By Dareh Gregorian
President Donald J. Trump was impeached on Wednesday.
For the third time in the nation’s history, the House of Representatives voted to impeach a sitting president, following a day-long debate on whether Trump violated his oath in pressuring Ukraine to damage a political opponent.
Trump was impeached on two articles. The 230-197 vote to impeach him for abuse of power was almost entirely on party lines and was followed quickly by a second 229-198 vote that the president obstructed Congress.
The Senate trial on whether to remove the president will begin in early January.
Two Democrats, Reps. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey and Collin Peterson of Minnesota, voted with Republicans against both articles of impeachment, while another voted yes on abuse of power and no on obstruction of Congress.
Hours before the vote, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi took to the House floor to say it was imperative to impeach a president for the first time in two decades because Trump is “an ongoing threat to our national security and the integrity of our elections.”
“It is an established fact the president violated the Constitution,” Pelosi said, standing next to a sign with an American flag that quoted a line from the Pledge of Allegiance, “To the Republic, for which it stands…”
Emotions ran high inside the Capitol ahead of the historic vote, with Democrats and Republicans accusing each other of acting in bad faith during 10 hours of debate.
Speaking on the House floor, Rep. Debbie Lesko, R.-Ariz., said, “I believe this is the most unfair, politically biased, rigged process that I have seen in my entire life.”
“This is the most partisan impeachment in the history of the United States,” she added. “Not one Republican voted for it in the Judiciary Committee…not one Republican, I don’t think, is going to vote for it here today.”
Democrats accused their counterparts of turning a willful blind eye to the president’s misdeeds. They said there was ample evidence Trump had abused his power by pressuring Ukraine to announce investigations into political rival Joe Biden and his son, while withholding almost $400 million in aid, and had obstructed Congress by refusing to release any documents related to his actions.
“The president withheld congressionally approved military aid to Ukraine, a country under siege, not to fight corruption, but to extract a personal political favor,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass. “The president of the United States endangered our national security. The president undermined our democracy…betrayed his oath to preserve protect and defend the Constitution of the United States.”
“No one should be allowed to use the powers of the presidency to undermine our elections. Period,” McGovern added.
The hours of back and forth before the vote offered no new evidence and shed no new light on the allegations against the president, as Republicans and Democrats mainly echoed many of the same points they’ve been making for weeks.
The proceedings were mostly civil, although some Republicans amped up the hyperbole. Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., said Jesus had received a fairer trial from the Roman governor who’d sentenced him to crucifixion than Trump had gotten from the House Democrats.
“When Jesus was falsely accused of treason, Pontius Pilate gave Jesus the opportunity to face his accusers,” Loudermilk said on the House floor. “During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than Democrats have afforded this president in this process.”
A White House official told NBC News that Trump did not plan on watching the proceedings, but would keep tabs on the coverage. The official said the White House was preparing for “war.”
“We are all mad,” the official said, and Trump and his team are “angry this is happening.”
The president made that clear on Tuesday with an extraordinary, rambling six-page letter to Pelosi on Tuesday, accusing her of orchestrating “an illegal, partisan attempted coup.”
“You are the ones subverting America’s Democracy. You are the ones Obstructing Justice. You are the ones bringing pain and suffering to our Republic for your own selfish personal, political, and partisan gain,” he wrote. “You view democracy as your enemy!”
Some Republicans accused Democrats of plotting to impeach the president since he was first elected. After Democrats took control of the House earlier this year, Pelosi had pushed back on lawmakers who’d been advocating for impeachment, calling it “divisive” and saying of trying to remove Trump, “He’s just not worth it.”
That position changed in September, after a whistleblower came forward to file a complaint with the Senate and House intelligence committees that the president had used “the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 election.”
On Sept. 23, Trump confirmed media reports that a call he had with the Ukrainian leader involved withholding aid and the Bidens, but maintained he had done nothing wrong.
“We want to make sure that country is honest. It’s very important to talk about corruption. If you don’t talk about corruption, why would you give money to a country that you think is corrupt?” Trump told reporters.
Pelosi announced the next day that she was launching a formal impeachment inquiry into the president’s actions.
Subsequent hearings before the House Intelligence Committee featured testimony from current and former administration officials that the president had been turned against Ukraine by his “hand grenade” of a lawyer, Rudy Giulani, and that they were never given a reason for the freeze on Ukraine aid. The money was released on Sept. 11 amid bipartisan pushback from Congress.
The president maintained a call summary of his July 25th phone conversation with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy showed their talk was “perfect.” Democrats said the summary shows him pressuring the head of a country reliant on U.S. aid to help him politically.
Trump is the third commander-in-chief to be impeached by the House in the nation’s 243-year history.
Both of those efforts were led by House Republicans. Andrew Johnson was impeached in 1868 in part for replacing a Cabinet member without the advice and consent of the Senate. Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998 for perjury and obstruction of justice for lying under oath about an extra-marital affair.
Clinton apologized for his conduct before he was impeached by the House, something then-businessman Trump said was a mistake. Trump told Chris Matthews in 1998 that Clinton should not have cooperated with the investigation into his conduct and should never have said he was sorry.
“Go after your enemies — I mean, they’re after you,” Trump said then. “I think that Clinton probably is too nice a guy in a certain respect. I think that’s one of the things that happened.”
Johnson and Clinton were acquitted in the Senate, where a two-thirds vote is required for a conviction and removal from office.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said last week he’s working “in total coordination” with the White House, and added that, “My hope is there won’t be a single Republican who votes for either of these articles of impeachment.”
On Wednesday, McConnell took to the Senate floor to push back against Minority Leader Chuck Schumer’s call to have witnesses testify in the case. “His decision to try angrily negotiate through the press is unfortunate,” McConnell said.
Schumer stood by his request on the floor, saying, “I have yet to hear an explanation why less evidence is better than more evidence, particularly when it comes to something as somber, as serious, as important as impeachment of the president of the United States of America.”
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