For just the fourth time in a little over a century and a half, the House Judiciary Committee backed presidential impeachment, approving articles against Trump for “abuse of power and obstruction of Congress,” committee chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said in brief remarks after the vote. “The House will act expeditiously.”
The first impeachment article alleges that Trump abused his power by withholding military aid and a critical White House meeting from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, while pressuring him 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.
Trump, expressing confidence that the Senate would acquit him, dismissed the vote Friday as “an embarrassment to this country.”
Nadler and other Democrats said it was a “solemn and sad” moment as they cast votes aimed at ousting a president from office. But the sense of sobriety quickly gave way to flashes of anger as Democrats lashed out against the man who holds immense sway over how a Senate trial might proceed: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
In a late-Thursday interview with Fox News host Sean Hannity, McConnell (R-Ky.) all but guaranteed a Trump acquittal, saying there was “zero chance” the president would be removed from office. He promised “total coordination” with the White House and Trump’s defense team.
“The case is so darn weak coming over from the House,” he said. “We all know how it’s going to end.”
Those remarks — and McConnell’s pledge to “take my cues from the president’s lawyers” — infuriated House Democrats. After deciding to back articles of impeachment that would force a trial in the Senate, many said the upper chamber appeared to be rigged in the president’s favor.
“I was very disappointed in Senator McConnell’s remarks, and I really think he should recuse himself from this impeachment inquiry,” said Rep. Val Demings (D-Fla.). “He’s working hand in hand with the White House, the president’s attorney. And yet we are supposed to expect him to manage a fair and impartial impeachment inquiry? I think he should recuse himself.”
It was a sign that the partisan brinkmanship that locked the House Judiciary Committee in hours of heated debate over impeachment this week could spill into the Senate, shaping the contours of the trial expected to take place in January.
The full House vote on impeachment, expected to take place Wednesday, is likely to fall largely along partisan lines. It will be the culmination of the House’s three-month investigation, which featured dramatic testimony from civil servants, an anonymous whistleblower from the U.S. intelligence community and hundreds of tweets by a president determined to disrupt the process.
As the Senate prepares to receive the impeachment articles, McConnell’s comments could put additional pressure on moderate Republican senators who want to be seen taking the process seriously ahead of tough reelection battles next year. While Trump has previously said he wants to use the Senate trial to mount a robust defense by interrogating Democratic witnesses, it is not clear that there is majority support in the Senate for such a scorched-earth strategy.
On Friday, Trump appeared to back down slightly from his demand that the Senate call witnesses, including House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Calif.), House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and the anonymous U.S. intelligence official whose complaint sparked the impeachment inquiry. He has also said he wants the Senate to interrogate former vice president Joe Biden and his son Hunter Biden. Trump’s push to have Zelensky investigate both men is at the heart of the abuse-of-power charge he now faces.
The president accused Democrats of “trivializing impeachment,” predicting that they would ultimately regret the decision.
“I tell you what: Someday there’ll be a Democrat president and there’ll be a Republican House, and I suspect they’re going to remember it,” he said Friday, accusing Democrats of using impeachment “to try and get political gain.”
When asked whether he preferred a long or short trial in the Senate, Trump demurred.
“I’ll do whatever I want,” he said. “We did nothing wrong. So I’ll do long or short.”
McConnell and other senators have tried to convince Trump that a truncated trial without witnesses would allow him to be acquitted quickly.
But the president is also being influenced by his personal lawyer, Rudolph W. Giuliani, who has sought to go on offense in recent weeks. Giuliani, who recently traveled to Ukraine in an attempt to do his own investigation of the Bidens, met with Trump on Friday. He arrived at the White House just before the Judiciary Committee vote to impeach the president.
Giuliani also took to Twitter to deride the impeachment inquiry and repeat his claim that he has evidence of misconduct by the Bidens.
“The American people have already made up their mind on this #ImpeachmentScam,” he tweeted. “This is a SMOKESCREEN for the Obama-Biden administration’s corruption. It will soon be proven.”
Both Joe and Hunter Biden — who served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company while his father was vice president — have denied any wrongdoing.
Ahead of next week’s vote, Democrats have begun to amass increasing support within their caucus for impeaching Trump. While some lawmakers representing districts carried by Trump are expected to vote against one or both articles, several moderate Democrats said this week that they would back impeachment.
Reps. Susie Lee (Nev.) and Tom O’Halleran (Ariz.), both moderate Democrats representing districts Trump carried in 2016, said Friday that they would vote in favor of both articles of impeachment.
“President Trump abused the power of the presidency and broke his oath of office when he bribed the nation of Ukraine by withholding military aid they had already been promised in exchange for help investigating a political opponent,” O’Halleran said in a statement. “I will vote to impeach the President because this bribery and abuse of power violated the constitution and put our national security and our international relationships at risk.”
The House has impeached only two presidents: 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.
Both Johnson and Clinton were acquitted by the Senate and remained in office.
Speaking to reporters during an Oval Office visit by Paraguayan President Mario Abdo Benítez, Trump said impeachment would benefit him in the end.
“It’s a very sad thing for our country, but it seems to be very good for me politically,” he added. “. . . The people are absolutely disgusted. Nobody’s ever seen anything like this.”
Trump also ticked off several now-familiar terms he’s used to describe the process, including “witch hunt,” “hoax” and “sham.”
McConnell’s comments about coordinating with White House lawyers forced Republicans to defend their handling of the impeachment process. Many Democrats pointed out that senators must take an oath to “do impartial justice” once the impeachment trial begins.
“Making sure the Senate conducts a fair and honest trial that allows all the facts to come out is paramount,” Senate Minority Leader Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said in a brief statement Friday.
Rep. Ken Buck (R-Colo.) said Democrats had no standing to question Republicans on impartiality.
“They didn’t act as a fair arbiter of facts,” he said of House Democrats. “And they convicted long before they started investigating this.”
Buck advocated for a thorough examination of evidence in the Senate, saying, “This is not something to be rushed.”
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) also defended McConnell.
“I think he’s just telling you the truth. He’s not predicting an outcome,” he said. “He’s just saying, this is the facts. The facts on the president’s side. This is a ridiculous case that the Democrats are bringing.”
Colby Itkowitz and Josh Dawsey contributed to this report.