WASHINGTON (CN) – The House Judiciary Committee hurtled President Donald Trump toward impeachment for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress with a pair of 23-17 party-line votes Friday.
“Aye,” Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler voted, kicking off an anticlimactic, if historic, coda to three days of bitter debate inside his committee.
California Representative Ted Lieu, recovering from heart surgery, could not join his Democratic colleagues for the vote, a penultimate step to making the 45th U.S. president the third in history to be impeached.
“We did the right thing,” Representative Steve Cohen said in an interview. “I wish it would have been unanimous and we got it passed.”
The committee made quick work of approving the articles when it reconvened Friday after a 14-hour marathon markup that ran late into Thursday night.
Nadler split the vote into two, giving members a chance to be recorded on each article Democrats have filed against Trump. A clerk called each members’ name down the dais for each article, with all Democrats responding with a solemn “aye” or “yes” and Republicans with “no.” The entire proceeding lasted less than 15 minutes, a sharp departure from the all-day sessions that have typified impeachment hearings to this point.
More than 100 hours of testimony from 17 congressional witnesses bolstered Democrats’ allegations that Trump attempted to strong-arm neophyte Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to do him a political favor in return for military assistance that his country desperately needed and secure a sought-after visit to the White House.
Trump sent his attorney Rudy Giuliani to push Zelensky to gin up investigations of his political opponent Joe Biden and sow doubt into the conclusions of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in U.S. elections.
Denounced by Democrats as solicitation of a foreign government’s interference in an election, Trump’s actions in Ukraine form the basis of an article for abuse of power, and the president’s instructions to government employees and agencies not to testify or provide documentation support the obstruction charge.
The vote arrived the morning after two days of hearings that stretched from the start of the business day well into the late evening, filled with bitter recriminations from the Judiciary Committee’s Republican minority attacking the impeachment process as unfair. Heated historical analogies abounded: The committee’s top Republican Doug Collins claimed that impeachment rested on “The Big Lie,” evoking the Nazis’ propaganda technique. Representative Louie Gohmert repeatedly invoked Stalinist Russia and likened the quest to remove Trump from office to the trial of Socrates.
On the Democratic side, Representative Cedric Richmond compared House Republicans to Judas Iscariot, only instead of seeking 30 pieces of silver, the legislators coveted Trump tweets to help their re-election campaigns.
The committee’s approval of the articles sets up a vote before the full House of Representatives, likely to take place in the middle of next week. Democrats hold a 36-seat majority in the chamber and are expected to pass the articles over unified Republican opposition.
Trump would be impeached then but can only be removed from office by the Republican-controlled Senate.
Appearing on Fox News Thursday evening, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Sean Hannity that he will coordinate with the White House on how the Senate trial will play out, including which witnesses, if any, Republicans will call and how the proceedings will ultimately be resolved.
“Everything I do during this, I’m coordinating with White House counsel,” McConnell said. “There will be no difference between the president’s position and our position as to how to handle this, to the extent that we can.”
He predicted a relatively short trial, with no Republican defections.
“We all know how it’s going to end,” McConnell declared. “There’s no chance the president’s going to be removed from office. My hope is that there won’t be a single Republican who votes for either of these articles of impeachment.”
Following the vote Friday, Representative Pramila Jayapal told reporters that McConnell’s interview was an affront to what the Framers envisioned.
“To predetermine and say, I can tell you right now that President Trump is not going to be impeached, it’s really outrageous, and Mitch McConnell should be ashamed of himself,” the Washington Democrat told reporters.
“The real question is, ‘What will the U.S. Senate do?’ and I think every American should call their U.S. senator and tell them that it is absolutely outrageous that the foreman of the jury, the chief juror, the person who determines the rules for the trial in the Senate would be coordinating with the defendant,” Jayapal added.
Representative Jamie Raskin, who sits next to Jayapal on the Judiciary Committee, also urged the public to call up the Senate majority leader.
“We need an engaged public to deal with the president’s crimes, to confront the reality of the president’s misconduct, and that would probably be our best bet for moving Senator McConnell to conduct a fair and exhaustive trial,” Raskin told reporters.
For now, Trump has an acquittal locked in with a majority Republican vote in the Senate. But Louisiana Republican Mike Johnson said the next step of impeachment in the neighboring chamber will be an opportunity for Republicans to call witnesses like former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, and the whistleblower who set off the House Democrat investigation in September.
“You have only heard one side of the case,” Johnson said.
But House Judiciary Republicans said there were no open channels with Senate Republicans to ensure the witnesses blocked in Democrat-led hearings are called as trial witnesses.
“We were tied up in the hearing all day yesterday. We are hearing the same public comments from Lindsey Graham and McConnell as everybody else,” Johnson said. “I think the president really wants a trial in the Senate.”
Johnson said Democrats were wrong to push impeachment though the House instead of looking to the courts to force Trump advisers central to the Ukraine affair answer to subpoenas to testify.
“When presidents have withheld or denied congressional subpoenas, especially on a case this sensitive on this issue of impeachment, I don’t think there’s any question it would get expedited hearings in the federal courts and probably get to the Supreme Court within 30 to 60 days,” Johnson said.
None of the fact witnesses throughout the impeachment inquiry corroborated theories by Trump and House Republicans alleging misconduct by Joe Biden or supposed Ukrainian interference in U.S. elections. Top U.S. diplomats and national-security experts testified that both theories were baseless and echoed disinformation from the Russian government.
Congressman Cohen, the Tennessee Democrat, did not hold back in predicting that the Senate trial would be a spectacle tailor-made for the conservative media echo chamber.
“It will be theater and it will be strictly geared toward the Fox News, Breitbart and Daily Caller crowd: the Trump base,” Cohen said.
Representative Guy Reschenthaler, who with Johnson headed off many of the Republican proposed amendments to the articles of impeachment in Thursday’s markup, echoed his Louisiana colleague’s frustration.
“We have to remember that there is precedence for this because during the Fast and the Furious scandal there was a subpoena that was issued and the courts resolved it,” said Reschenthaler, a Pennsylvania congressman.
But Representative Val Demings, a Florida Democrat, said the House majority had no reason to believe Trump would follow the directives from federal judges after the White House failed to turn over a single document.
“I don’t know whether to feel sorry for my Republican colleagues or empathize with them because they have tried in a desperate way to defend the indefensible,” Demings said.