Here are the takeaways.
1. Trump is on his way to being impeached next week
This was expected, but it’s still a historic moment.
Trump is just the fourth president in the history of the United States to have articles of impeachment get this far, voted out of committee and on the way to the House floor. If the House votes next week on these articles, as expected, and passes them, as expected, he will be just the third president impeached by the House. After that is a trial in the Senate. An impeached president has never been convicted and removed from office by the Senate.
2. Democrats are sure about impeaching Trump — on this committee
Outside of this partisan committee, a handful (or more) of moderate Democrats are having second thoughts about impeachment and may vote against one or both articles, report The Post’s Rachael Bade and Mike DeBonis.
Defections during impeachment have happened before. Dozens of Republicans voted against articles of impeachment against Bill Clinton, helping two of the four articles that Republican leadership proposed fail. And House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) almost surely still has the votes to impeach Trump.
But it’s a reminder that the conviction of Democrats leading the impeachment hearings isn’t shared by the whole party. That’s a strong contrast with our second takeaway.
3. Republicans are still united behind Trump
It’s possible that no Republicans will vote for Trump’s impeachment. They still aren’t defending Trump on the substance of the Ukraine allegations (at least, not accurately), but if every single one of the 24 House Democrats on the Judiciary Committee were convinced that Trump should be impeached, all 17 Republicans on the committee argued with just as much fervor that Democrats were overreaching. We saw the same kind of unity in the Intelligence Committee, even among Trump critics such as Republican Rep. Will Hurd (Tex.).
Republicans’ loyalty to Trump is inspired by his base’s loyalty. The president’s approval ratings have remained largely static throughout controversies — about 40 percent overall, but 80 to 90 percent of Republican voters approve of the job he’s doing — and GOP opposition to impeachment is no different: A Washington Post average of national polls shows 87 percent of Republicans oppose impeaching and removing him.
There’s a reason Trump has commanded such loyalty, pollster Glen Bolger told me recently. He’s a singular politician, and voters chose him precisely because of who he is. “Republicans looked up at him and said, ‘He’s the anti-McCain, he’s the anti-Romney, and he’s just what we need.’”
So Democrats are trying to impeach a relatively unpopular president who is extraordinarily popular among his base. That helps us understand why, going into next week’s full House impeachment vote, Republicans are united, and some Democrats who represent districts that voted for Trump in 2016 are wavering.
Republicans are unified in another, more tangible way: At one point they seemed to be echoing Trump’s exact language as he live-tweeted the hearing. The New Yorker’s Susan Glasser pointed out one instance of that.
4. A notable deviation in how Republicans in Congress defend Trump
In an earlier version of this post, I wrote that Republicans have been unwilling to say Trump did nothing wrong, like Trump himself argues. That changed Thursday afternoon, when Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) said, “The president did nothing wrong.” But he remains an exception to how members of his party have defended Trump.
Republican leadership talking points for members on the committee, obtained by Politico, say that “no impeachable actions occurred,” which is different.
Democrats tried to exploit this difference by framing impeachment in broad terms, like the rule of law or sanctity of elections. Here’s Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.): “Forget about President Trump. Is any one of my colleagues willing to say that it is ever okay for a president of the United States of America to invite foreign interference in our elections? Not a single one of you has said that so far.”
And not a single one did.
5. A surprisingly substantial debate about what Trump did wrong
Shortly after the amendment part of the hearing got started Thursday morning, Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) proposed getting rid of the article of impeachment accusing Trump of abuse of power. That led to a three-hour-plus debate about what Trump is accused of and whether it merits articles of impeachment.
If you’re reading this far into this piece (thank you), you are probably up to date on how both sides argue impeachment. Democrats say it’s common sense that Trump offered political quid pro quos to Ukraine, using his unique power to command the federal government.
Republicans seemed to boil down their final arguments against impeachment to this: You should be accused of a crime to be impeached. Clinton was impeached for things that matched up to the criminal code: obstruction of a federal sexual harassment investigation of him and perjury for allegedly lying to a grand jury.
“The House of Representatives has never adopted alleged abuse of power as a charge in a presidential impeachment,” said Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio). “Why? Because there’s no criminal statute describing what alleged abuse of power actually is. Abuse of power is therefore a vague, ambiguous term open to the interpretation every individual, because abuse of power lacks a concise legal definition.”
“I would just like to note . . . somehow lying about a sexual affair is an abuse of presidential power, but the misuse of presidential power to get a benefit somehow doesn’t matter,” said Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), debating the Republicans’ argument.
“This, my friends, is a legal document. You can breach and violate the laws of the Constitution. There are constitutional crimes,” Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Tex.) said.
A president doesn’t have to be accused of a crime to be impeached. The guidelines for what merits impeachment are vague;the Founders left it intentionally vague because they couldn’t have conceived of what crimes future presidents might commit, said constitutional experts who testified recently in the impeachment hearings.
Republicans’ constitutional expert at last week’s Judiciary hearing, Jonathan Turley, testified he thinks Democrats’ case would be stronger if they could match up what Trump did to a crime. (One problem with that is Trump has blocked key people, such as acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney and former national security adviser John Bolton, from talking to Congress about what they know. And Democrats said they don’t want to wait months for courts to decide.)
My broader point is this: What was happening Thursday, debating and voting on amendments, is something Congress does all the time. But it’s not often broadcast nationally and live-streamed on the front pages of major newspapers. It was a look into America’s imperfect democracy.
6. Things got dramatic — and personal
On Wednesday night, lawmakers got five minutes each to speak generally about impeachment. In a reflection of how serious this moment is, it quickly got emotional on both sides. Republicans flexed their anger and outrage, with Chabot calling the impeachment something to make George Orwell proud and the “the most tragic mockery of justice in the history of this nation.”
Democrats used their time to link impeachment to their American stories and to what makes them believe in America’s democracy. Rep. Lucy McBath (D-Ga.) talked about losing her son to gun violence and running for office as a result. Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.) said this: “I come before you tonight as a descendant of slaves. Slaves who knew they would not make it but dreamed that I would one day make it. . . . Despite America’s complicated history, my faith is in the Constitution. And I say that today with perfect peace.”
On Friday morning, Rep. Martha Roby (R-Ala.) brought her son with her as she voted against impeachment.
The drama sometimes took a more reality-TV turn. On Thursday afternoon, as Republicans tried to steer the conversation to Joe Biden and his family, Gaetz brought up Hunter Biden’s substance-abuse issues.
Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) replied: “The pot calling the kettle black is not something that we should do. I don’t know what members, if any, have had any problems with substance abuse been busted in DUI. I don’t know. But if I did, I wouldn’t raise it against anyone on this committee.”
Gaetz was arrested for drunken driving in 2008.
In a biting exchange, Nadler said it showed “terrible ignorance” that Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) said they were “sent here to obstruct this Congress.”
Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.) got biblical, comparing Republicans to the disciple who gave Jesus up to his future executioners. “Today I’m reminded of Judas,” he said, “because Judas for 30 pieces of silver betrayed Jesus. For 30 positive tweets for easy reelection, the other side is willing to betray the American people, their precious right to vote and the future of our great country.”
And on and on it went, for 18-plus hours.