The US House of Representatives impeached President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstructing Congress, the culmination of an effort by Democrats that further inflamed partisan tensions in Washington and deepened the nation’s ideological divide.
The historic votes on Wednesday evening, which won the support of almost all Democrats in the House chamber but not a single Republican, leave Trump as only the third president in US history to be impeached -- and the only impeached president likely to win his party’s nomination for re-election.
The Senate will hold a trial early next year to decide whether the president should be convicted on the charges and removed from office, though the Republicans who have the majority in that chamber will almost certainly acquit him.
House Democrats took depositions from more than a dozen witnesses, held weeks of hearings, and wrote hundreds of pages documenting Trump’s efforts to pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.
Yet public support for Trump’s impeachment and removal rarely went much above 50% in polling, and there is little evidence that the proceedings left him in a worse position politically on the eve of the 2020 election.
After more than six hours of debate, the House voted 230 to 197 to adopt the first of two impeachment articles, one alleging he misused the power of his office to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. The House voted 229 to 198 on a second article accusing him of obstructing Congress.
The final vote left all sides dissatisfied. Republicans fumed at what they called a rushed process, accusing Democrats of ignoring their demands for witnesses and trying to tarnish Trump heading into his campaign.
Democrats received a momentary boost in September when the details of Trump’s controversial call with Ukraine’s president first emerged. But they failed to inflict lasting damage to the president, even as the evidence mounted that Trump had indeed done exactly what Democrats charged: Tried to strong-arm an ally to investigate a prominent political rival by holding back military aid and an Oval Office visit.
Minutes before the House began voting, Trump took the stage for a campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan, a state that was crucial to his victory in 2016 and his chances for re-election next year, to provide a real-time rebuttal to the impeachment debate.
“After three years of sinister witch hunts, hoaxes, scams, tonight, House Democrats are trying to nullify the ballots of tens of millions of patriotic Americans,” Trump told the crowd.
Shift to Senate
The drama will now shift to the Senate for a trial next month that will be presided over by Chief Justice John Roberts. With a two-thirds vote required to convict the president, Trump’s acquittal in the Republican-controlled chamber is all but assured. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already declared that he is “not an impartial juror” and is setting a course to bring the proceedings to a swift conclusion.
The historic debate and vote took place in the same chamber where presidents Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were impeached. The arguments on the House floor mostly replayed those made in Judiciary and Intelligence committee impeachment hearings since last month, and on Tuesday as lawmakers set the ground rules for Wednesday’s floor action.
Opening the debate, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi called Trump an “ongoing threat to our national security,” and declared that, “If we do not act now, we would be derelict in our duty.”
Republican Representative Doug Collins of Georgia, a leading defender of the president during Judiciary Committee hearings, said in rebuttal that the president did nothing wrong.
“The people of America see through this,” Collins said. “The people of America understand due process and they understand when it is being trampled in the people’s house.”
The House vote culminates a nearly three-month investigation into Trump’s Ukraine dealings by Democrats led by Pelosi, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler and Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff.
The inquiry was set off in September by a still-unnamed whistle-blower’s complaint and the White House’s release of a July 25 transcript of phone call between the US President and Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Trump and his Republican backers accuse Democrats of hurtling toward impeachment of the 45th president since the day he won election. In fact, at least a few the most liberal Democrats had been calling for his impeachment since the first reports by US intelligence agencies that Russia interfered with the 2016 election to Trump’s benefit.
But Pelosi had staved off those demands, until the Ukraine revelations dramatically shifted the sentiment among Democrats, drawing support from more centrist members of the party who were wary of paying a political price with angry Trump voters in their districts.
Even if Trump evades conviction and removal, the House vote will leave a stain on Trump’s time in the White House and his place in history.
With polling heading into the vote showing the country as sharply divided along party lines on impeachment as were the House members in their votes, Trump and his allies are vowing to make it an issue in coming elections. On Tuesday, the president sent an angry and rambling six-page letter to Pelosi saying the impeachment vote would backfire on Democrats.
“Any member of Congress who votes in support of impeachment -- against every shred of truth, fact, evidence and legal principle -- is showing how deeply they revile the voters and how truly they detest America’s constitutional order,” he wrote.
Although anger surrounding impeachment has animated voters in both parties, it’s not yet clear that it will be the central issue when they cast ballots next November in an election to decide control of the White House and Congress. The cost an availability of health care and the state of the economy remain the top issues mentioned by voters in most polls. There also may be events over the next 10 months that reshape the campaigns.
“Things move so fast we can’t just assume that things that seem very important now are going to matter later,” Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Chrystal Ball website at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said last week.