Trump Faces Impeachment Vote
The move on partisan lines will set him up to be the first president in U.S. history to run for reelection after being impeached.
House Democrats announced Tuesday that they would pursue two articles of impeachment into U.S. President Donald Trump for abusing the power of his office and obstructing Congress.
In a press conference on Capitol Hill on Tuesday morning, Democratic leaders framed their decision as a bid to protect the integrity of the U.S. Constitution and the integrity of the presidency. “We do not take this action lightly, but we have taken an oath to defend the constitution,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler, the chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
The articles of impeachment relate to the Democrats’ allegations that Trump misused the powers of his office and sidelined U.S. national security interests in favor of his own by withholding U.S. military aid to Ukraine unless it agreed to investigate one of his Democratic political rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden.
The articles of impeachment cite Trump’s stonewalling of Congress as it carried out its nearly three-month-long investigation. “President Trump engaged in unprecedented, categorical, and indiscriminate defiance of the impeachment inquiry,” Nadler said.
The full text of the proposed articles of impeachment is expected to be released later in the day on Tuesday.
It marks the fourth time a president has faced impeachment votes in Congress. Two presidents in U.S. history have been impeached—President Andrew Johnson in 1868 and President Bill Clinton in 1998—though neither was removed from office. President Richard Nixon resigned from office in 1974 before a full House impeachment vote, but after the House Judiciary Committee greenlighted articles of impeachment.
But this also would be the first time a U.S. president has faced impeachment in an election year. Following a vote of the full House that most observers expect will be along partisan lines in favor of impeachment—though some Democrats may balk—the Senate is widely expected to take up the issue in January for a full trial as lawmakers weigh the political fallout of potentially ousting a president by impeachment during an election year.
Public support for impeachment jumped in late September when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi announced the beginning of the inquiry. But throughout weeks of hearings and new revelations, public opinion remains sharply divided, with public support for impeachment hovering at around 47 percent.
Weeks of bitter partisan feuds in the public impeachment hearings have signaled that no Republicans are ready to break from their party and support impeachment. Republican lawmakers have echoed Trump’s criticisms of the impeachment investigation as unfounded and unfair. Republican Rep. Jim Jordan, one of Trump’s most vocal allies throughout the investigation, slammed the impeachment articles as “a baseless attempt to upend the will of the people less than 11 months before the next election.”
The White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement, “Today, in a baseless and partisan attempt to undermine a sitting President, Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats announced the pre-determined outcome of their sham impeachment – something they have been seeking since before President Trump was inaugurated.”
The House Judiciary Committee is set to meet later this week to debate the articles before making a recommendation to the House, setting up the likelihood that the president could be impeached before Congress’s winter recess. The Democratic-controlled House is expected to pass the vote on partisan lines.
From there the process will move over to the Senate for a trial, likely to be held in early 2020. It’s thought to be highly unlikely that the Republican-held chamber would vote to remove Trump, setting the stage for him to be the only president in U.S. history to run for reelection after facing impeachment.
Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee who conducted the investigation into whether Trump sought to pressure Ukraine for political gain, described the evidence against the president as overwhelming. “When the president got caught, he committed his second impeachable act, obstruction of Congress’s very ability to make sure no one is above the law, not even the president of the United States,” he said.
While impeachment investigators have heard from over a dozen witnesses, mostly drawn from the Department of State and the National Security Council, the White House has its ordered senior officials not to comply with congressional subpoenas and has refused to release documents requested by House impeachment investigators.
Among those who have yet to testify are former National Security Advisor John Bolton and the president’s acting chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, whose proximity to the president could provide critical evidence about Trump’s intentions with Ukraine.
Caught between conflicting requests from two branches of government, Bolton and his deputy, Charles Kupperman, have asked a judge to decide whether they should testify before Congress. A ruling in the case is expected on Tuesday, but congressional Democrats decided to press ahead with the impeachment process to avoid getting bogged down in the courts.
Addressing criticism that the Democrats had acted too hastily in not waiting for the court ruling, Schiff underscored the urgency of the process with a presidential election less than a year away.
“The argument that, ‘why don’t you just wait?’ amounts to this: Why don’t you just let him cheat in one more election?” he said.
Amy Mackinnon is a staff writer at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @ak_mack