WASHINGTON (CN) — Six hours of debate followed by a pair of votes on a two-part resolution: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
So will the culmination of nearly three months of investigation be marked after more than 100 hours of testimony from 17 witnesses, a cavalcade of furious presidential tweets and heated wrangling among seven congressional committees, inexorably leading on Wednesday to the impeachment of President Donald J. Trump, the third officeholder in U.S. history to bear that stain from the House of Representatives.
Facing an increasingly inevitable fate, Trump exhorted his supporters on Twitter to push for divine intervention.
“This should never happen to another President again,” Trump tweeted. “Say a PRAYER!”
Should Republican efforts fail, Trump’s impeachment will fall nearly 21 years to the exact day that the House voted to impeach President Bill Clinton, on Dec. 19, 1998.
The House’s calendar anticipates that the impeachment vote will fall between 6:30 p.m. and 7:30 p.m., just as Trump is expected to address a campaign rally in Michigan.
Once the vote is settled in the House, the process shifts to the Senate for a trial to have Trump removed from office. Much like a traditional trial, there will be jurors. In an impeachment, however, each senator is a juror and the final authority goes to the judge presiding over the trial — in this case, Chief Justice John Roberts.
Senate rules require each juror to take the following oath: “I solemnly swear (or affirm) that in all things pertaining to the impeachment of Donald John Trump, now pending, I will do impartial justice according to the Constitution and laws, so help me God.”
In contrast to those words, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham both announced their intention this past week to acquit Trump at trial without reviewing any evidence. McConnell vowed to steer the proceedings in total coordination with the White House.
With Republicans already signaling that their minds are made up and a Republican stranglehold gripping the Senate, it is seen as deeply unlikely that the required two-thirds supermajority needed to remove the president will be present once Trump’s trial begins, likely in January.
House proceedings began on Wednesday morning with a Republican-led motion to adjourn, which failed by a comfortable margin.
Another motion that failed came from GOP leader Kevin McCarthy, seeking to condemn the activities of House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff and House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler.
Once opening statements began, the lines were sharply drawn.
For Democrats like Massachusetts Representative Joe Kennedy – the grandson of former U.S. Senator Robert F. Kennedy – Trump’s conduct was not only impeachable but eroded the nation’s overall decency and dignity.
“I don’t know how they will tell the story of this era, but I want to tell you the story of this day,” Kennedy said as he read from a letter he wrote to his own children. “Let the record show today that justice won. We did our job, that we kept our word, that we stood our sacred ground.”
Multiple House Republicans offered Biblically laced speeches of fire and brimstone, prophesizing both democratic, and occasionally otherworldly, doom.
“When Jesus was falsely accused of treason, Pontius Pilate gave Jesus the opportunity to face his accusers,” Representative Barry Loudermilk sermonized. “During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than Democrats have afforded this president and this process.”
Quoting the Gospel of Luke, Representative Fred Keller said that he will pray for House Democrats: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.”
Joining his colleague from Georgia, Representative Clay Higgins of Louisiana delivered apocalyptic remarks about gazing into the “belly of the beast,” his analogy for impeachment, as he pointed a conspiratorial finger at Democrats amid his full-throated defense of the Trump administration.
“I have witnessed the terror within,” Higgins thundered. “And I rise committed to oppose the insidious forces which threaten our republic. America is being severely injured by this betrayal, by this unjust weaponized impeachment, brought upon us by the same socialists who threaten unborn life in the womb, who threaten First Amendment rights of conservatives, who threaten Second Amendment protections of every American patriot, and who have long ago determined that they would organize and conspire to overthrow President Trump.”
Democrats parried with their own religious verse, but took care not to deify the president by analogy.
Wisconsin Representative Gwen Moore asked lawmakers across the aisle to dwell on a verse from the Gospel of Mark before they vote tonight: “For what should it cost a man to gain the whole world only to lose his own soul?”
More often, Democrats looked to more secular scripture, with Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff quoting a letter from Alexander Hamilton predicting the rise of “a man unprincipled in private life desperate in his fortune, bold in his temper, possessed of considerable talents,” and “despotic in his ordinary demeanor.”
“Hamilton seems to have predicted the rise of Donald Trump with staggering prescience,” Schiff declared.
Some Republicans, like Florida Representative John Rutherford sought to flip the narrative on Democrats who argue Trump does the bidding of Russia’s President Vladimir Putin. It is not Trump who has carried out the wishes of Putin, the Republican lawmaker said, but Democrats.
“Putin’s goal in the 2016 election was to sow discord in America,” Rutherford said, looking to his colleagues across the aisle. “Do you think he’s been successful? Somewhere Putin is laughing at the U.S. today.”
Multiple State Department or National Security Council witnesses testified that the political investigations in Ukraine that Trump and his proxies sought to initiate echoed Putin’s public statements from years ago.
When not probing existential, theological and geopolitical questions, tempers occasionally flared.
In one explosive moment after Texas Representative Louie Gohmert claimed the impeachment inquiry was merely an effort by Democrats to cover up Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election, Nadler retorted: “I am deeply concerned that any U.S. representative will spout Russian propaganda on the floor of the House.”
This prompted Gohmert to storm toward the dais. Off mic, Gohmert pointed his finger at the House Judiciary Committee chairman and demanded Nadler remove his statements from the record. Moments after the exchange, Gohmert appeared to walk up to Nadler and speak to him sternly. Nadler’s face was expressionless.
The path to Wednesday’s vote began in September when an intelligence analyst filed a whistleblower complaint cited “urgent” concern about what he or she overheard during Trump’s July 25 call with Ukraine’s President Volodomyr Zelensky.
As was later substantiated by a rough transcript of the call, President Trump asked Zelensky to publicly announce two investigations, the first designed to embarrass Trump’s potential 2020 election opponent, former Vice President Joe Biden, with old allegations involving his son Hunter and Burisma Holdings LLC, a Ukrainian natural gas company where Hunter once sat on the board. An inquiry in the House soon flowered, featuring corroborating testimony from more than a dozen senior Trump administration officials over weeks of public and private testimony.
The second aimed to validate the conspiracy theory that Ukraine, rather than Russia, interfered in the 2016 presidential elections, a narrative starkly at odds with the conclusions of special counsel Robert Mueller, U.S. intelligence agencies and America’s international allies.
After the House clerk read the articles of impeachment reciting those allegations, Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler introduced Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who opened her remarks by citing the pledge of allegiance next to a placard with the flag and the passage “to the Republic for which it stands.”
“Today we are here to defend democracy for the people,” Pelosi concluded.
During a few impassioned minutes on the House floor, Representative Nydia Velázquez said it would be an outright systemic failure if the House fails to impeach Trump — even with incredibly dim prospects for removal in the Senate.
“If we choose to turn a blind eye, to put political expediency before the Constitution, then we are complicit in this subversion of democracy,” said Velázquez, a New York Democrat. “If we do not hold this president accountable, we have failed the people who have sent us here.”
Trump is accused of leveraging his request for the investigations by freezing $391 million in military aid to Ukraine that was certified months before by the Department of Defense.
With Trump and his supporters regularly depicting impeachment as a coup to overturn the 2016 election results, Chairman Nadler reminded his House colleagues about the line of succession. Should the Senate allow Trump’s removal from office, Vice President Mike Pence would replace him, not Hillary Clinton, Nadler noted.
This story is developing…