- The Washington Times - Wednesday, December 18, 2019

House Democrats on Wednesday achieved their goal of affixing a black mark to President Trump’s tenure in the White House, impeaching him in two historic and yet anticlimactic party-line votes.

The Democrats passed two articles of impeachment, the first for abuse of power and the second for obstructing Congress.

The 230-197 vote on the first article and 229-198 vote on the second article branded Mr. Trump as only the third impeached president in U.S. history. It also rendered him the first president to suffer that indignity in a purely partisan vote.

The bipartisan vote was in opposition to impeachment, with two Democrats voting against the article accusing Mr. Trump of abuse of power and three Democrats voting against the article accusing him of obstructing Congress.

Democratic Reps. Jefferson Van Drew of New Jersey and Collin Peterson of Minnesota joined the Republicans in opposing both measures. Mr. Van Drew has announced that he plans to switch to the Republican Party over the impeachment episode. Rep. Jared Golden, Maine Democrat, joined them in opposing the second article, also.

The chamber’s only independent, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, voted for impeachment on both counts. He quit the GOP earlier this year in protest of Mr. Trump.

In a twist, 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii voted “Present” for both articles.

As the House voted, Mr. Trump told a campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan, that “it doesn’t really feel like we’re being impeached.”

“We did nothing wrong,” he said of the impeachment. “And we have tremendous support in the Republican Party. This sacred season, our country is thriving.”

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, said lawmakers demonstrated “moral courage” by standing up to a dangerous president.

“Today, we are here to defend democracy for the people,” she declared.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, California Republican, countered that impeachment has been the Democrats’ goal since the day Mr. Trump was inaugurated.

“I am about to say something my Democrat colleagues hate to hear,” he said at the close of the debate. “Donald J. Trump is president of the United States. He is president today. He will be president tomorrow. And he will be president when this impeachment is over.”

The action should now move to a trial in the Senate, which has the power to convict and remove a president from office. But there too, the outcome is all but guaranteed — the Republican-majority chamber being poised to acquit Mr. Trump sometime next month. And after Wednesday evening’s House vote, Democratic leaders threw a further possible wrench in the process.

It takes a simple majority to impeach in the House but a two-thirds majority in the 100-member Senate to convict and remove a president from office. Twenty Republicans would have to join all the chamber’s Democrats to get a guilty verdict, and there is no sign of anywhere near that number doing so.

However, Mrs. Pelosi raised doubts after the vote about how quickly the articles of impeachment would be forwarded to the Senate. She said she wanted to make sure the Senate would conduct a fair trial, saying it appeared that Senate leaders were “in cahoots” with the White House.

It was unclear how, or even whether, a delay would pressure the Senate to adopt Democrat-friendly procedures for a trial.

The White House said the House Democrats’ impeachment process had been “rigged” and dominated by partisan “antics.”

“The President is confident the Senate will restore regular order, fairness, and due process, all of which were ignored in the House proceedings,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement. “He is prepared for the next steps and confident that he will be fully exonerated.”

The House vote also made history as the country’s first partisan impeachment. It marked the only time the House passed impeachment without bipartisan support.

President Andrew Johnson, a Democrat, was impeached in 1868 by a 126-47 vote. At least one Democrat, Rep. Howell Lobb of Georgia, voted for his impeachment. More than a century later, President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, became the second president to be impeached, with five Democrats joining the Republican majority.

Republican President Nixon resigned to avoid impeachment, but he did so precisely because congressional Republicans had turned on him in the process’ earliest votes and Senate GOP leaders told him he would be convicted.

Mr. Clinton’s impeachment proceedings have been a point of reference in the last few debates in Mr. Trump’s case. Republicans have railed that Mr. Clinton enjoyed a more fair process while Democrats counter that these allegations rise to an unprecedented level of seriousness.

During more than six hours of debate Wednesday, the two sides battled with familiar talking points.

Democrats professed their allegiance to the Constitution and the Founders’ vision, saying they were doing their sworn duty by putting a check on a president who thinks and acts as though he were above the law.

Republicans accused Democrats of harboring a get-Trump animus and “weaponizing impeachment” in an attempt to reverse the 2016 election.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold L. Nadler, New York Democrat, hammered home the case that Mr. Trump jeopardized national security and attempted to cheat in the 2020 election by pressuring Ukraine to investigate political rival, former Vice President Joseph R. Biden, and his son Hunter.

“We do not hate President Trump, but we do know that President Trump will continue to threaten our security, democracy and constitutional system if he is allowed to remain in office,” he said.

Republicans warned that voters would punish Democrats for abusing the power of impeachment.

“The voters will remember next November what you did this December. This is a terrible time. This is a date that will live in infamy,” said Rep. Mike Kelly, Pennsylvania Republican.

Mr. Trump’s impeachment stemmed from a July 25 phone call in which he asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky for a “favor” in investigating the Bidens and the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

A whistleblower, who is believed to be a CIA official assigned to the White House, accused the president of abusing his power for personal gain on the call, including withholding $391 million of U.S. military aid from Ukraine as leverage.

The whistleblower is believed to have ties to the Democratic Party and the elder Mr. Biden. Before making the complaint, the whistleblower is known to have met with the staff of House Permanent Select Committee on Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff, a California Democrat who spearheaded the impeachment inquiry.

A rough transcript of the call the White House released in late September did not show the president present a quid pro quo deal for the investigations, but Democrats have argued the threat was understood and part of an ongoing pressure campaign of “shadow” foreign policy conducted by Mr. Trump’s private lawyer, former New York City Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani.

Republicans maintained that Mr. Trump did more than President Barack Obama did for Ukraine, delivering weapons such as antitank missiles that Mr. Obama denied. Moreover, they argued that the money was released to Ukraine in September and no probe of the Bidens happened.

“Ukrainians gave nothing in return,” said Rep. Andy Biggs, Arizona Republican.

Mr. Schiff responded that the funds only flowed when the president got caught.

“But for the courage of someone willing to blow the whistle, he would have gotten away with it. Instead, he got caught. He tried to cheat, and he got caught,” the committee chairman said.

The articles of impeachment did not include charges of bribery and extortion or any mention of a quid pro quo, a point Republicans repeatedly highlighted.

“We have not heard evidence beyond a reasonable doubt of bribery or extortion, allegations of these two crimes aren’t even mentioned in the articles of impeachment being debated today,” said Rep. Will Hurd, Texas Republican. “Today, we have seen a rushed process.”

The articles relied heavily on testimony from Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, who said he offered a prized White House visit for the newly elected Mr. Zelensky in exchange for his announcement of the investigations. But Mr. Sondland said he “presumed” that was what Mr. Trump wanted.

In his conversation with the president about it, Mr. Trump told him that there was “no quid pro quo,” he testified.

None of the witnesses in the impeachment inquiry linked the holdup of military assistance to the investigations or provided a reason for the holdup. The aid was delayed for about two months, before the money started to flow to Ukraine on Sept. 11, two days after the Inspector General of the Intelligence Community informed Congress of the whistleblower complaint.

Mr. Trump has acknowledged that he wanted an investigation into alleged corruption involving the Bidens.

Interest increased in the elder Biden’s actions in Ukraine after he recently boasted of forcing Ukraine to fire the country’s chief prosecutor in spring 2016. He said threatened to block a $1 billion U.S. loan guarantee because the prosecutor was widely viewed as not doing enough to combat corruption.

But the prosecutor, Viktor Shokin, also had looked into corruption allegations against Burisma Holdings and Mykola Zlochevsky, the Ukrainian oligarch running the company.

Despite the deep, bitter partisan divide — both parties marked Wednesday’s impeachment as a “sad day” for the country.

Mr. Hurd, a moderate member who Democrats eyed as a possible GOP vote for impeachment, criticized the president’s behavior and “bumbling foreign policy” but ultimately warned that a dangerous precedent.

“Today accusations have been hurled at each other, questioning one another’s integrity. Today a dangerous precedent will be set — impeachment will be weaponized,” he said. “Can this chamber put down our swords and get back to work for the American people?”

On the other end of the spectrum, Democratic Rep. Anthony Brindisi of New York faced pressure to vote against the articles but decided to stand with his party. The freshman congressman explained that while he is willing to work with the president, he felt the evidence left him no choice.

“I don’t care if it’s a Democratic president or a Republican president. No one should be inviting foreign interference in our elections,” he told The Washington Times during a break in the floor action. “There’s no question our nation has become more divided over the last couple of decades. And that’s unfortunate. But you also have a lot of members on both sides who play into that partisan divided, which you know, fans the flames.”

In the Senate, the procedures for the trial have yet to be decided.

Mr. Trump has signaled he wants to call witnesses in his defense, surprisingly aligning himself with Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat, who also wants to call more witnesses to testify in a full-blown trial.

Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, Kentucky Republican, and Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, South Carolina Republican, have shot down those demands in favor of a more streamlined process.

“I am not going to support witnesses being called for by the president. I am not going to support witnesses being called for by Sen. Schumer,” Mr. Graham told reporters Wednesday. “Most senators on our side are ready to move forward.”

• S.A. Miller can be reached at smiller@washingtontimes.com.

• Gabriella Muñoz can be reached at gmunoz@washingtontimes.com.

• Alex Swoyer can be reached at aswoyer@washingtontimes.com.

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