In Historic Vote, House Impeaches Trump Over Ukraine Scandal
The vote to impeach the president came after hours of bitter partisan debate, making Trump the third U.S. president ever to face trial in the Senate.
Donald Trump became the third president in U.S. history to be impeached by the House of Representatives on Wednesday in a historic vote that mostly fell along party lines.
Lawmakers in the Democrat-controlled chamber engaged in nearly 12 hours of heated debates over two articles of impeachment against Trump, who was accused of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress related to allegations that he pressured Ukraine’s president into helping his 2020 reelection prospects. Lawmakers held a final vote on each article of impeachment Wednesday evening.
The vote for the first article of impeachment, on abuse of power, was 230 for, 197 against, with one representative—Hawaii Democrat and Democratic presidential contender Tulsi Gabbard—voting present. On obstructing Congress, the vote was 229 for, 198 against, and one vote—Gabbard’s—was present. Maine Democrat Jared Golden voted yes on the first article of impeachment and no on the second, the only House member to split their vote.
“It is a matter of fact that the president is an ongoing threat to our national security and the integrity of our elections, the basis of our democracy,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said, opening the impeachment debate. “If we do not act now we would be derelict in our duty. … He gave us no choice.”
But Trump, who is the first U.S. president ever to face impeachment heading into an election year, is almost certainly not going to be removed from office. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated the trial in the Republican-held Senate will be a speedy one, and he has the majority of votes in Trump’s favor to acquit the president. “We will have a largely partisan outcome,” McConnell said on Tuesday.
In comments to reporters following the vote, Pelosi suggested that she wouldn’t be ready to send the articles of impeachment over to the Senate until she was assured the process would be fair. “So far we haven’t seen anything that looks fair to us,” Pelosi said.
Trump himself refused to cooperate with the impeachment process, barring his officials from responding to congressional requests, and in a searing six-page letter to Pelosi on Tuesday he compared the impeachment vote to a “Star Chamber” and said “more due process was afforded to those accused in the Salem Witch Trials.” Trump also repeated a host of discredited conspiracy theories about his 2020 political rival Joe Biden, his son Hunter Biden, and their connection to Ukraine. Pelosi later told reporters the letter was “really sick.”
House Republicans decried the impeachment process as unfair in increasingly florid language, saying the Democrats pushed the process forward on a rushed timeline and refused to allow testimony of some witnesses the Republicans pushed to call. They insisted that Trump did not commit any crimes in his dealings with Ukraine, and some said House Democrats were trying to overturn the results of the 2016 election through impeachment.
“It is a matter for the voters, not this house, not in this way, not in the way this is being done,” said Rep. Doug Collins, the ranking Republican on the House Judiciary Committee. “The people of America see through this. The people of America understand due process, and they understand when it is being trampled in the people’s house.”
Georgia Republican Rep. Barry Loudermilk likened the impeachment investigation to the persecution of Jesus. “When Jesus was falsely accused of treason, Pontius Pilate gave Jesus the opportunity to face his accusers. During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than the Democrats have afforded this president in this process,” Loudermilk said.
As the House engaged in its vote, Trump spoke at a rally in Michigan, driving home his sharp criticisms of the impeachment vote. “It doesn’t really feel like we’re being impeached, the country is doing better than ever before. We did nothing wrong and we have tremendous support in the Republican party like never before,” he said.
“Today marks the culmination in the House of one of the most shameful political episodes in the history of our Nation,” White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement immediately following the vote. “Without receiving a single Republican vote, and without providing any proof of wrongdoing, Democrats pushed illegitimate articles of impeachment against the President.”
Grisham earlier on Wednesday told reporters that the president would be working all day: “He will be briefed by staff throughout that day, and could catch some of the proceedings between meetings.” Shortly afterward, the president tweeted: “SUCH ATROCIOUS LIES BY THE RADICAL LEFT, DO NOTHING DEMOCRATS. THIS IS AN ASSAULT ON AMERICA, AND AN ASSAULT ON THE REPUBLICAN PARTY!!!!”
Months of bitterly partisan depositions and public hearings preceded Wednesday’s vote, previewing the sharp partisan split on the final vote tally. Centrist Democrats, including those in hotly contested districts that lean Republican, have lined up behind impeachment despite a campaign of coaxing and pressure from the White House to peel off at least some Democratic votes.
“Over the past few months, I’ve been told more times that I can count that the vote I’ll be casting this week will mark the end of my short political career. That may be,” Rep. Elissa Slotkin, a freshman Michigan Democrat who was formerly a CIA officer and senior Pentagon official, wrote in an op-ed explaining her decision to back impeachment. “But in the national security world that I come from, we are trained to make hard calls on things, even if they are unpopular, if we believe the security of the country is at stake.”
The Republicans did notch one victory in the run-up to the impeachment vote: Rep. Jeff Van Drew, a New Jersey Democrat, is expected to leave the Democratic Party and join the Republicans this week. Van Drew was one of only two Democrats in the House who opposed impeachment. The other Democrat who voted against impeachment was Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson.
Democratic Rep. Jared Golden, from a Republican-leaning district in Maine, has distinguished himself as the only Democrat who split his vote on the two articles of impeachment. In a statement before Wednesday’s vote, he said he would back the abuse of power article of impeachment but oppose the article accusing the president of obstructing Congress.
There was another surprise vote on the floor of the House Wednesday evening: Gabbard voted present instead of yes or no on both articles of impeachment.
“I could not in good conscience vote against impeachment because I believe President Trump is guilty of wrongdoing,” she said in a statement released shortly after her vote. “I also could not in good conscience vote for impeachment because removal of a sitting President must not be the culmination of a partisan process, fueled by tribal animosities that have so gravely divided our country.”
Those splits won’t be enough to dismiss the impeachment charges against Trump, however, setting the stage for a Senate impeachment trial in early 2020.
The historic vote follows a monthslong investigation by House lawmakers, which was triggered by an anonymous whistleblower complaint from a CIA official who alleged that Trump had sought to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Biden during a phone call between the two leaders on July 25. The revelation prompted Pelosi, who until then had resisted calls for impeachment, to open an impeachment investigation in late September. The subsequent probe revealed how the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani sought to carve out a diplomatic back channel to Ukraine as he spearheaded efforts to pressure leaders in the post-Soviet nation to investigate widely debunked theories about Biden’s involvement in Ukraine and claims that Ukraine sought to interfere in the 2016 presidential election in favor of Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton.
The president and members of the Republican Party have consistently denied that Trump acted inappropriately toward Ukraine, and they have accused Democrats of pursuing a politically motivated investigation in a bid to remove Trump from office.
Democrats have defended the process as a bid to protect the integrity of U.S. elections and to defend the Constitution. “We cannot rely on the next election as a remedy for presidential misconduct when the president threatens the very integrity of that election,” Rep. Jerry Nadler, the Democratic chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said on Wednesday. “We must act without delay.”
In a letter sent to McConnell on Sunday, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D) called for former National Security Advisor John Bolton and acting White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney to appear as witnesses at the Senate trial, but the request was dismissed by McConnell on Tuesday.
Public opinion on impeachment remains sharply divided. There was a bump in support for impeachment at the time Pelosi announced the investigation, but since then public opinion has remained largely stable throughout weeks of public hearings. A CNN poll last week found that 45 percent of Americans are in favor of impeaching Trump and removing him from office.
Only two previous presidents in U.S. history have been impeached. The first was Andrew Johnson, a white supremacist who was impeached in 1868. The second was Bill Clinton, who was impeached in 1998 on charges of lying under oath and obstruction of justice. President Richard Nixon narrowly avoided impeachment by resigning before a House vote on three articles of impeachment.
Update, Dec. 18, 2019: This article has been updated throughout the day with further details.
Amy Mackinnon is a national security and intelligence reporter at Foreign Policy. Twitter: @ak_mack