“It has been a long two days of consideration of these articles, and it is now very late at night,” said Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), at 11:15 p.m. “I want the members on both sides of the aisle to think about what has happened over these last two days and to search their consciences before we cast our final votes.”
He then banged his gavel and said lawmakers should return on Friday at 10 a.m. for the final votes to send articles of impeachment to the House floor next week.
Republicans on the committee, who appeared blindsided by the decision to delay the vote, erupted in frustration.
“This is the kangaroo court we’re talking about,” Rep. Douglas A. Collins (Ga.), the committee’s ranking Republican, said after Nadler made his announcement.
“Stalinesque,” added Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Tex.).
The fight teed up a historic clash on the House floor next week to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate for a trial in January. Trump would be only the fourth president in U.S. history to face official impeachment charges. That prospect has exposed raw emotion between his defenders and critics in Congress.
After the surprise recess Thursday night, Republicans accused Democrats of breaching faith on an agreement they had made during the late-night break in the marathon proceedings.
Collins said Republicans promised to limit their amendments to wrap up debate earlier in the evening and vote. But as soon as lawmakers agreed to cut off amendment debate, Nadler suddenly moved to delay the vote until the morning.
A furious Collins said his members were supposed to be on flights and trains in the morning and accused Democrats of trying to move the vote time to the morning so they could get better television coverage.
“This is the most ludicrous thing I have seen in my entire life!” he said. “To not even consult the ranking member, to not even give us a heads up! … This is why people don’t like us, this crap!”
A Democratic aide rebutted the notion that there was any agreement to have a vote this evening. But behind the scenes, aides noted that both sides originally agreed to finish by 5 p.m. Thursday — and the GOP changed its mind at the last minute and dragged the hearing out, prompting Democrats to chart a new course.
Democrats cast the move as a way to hold the historic vote in the light of day, rather than face charges that they sought to oust Trump in the dark of night.
Trump faces impeachment for “abuse of power” and “obstruction of Congress” over his dealings with Ukraine. Democrats allege that Trump withheld military aid and a White House meeting while pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch political investigations targeting Democrats. Trump’s blanket refusal to cooperate with the Democratic investigation is the basis of the “obstruction of Congress” impeachment article.
Thursday’s hearing began around 9 a.m. with the judiciary panel’s chief clerk, Madeline Strasser, reading the charges against Trump.
“Resolved that Donald J. Trump, president of the United States, is impeached for high crimes and misdemeanors,” she said. “Articles of impeachment exhibited by the House of Representatives of the United States of America, in the name of itself and the people of the United States of America against Donald J. Trump.”
From there, the process quickly devolved into a partisan battle, complete with parliamentary maneuvers, personal insults and shouting matches interrupted by a slammed gavel. Frustration on both sides of the aisle boiled over as lawmakers cast aside decorum and traded barbs on issues ranging from drug abuse to sexual impropriety to a congressman’s past DUI arrest.
As the markup approached its 12th hour — running well past predictions by officials on both sides of the aisle — one GOP lawmaker implored his colleagues to wrap up the fight. Rep. Tom McClintock (R-Calif.) complained that “I have not heard a new point or an original thought from either side in the last three hours,” calling the hearing an “institutional embarrassment.”
The day foreshadowed a likely partisan showdown on the House floor next week, as Democrats seek to shore up support within their ranks and Republicans remain largely united in defending Trump from his greatest political threat thus far.
Trump spent much of the day on Twitter, posting more than 100 times to attack what he described as an unfair attempt to oust him from office. Many of his tweets included video clips of Republicans defending him during the Judiciary Committee hearing.
Even as Democrats and Republicans fought over impeachment, congressional leaders and White House officials worked together behind closed doors to reach a spending agreement to fund the government. Negotiators said the deal in principle would authorize $1.3 trillion and avert a government shutdown next week.
The announcement, from House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita M. Lowey (D-N.Y.) and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard C. Shelby (R-Ala.), came after Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin visited Capitol Hill at midday to review a final list of sticking points.
The tentative agreement sets the stage for a remarkable sequence of events next week in the House, with a presidential impeachment sandwiched between bipartisan deals on federal spending and North American trade.
Some moderate Democrats whose votes were in doubt announced support for impeaching Trump on Thursday, signaling that there are adequate votes in the House to pass both articles next week. Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) said in a statement that he would support both articles of impeachment, saying that Trump’s actions regarding Ukraine “were illegal and he obstructed justice by refusing to cooperate with congressional investigations.” Rep. Conor Lamb (D-Pa.) told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette on Thursday that the two articles “go together” and that the “the story’s clear” on what Trump did — meaning the House needs “to carry out our own obligations” and impeach him.
Still, Democrats braced for some defections among moderates in swing districts who are concerned a vote to impeach Trump could cost them their seats in November.
Congress has impeached only two presidents in history: Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998. President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 before the full House could vote on articles of impeachment in the Watergate scandal. The House Judiciary Committee voted to advance three articles of impeachment against Nixon before he stepped down.
The debate in the Judiciary Committee on Thursday was especially acrimonious, as partisan accusations flew back and forth across the dais.
Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.), a senior House Judiciary Committee member, compared Republicans’ support of Trump to Judas’s betrayal of Jesus.
Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) argued that impeaching Trump for obstruction of Congress doesn’t make sense because Republican lawmakers were “sent here to obstruct this Congress.” Nadler shot back, calling it “terrible ignorance” to suggest obstruction is a good thing.
In an especially dramatic moment, Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) chided Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) for attacking Hunter Biden, the son of former vice president Joe Biden, for a substance abuse issue, making an oblique reference to Gaetz’s 2008 arrest for drunken driving. The charges against him were eventually dropped.
“The pot calling the kettle black is not something that we should do,” Johnson said, without specifically naming Gaetz.
Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-Calif.) blasted Republicans for defending Trump’s behavior, saying the president backed a scheme that left Ukraine vulnerable to Russian aggression.
“People died in Ukraine at the hands of Russia,” he said at 8:30 p.m. “You may not want to think about that and it may be hard for you to think about that. But they died when this selfish, selfish president withheld the aid for his own personal gain.”
Collins shot back, calling Swalwell’s remark “the most ridiculous comment” that exposed a “reading comprehension problem.”
The freewheeling debate stretched well into the night, even as the outcome was well known to lawmakers before the vote.
The committee was still debating Republicans’ first amendment three hours after the hearing began. That amendment, from Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), proposed to strike the entire first impeachment article charging Trump with abuse of power. But lawmakers stopped referring to it as the discussion degenerated into a rehash of partisan talking points.
Republicans also tried to offer an amendment to throw out the “obstruction of Congress” charge against Trump, saying it was rushed and unwarranted.
“The Democrats have no case when it comes to obstruction,” said Rep. Guy Reschenthaler (R-Pa.), more than eight hours into the debate. “This obstruction charge is completely baseless and bogus.”
Democrats dismissed Republican attempts to amend or delete the language in the articles, accusing their GOP colleagues of trying to cover for the president.
As the hearing was taking place, Trump’s political advisers briefed reporters on his reelection campaign, seeking to make the case that impeachment had helped their efforts.
“This lit up our base, lit up the people that are supporters of the president. They’re frustrated, they’re upset, and that motivates voters,” Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale told reporters Thursday. “They have ignited a flame underneath them.”
While Trump has claimed that impeachment would help Republicans up and down the ballot, his case was undermined when Democrats won major victories during last month’s elections in Virginia, Louisiana and Kentucky. Since public hearings began, support and opposition for impeachment and removal of Trump has remained about split, 47 percent to 45 percent, while Trump’s approval has remained in the low 40s, according to a Washington Post average of public polling.
With the expectation that House Democrats are likely to impeach Trump next week, the White House has begun trying to strategize with Republicans in the Senate about a trial next year.
White House counsel Pat Cipollone and legislative affairs director Eric Ueland met with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) on Thursday.
“We’re having good close communication and conversation with Senate Republicans in the event the House goes ahead and actually produces articles of impeachment,” Ueland said after the meeting. “We’re going to continue to work closely with Senate Republicans as well as other members of Congress on the questions, and we’ll continue to be very cooperative and very collaborative with our friends up here on the Hill as we work through this process.”
The Senate has begun considering what kind of impeachment trial to have in January; many Republicans are advocating for a short proceeding to quickly acquit Trump.
Cipollone has rejected House entreaties to participate in the impeachment probe and present the White House’s side.
The White House said it would not legitimize a “sham” process and would wait until it moved to the Senate to engage.
Mike DeBonis, Karoun Demirjian, Emily Guskin and Michael Brice-Saddler contributed to this report.