsed one charge each of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Mr. Trump is the fourth president in U.S. history to face impeachment proceedings.
“Today is a solemn and sad day,” committee chairman Jerry Nadler told reporters afterward. “The House will act expeditiously.”
The development capped an acrimonious week on Capitol Hill, including a 14-hour debate at judiciary Thursday that ended shortly before midnight. When Mr. Nadler unexpectedly opted to move the vote to the following morning rather than hold it immediately, the top Republican on the committee, Doug Collins, lashed out at him.
“This is the kangaroo court we’re talking about,” Mr. Collins fumed. “This crap like this is why people are having such a terrible opinion of Congress.”
Mr. Trump is accused of withholding US$400-million in military aid to Ukraine in order to put pressure on Kyiv to investigate Joe Biden, the top-polling Democratic presidential contender, and his son Hunter Biden over the latter’s business dealings in that country. The President then stonewalled Democrats’ investigation of the scandal by ordering all federal officials to decline to co-operate with the impeachment inquiry.
The full House vote on impeachment comes during an already packed week before the Christmas break. Legislators must pass a spending package before the government runs out of money next weekend and also plan to vote on the overhauled North American free-trade agreement, dubbed the U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement by the Trump administration.
If Mr. Trump is impeached, he will face a trial in front of the Republican-controlled Senate in the New Year, presided over by Chief Justice John Roberts.
The President acknowledged Friday that Senate Republicans would prefer a short process that might result in a swift vote without any witnesses being called. But Mr. Trump has pushed for a longer trial that would include outing the whistleblower who first raised the alarm on the Ukraine scandal, as well as calling Mr. Biden and his son as witnesses.
“I wouldn’t mind a long process because I’d like to see the whistle-blower, who’s a fraud,” Mr. Trump said in the Oval Office, before claiming without evidence that the Democrats had conspired to impeach him before he even announced his presidential campaign in 2015.
NBC reported seeing Rudy Giuliani, Mr. Trump’s personal lawyer and a central figure in the efforts to put pressure on Ukraine, at the White House Friday. He has continued to visit Kyiv in recent days to pursue the conspiracy theories about Mr. Biden that Mr. Trump wanted Ukraine to investigate.
A shorter trial would avert Democratic attempts to call as witnesses senior administration officials who were allegedly involved in the scandal, including White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.
Mitch McConnell, the Republican leader in the Senate, told Fox News that he was confident Mr. Trump would be acquitted by the upper chamber.
“We all know how it’s going to end,” he said. “There is no chance the President is going to be removed from office.”
Despite the outcome of the process being almost entirely predictable, the Democrats have pointed both to support for impeachment among their base – a FiveThirtyEight average of polls showed 85 per cent of the party’s supporters favour impeachment – and the need to mark Mr. Trump’s conduct as unconstitutional as reasons for forging ahead.
“The public think … that no one is above the law,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday. “We think, and so do they, that the President should be held accountable.”
Two previous presidents, Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton, were impeached by the House but remained in office after the Senate failed to convict them. Richard Nixon resigned before the House had a chance to vote on articles of impeachment.