Frustration had built for both parties over a month of tightly controlled hearings, where committee procedures restrained the partisan conflict just enough to keep the impeachment process moving. But Thursday’s markup session in the House Judiciary Committee unfolded without those controls, in an open format that allowed members more than eight hours of spontaneous and at times nasty confrontation.
Lawmakers from both parties took advantage.
“Today I’m reminded of Judas,” said Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.). “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.”
“You guys don’t respect the 63 million people who voted for this guy,” Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told Democrats. “That’s why the speaker of the House called the president an ‘impostor.’ That’s what’s wrong.”
The historic markup reflected the partisan divisions that have hardened in the Trump era and become more rancorous around the impeachment inquiry, in which Democrats concluded that Trump withheld military aid and a White House meeting from Ukraine to pressure the country’s leaders into announcing investigations that would benefit him politically. Often, the markup veered into a broader debate over Trump’s conduct, with Democrats highlighting other controversial episodes from his presidency. Republicans accused their counterparts of knee-jerk hatred and the same autocratic tendencies critics decry in Trump.
The committee met on a day already tinged with controversy. Two hours before the markup gaveled to order, Trump mocked 16-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg on Twitter, telling her to “chill” and “work on her Anger Management problem.” Thunberg, who has said she has Asperger’s syndrome, was announced as Time magazine’s Person of the Year on Wednesday.
The Judiciary Committee, with 40 members in attendance, started debate on the first proposed amendment about 9 a.m. It was not defeated until just before noon.
Early stages of the markup gave lawmakers a rare opportunity to debate the facts of the Ukraine saga in an informal way, and they produced a handful of lucid moments.
Soon, however, the arguments became more charged.
Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio), who served during President Bill Clinton’s impeachment, said the difference with Trump’s was that “President Clinton committed a crime: perjury.”
“This president isn’t even accused of committing a crime,” Chabot said.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who also served during Clinton’s impeachment, argued that Trump had committed a far greater offense — and brought up one of Trump’s alleged sexual partners to make her point.
“I would just like to note that [Republicans’] argument that 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,” she said. “If it’s lying about sex, we could put Stormy Daniels’s case ahead of us. We don’t believe that’s a high crime and misdemeanor.”
Daniels, an adult film actress, alleged that she had a brief affair with Trump in 2006. Trump has denied a relationship.
One of the most dramatic moments of the markup came after Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.) proposed an amendment to add a mention of Hunter Biden and his former position on the board of Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company, to the articles of impeachment.
Biden is the son of former vice president and Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden.
Gaetz then proceeded to discuss Biden’s struggle with drug addiction, reading directly from a New Yorker article that discussed it and an episode involving a crack pipe discovered in Biden’s Hertz rental car.
The article noted that the glass pipe contained cocaine residue, according to test results, but investigators didn’t find any fingerprints on it and public prosecutors declined to bring a case against Hunter “citing a lack of evidence” that Biden used the pipe.
“I don’t want to make light of anybody’s substance abuse issues. I note that the president is working real hard to solve those throughout the country. But it’s a little hard to believe that Burisma hired Hunter Biden to resolve their international disputes when he could not resolve his own dispute with Hertz,” Gaetz said.
This stunned at least one Democrat, who responded by indirectly noting Gaetz’s previously reported DUI arrest in 2008. He was not convicted.
“The pot calling the kettle black is not something that we should do,” said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.), without specifically naming Gaetz.
The moment left the room momentarily silent as Johnson waited for Gaetz to respond.
Democrats vented their frustration with several colorful comments throughout the day.
Johnson pointed to a meeting between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky in New York in late September, in which Trump told reporters “there was no pressure.”
“You saw President Zelensky shaking his head as if his daughter was downstairs in the basement, duct-taped. There is an imbalance of power in that relationship. It always has been,” Johnson said.