WASHINGTON - The House Judiciary Committee spent more than 14 hours Thursday locked in a rancorous and contentious debate about whether to approve two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump, with Democrats making an abrupt decision before midnight to hold off on the history-making vote until Friday morning.
The debate ended as it began, with angry exchanges, personal insults and recycled arguments about process and propriety as the committee moved toward voting to impeach Trump for "high crimes and misdemeanors."
"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 Collins of Georgia, the committee's ranking member said after Nadler made his announcement.
"Stalinesque" added Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas.
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.
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 Lowey, D-N.Y., and Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard 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 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.
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The Washington Post's Mike DeBonis, Karoun Demirjian, Emily Guskin and Michael Brice-Saddler contributed to this report.
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Video: Justice committee chief clerk Madeline Strasser read the charges against President Trump at a hearing to debate the articles of impeachment on Dec. 12.(The Washington Post)
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Video: 40 House Judiciary Committee members made opening statements on Dec. 11, ahead of votes on the articles of impeachment against President Trump.(REF:AkhtarM/The Washington Post)
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Video: House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) opined Dec. 12 on why Ukranian President Volodymyr Zelensky denied a quid pro quo.(The Washington Post)
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SWEETWATER, Navajo Nation - On a good day, when the breeze is up and Apache County's rutted red-clay roads are passable, Legena Wagner's family drives 45 minutes to fill water containers at a windmill pump. In the days that follow, Wagner dispenses their contents sparingly: half a cup for her 5-year-old to brush his teeth; a couple of pints, well heated, to wash dishes in the decorative enamel bowl on her kitchen table; and about 10 gallons, measured out to last a week, for bathing.
"Running water, it would be such a luxury," Wagner said, pausing to describe how different her life would be if she didn't have to trek outside, past the empty plastic buckets and the rootling pigs, to the outhouse with its majestic views across northeast Arizona's snow-skimmed plateaus.
Wagner is one of more than 2 million Americans who do not have running water and sanitation, according to "Closing the Water Access Gap in the United States." The report, released by two national nonprofit organizations last month,outlines stark, race-based inequalities: Native American households are 19 times more likely than white households to lack indoor plumbing; blacks and Latinos are twice as likely.
The disparities also reflect an urban-rural divide. While the lead-contamination crisis in Flint, Michigan, highlighted the perils of aging infrastructure in the nation's cities, rural communities face special challenges, often lacking the economies of scale to upgrade systems and the local expertise to operate them. The situation is so dire in parts of rural America that experts liken it to the developing world.
"The cultures are different, but the experiences are similar," said Brett Gleitsmann, a water supply and sanitation engineer with the Rural Community Assistance Corp. who worked on projects in Africa and south Asia before coming to Native American lands. "Always people are hauling water - from a well, from a relative who has water or a public water station."
The United States does not have a comprehensive means of tracking the number of people living without piped water, according to George McGraw, founder and CEO of the nonprofit DigDeep.
Harder still is to calculate how many people cannot afford water even if they can access it, said Radhika Fox, CEO of the U.S. Water Alliance, a policy-focused nonprofit group that partnered with DigDeep to produce the report.
"That number is much larger than 2 million," she said.
The report was produced by collating federal data sets, including 2014 data collected by the U.S. Census Bureau's annual American Community Survey, which asks a small representative sample of residents whether they have running water. DigDeep and the U.S. Water Alliance identified six communities with poor access to running water and wastewater services, including the Navajo Nation, and spent more than a year assessing how residents' lives are affected.
In the Navajo Nation, the country's largest Indian reservation, where water has long been held sacred, about one-third of the population of more than 300,000 does not have a tap or flushing toilet.
"Water is life," the Navajo say. "Tó éí ííńá."
Its cultural importance echoes in the place names - Lake Valley, Whippoorwill Springs, Indian Wells.
Here in Sweetwater, or Tó likon, 15 miles south of Interstate 160 on largely dirt roads, the spring water was known for its bracing mineral taste.
"People couldn't get enough of it," Wagner said. But the springs no longer flow - one of several changes that residents of this drought-prone region attribute to climate change and environmental degradation.
The seeps that used to ooze up before daybreak to refresh grazing sheep and goats have disappeared. Rains that once sustained apricots, corn and squash have been replaced by occasional downpours that race through the empty creek beds. And the winter snows no longer cloak the high desert with the thick, moist blankets Wagner's grandfather recalls.
Those who drive miles to windmills, often carrying matches and wood to light fires below the wells' frozen spigots, may draw water that is not safe. Many water sources across the Navajo Nation are marked with signs warning of contamination, some with naturally occurring toxins such as arsenic, some with uranium and other byproducts of the mining industry.
"A lot of people still drink from those wells," said Jordan Begaye, who had a summer job painting "For livestock use only" on them in red. That's despite extensive public education efforts, according to Yolanda Barney, environmental program manager for the Navajo Nation's Public Water System Supervision Program.
Wagner wonders whether the rare autoimmune disease she suffers from - adult-onset Stills disease - could have been caused by the water, and she now supplements her supplies with bottled water from a grocery store an hour away.
Efforts to bring clean water to remote households have been marked by ambitious aims and setbacks.
Federal funding for water infrastructure has dropped to about one-seventh of what it was in the 1970s after the passage of the Clean Water and Safe Drinking Water acts, which set up partnerships, with the federal government setting national standards for water quality that the states were responsible for implementing. These days, the funding that is available is largely loan-based, requiring repayments that can be crippling for small communities.
The American Water Works Association estimates that maintaining and expanding the country's water systems will cost $1 trillion over the next 25 years. The Indian Health Service has put a price tag of $200 million for providing water and sanitation in the Navajo Nation.
The long-term underinvestment has come under new fire this year. In July, Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., introduced legislation that would plow nearly $220 billion into safe drinking water programs, prioritizing at-risk communities. At last summer's Democratic primary debate in Detroit, an hour's drive from Flint, Sen. Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota touted her $1 trillion infrastructure plan, which includes water among the country's many failing systems.
In a rare bipartisan move, both the House and Senate recently introduced legislation to establish pilot programs designed to assist low-income residents in paying for water and sewage in much the way they can receive assistance for food and heating oil.
"It's a very new concept," said Nathan Gardner-Andrews, chief advocacy officer for the National Association of Clean Water Agencies, who warned, "It is going to take a while."
That's because political wrangling is only the first step in a process that people here describe as frustratingly slow.
People have their hopes raised by big projects, said Cindy Howe, a longtime community leader who now works as a field operations manager for DigDeep.
"It all sounds so good," she said."But will it happen?"
A giant blue pipe lies in sections alongside Route 491, part of a multimillion-dollar project to bring water from the San Juan River 280 miles south across the Navajo Nation to communities including Gallup, one of the biggest population centers, where groundwater levels have dropped about 200 feet in the past decade.
The project is designed to meet the needs of approximately 250,000 people by the year 2040, according to the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. But many rural residents doubt it will help them, noting that it can be prohibitively expensive to bring water a few hundred yards from a major pipeline through rocky terrain to an individual home. In the most remote areas, Gleitsmann said, "you might have to run a water line eight miles to two houses."
Those problems are compounded by jurisdictional challenges.
In Teec Nos Pos, at one of the few remaining trading posts, owner John McCulloch described how one elderly woman refused for years to allow water pipes to cross her land. And farther south, in an area known as the Checkerboard, where tribal lands abut privately owned tracts, and federal and state properties, the differing forms of ownership impede the installation of all kinds of infrastructure, including water pipes and roads.
On a frigid late-November morning, residents began trickling in from isolated homes in the Checkerboard to fill 55-gallon barrels with ice-cold water at the St. Bonaventure Indian Mission and School in Thoreau, New Mexico.
Across the parking lot, DigDeep has an office, stocked with supplies to provide households with a 1,200-gallon tank, a pump, a water heater and a single sink, deep enough to wash a baby. The nonprofit group installs about three of these systems each week, some powered by solar panels in traditional one-room hogans, others in kitchens that seem to be equipped with everything but a functioning faucet.
The nonprofit organization refills the tanks every month, providing about 40 gallons of water a day, less than 15% of the quantity used by the average American household.
Henry King, who lives five miles from the nearest asphalt road on land punctuated by pinyon pines and sagebrush, has been hauling water all his life, these days choosing among three public sources, each about 30 miles away.
He never believed the Clean Water Act would do much to benefit people like him, and doesn't hold out much hope for future help from the federal government. The past, he said, is littered with betrayals and broken promises.
"Like water going downhill, it thins out, dries out before it gets to us," he said.
So when King learned from a neighbor about DigDeep, he was eager to help bring a system into his sister's house.
He oversaw the installation, reminiscing about trips by horse-drawn wagon with his parents to collect water from a canyon, until - whoosh! - water sputtered from the brand-new faucet in a small room adjacent to the kitchen.
King smiled. "I can wash my hair," he said with a laugh, throwing off his cap and leaning forward to welcome in the gusher. "Thank you. Thank you. Thank you."
Forty gallons of clean, warm water a day is a luxury Wagner dreams of.
But she also worries about water's growing scarcity and is wary of the way some people come to misuse it. Of how, when they move away to cities, they grow careless with a life-giving resource that her ancestors revered.
"We must not waste it," Wagner said.
"That's how we live. It's who we are."