WASHINGTON (CN) – With fury, recrimination, and ample amendments, House Republicans on Thursday aired grievances from morning through night for a second straight day on articles of impeachment charging President Donald Trump with abusing his power and obstructing Congress.
After Republicans exhausted their attempted amendments, Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler abruptly called for a recess shortly before midnight, portending a vote on the mostly unaltered articles for Friday morning at 10 a.m.
“It’s a long step away from constitutional government and any control on power over the president and a long step toward tyranny,” Nadler declared of Trump’s refusal to cooperate with congressional oversight.
From the first gavel strike at 9 a.m. to the closing tap at 11:15 p.m., Republicans floated a variety of amendments to strike, dilute and delete the statutory language designed to drive Trump out of office. Even knowing they were outvoted, Republicans tried to clip both articles against Trump in their entirety and force every measure to a roll call to make sure those losing tallies were counted.
Nadler’s decision to hold the vote on Friday morning appeared to blindside the Republican minority of the committee, leaving their ranks shouting comparisons to Stalinist Russia as a long day’s journey drew to a combustible close.
No sooner had Nadler began the morning session of the 11-hour hearing than the committee’s top Republican, Representative Doug Collins, R-Ga., interjected with a point of order demanding a separate hearing airing the minority’s views.
Promptly rejecting the request, Nadler noted that such a hearing would have been unprecedented and did not feature in the impeachments of former President Bill Clinton and Richard Nixon. Convening one during the heart of the impeachment process, Nadler said, would have enabled delay and obstruction by the Republicans.
Exasperated, Congressman Collins declared: “This committee has now sounded the death of minority rights.”
The remark bristled Representative Ted Deutch, who moved to strike the accusation as one unsupported by the House rules and history.
“Facts really do matter,” the Florida Democrat said.
Republicans continued to level procedural critiques on impeachment, from the closed-door testimony by fact witnesses in October to the fact that the House Intelligence Committee held hearings ahead of the Judiciary Committee. Now that the evidence is public and in the Judiciary Committee’s hands, Representative Joe Neguse called for the chamber to put the matter to rest.
“Let’s dispense with the process arguments and get to the substance of why we are here today,” the Colorado Democrat chided his Republican colleagues, calling their objections baseless and irrelevant.
The opening statement Congressman Collins had delivered Wednesday circled around a theme of the “Big Lie,” evoking Adolf Hitler’s favored propaganda technique.
Inflammatory historical analogies did not cease Thursday morning as Representative Louis Gohmert declared: “This is a day that will live in infamy in this committee,” echoing Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s description of the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor.
Republican Representative Jim Jordan attempted to make an end-run around the entirety of the abuse of power article as the hearing got underway Thursday.
“It ignores the truth,” Jordan said of one section outlining Trump’s solicitation of Ukraine’s President Volodomyr Zelensky to investigate his political rivals.
Jordan also claimed Democrats failed to produce any direct evidence of the allegations against Trump.
Rhode Island Democrat Representative David Cicilline worked to unwind Jordan’s argument in short order, rattling off a litany of examples that he said were, in fact, direct evidence of Trump’s abuse of power.
“Lieutenant Colonel Alex Vindman, Tim Morrison heard him utter the words from his own mouth,” Cicilline said.
The Rhode Island Democrat later derided the notion that Trump had deep concerns about corruption, noting that the word corruption did not appear in either of his phone calls with Zelensky.
“It’s like Kim Jong Un leading a human rights effort,” Cicilline quipped, in one memorable analogy. “It’s just not credible.”
Central to Republicans’ portrayal of Trump as an anti-corruption crusader is a position that Hunter Biden, a son of former Vice President Joe Biden, once held a position on the board of a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma.
None of the 17 fact witnesses who testified for more than 100 hours during the impeachment inquiry corroborated Trump’s claims that Joe Biden, as vice president, dealt his son a corrupt favor for that job by pushing for the firing of ex-Ukrainian Prosecutor Viktor Shokin. The United States, European Union, International Monetary Fund, Ukrainian anti-corruption activists and even congressional Republicans supported Shokin’s ouster three years ago.
That did not stop Representative Matt Gaetz from entering a failed amendment that would have shifted the conversation to the Bidens.
Leveling personal attacks, the Florida Republican even delved into Hunter Biden’s past use of crack and cocaine.
Democratic Representative Hank Johnson pointedly responded: “The pot calling the kettle black is not something that we should do,” alluding to members of Congress who may have had struggles with substance abuse.
Congressman Gaetz was arrested in 2008 for drunken driving, an offense that was never convicted. He later conceded in an interview six year later: “I made bad decisions that resulted in an arrest, and that is sort of something that we all live with.”
Vindman and Morrison were both on the July 25 call between Zelensky and Trump, and both men testified that they heard the president request the investigations into the Bidens.
“His chief of staff acknowledged that he was directed to put an unexplainable hold on military aid,” Cicilline said, referring to Trump. Cicilline also noted that Trump directed Vice President Mike Pence not to attend the Zelensky inauguration as a point of leverage until investigations were announced.
Like Ohio’s Jordan, Gaetz of Florida denied that the president committed any crimes and denied that the freeze on military aid involved any conditions.
Representative Pramila Jayapal, who has repeatedly referred to President Trump as the smoking gun at the center of the inquiry, appeared incredulous at the suggestion.
“You can’t argue things both ways. If your argument is that Trump was so concerned about the aid, then why did he release the aid in 2017 and 2018 but then, in 2019, after the Department of Defense cleared Ukraine on charges of corruption – why then, did he decide not to release aid?”
Jayapal was met with cross-talk from Republican lawmakers ready to jump to the President’s defense. With a bit of wrangling from the chairman, however, the Washington lawmaker had opportunity to pose questions to her colleagues across the aisle.
“Forget about President Trump,” she said, repeating the request at least two times. “Will any one of my colleagues on the other side say it is an abuse of power to condition aid on official acts? Forget about President Trump. Is any one of my colleagues willing to say it is ever OK for a president of the United States to invite foreign interference in our elections? Not one of you has said that so far.”
Representative Zoe Lofgren, who served as a staffer to the Nixon-era House Judiciary Committee and sat on the committee during the Clinton impeachment, echoed Jayapal’s disbelief as she pondered a future where President Trump, as commander in chief, goes unchecked by Congress.
“If this behavior persists, this careful balance, this careful sharing of power is gone forever,” Lofgren said. “It means only branch, the executive branch, will have the right to decide what happens in the United States of America.”
Another amendment proposed Thursday came from Representative Andy Biggs. The House Freedom Caucus chair proposed striking language in the resolution that said Trump only released the aid to Ukraine after his conduct with Ukraine became public.
Biggs proposed that the resolution state instead that Trump released the aid within days of Zelensky signing anti-corruption measures into law in Ukraine and after it had been assured the funds would not be used for corrupt purposes.
The proposal by Biggs ignores a May decision by the Pentagon that certified the funds for release thanks to an effort the Department of Defense identified as a successful effort to stomp out corruption there.