WASHINGTON — The House Judiciary Committee trudged toward a historic vote Thursday to push President Trump to the brink of impeachment, turning back Republican attempts to kill the articles of impeachment in a fractious debate on Democrats’ charges that he abused his power and obstructed Congress.
Amid Republicans’ cries of outrage, Democrats were poised to approve along party lines a charge that Trump abused the powers of his office by pressuring Ukraine to announce investigations of his political rivals, using official acts as leverage as he sought advantage for his 2020 reelection campaign. They were also on track to adopt a second charge against Trump for obstructing Congress, based on an across-the-board defiance of their subpoenas that Democrats branded an attempt to conceal the Ukraine scheme.
Gathered in the stately Ways and Means Committee room for the second consecutive day, lawmakers feuded for hours over the two articles of impeachment, their tempers flaring and patience wearing thin as they debated amendments proposed by the Republicans to gut the articles or embarrass Democrats. As their efforts failed on lopsided votes, the only question was when the president’s defenders would sheath their swords for the day to allow the final roll-call vote to recommend the articles to the full House to go forward.
“There is overwhelming evidence of the existence of a scheme led by the president, led by his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to corrupt the American elections, to continue to withhold military aid until such time as a public announcement was made that would smear the president’s chief political rival,” said Representative David Cicilline, Democrat of Rhode Island.
The Judiciary Committee vote would make Trump, whose unorthodox and polarizing presidency has preoccupied the nation like few of his modern predecessors, only the fourth president in American history to face impeachment by the House for “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Though the charges allude to a pattern of past conduct, they do not explicitly mention his embrace of Russian election interference in 2016 or efforts to thwart a special counsel investigation of it.
The full House is expected to debate and vote on the articles next week, just days before Congress is scheduled to leave town for Christmas. A trial in the Republican-controlled Senate would begin in early 2020.
While the Judiciary Committee debated, Speaker Nancy Pelosi said she would refrain from pressing Democrats to support the articles, instead encouraging them to follow their consciences on a vote heavy with historic and political weight.
“People have to come to their own conclusions,” she said. Republican leaders, however, began an all-out effort to keep their members in line to vote “no.”
Democratic leaders anticipate that a handful of their members — particularly more moderate lawmakers from districts Trump won in 2016 — may join Republicans in opposing one or both of the articles. But they expect the defections to be narrow.
Far from expressing remorse for the charges against him, the president once again declared his total innocence and raged against the Democrats leading the charge to impeach him. He turned to Twitter, his favored platform, to retweet dozens of allies who were defending his conduct and slamming the Democrats.
Trump made clear he was watching the proceedings, accusing two representatives of misquoting from a July phone call he had with Ukraine’s president in which Trump asked his Ukrainian counterpart to “do us a favor though” with regard to the investigations.
Determined not to lend the proceedings legitimacy, Trump never mounted a defense in the House, declining repeated invitations from Democrats to take part in the process. He would be given a fairer chance in the Senate, the president and his team concluded. Pat A. Cipollone, the White House counsel, and Eric Ueland, the legislative affairs director, met Thursday at the Capitol with Senator Mitch McConnell, Republican of Kentucky and the majority leader, to strategize for the coming trial.
The vote expected Thursday night would cap two days of intense debate in the Judiciary Committee.
Thursday’s proceeding aired out all the pent-up bitterness of years of near existential political warfare. Republicans argued that Democrats were merely impeaching the president because they abhorred his unorthodox style and his conservative policies, citing years’ worth of strident cries from the most liberal members of their party championing Trump’s removal.
Democrats accused Republicans of turning a blind eye to misconduct by Trump out of reflexive loyalty to their party.