WASHINGTON - The House Judiciary Committee debated the two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Thursday, with the panel barreling toward a historic vote to bring the articles to the floor for a full House vote.
The debate split sharply along party lines in a grueling session that stretched late into the evening. It's expected to end with charges being sent to the full House for action next week, before the holidays.
The committee, made up of some of the most strident Democrats and Republicans in Congress, clashed for hours in pointed and at times emotional debate, drawing on history and the Constitution to argue over the two charges.
Republicans insisted on lengthy debate on amendments designed to kill the two formal charges. They kept up the late-night endeavor though they won no votes from the majority Democrats and had no hope of winning any.
The members are considering two articles of impeachment introduced by Democrats.
Trump is accused, in the first article, of abusing his presidential power by asking Ukraine to investigate his 2020 rival, Joe Biden, while holding military aid as leverage, and, in the second, of obstructing Congress by blocking the House's efforts to probe his actions and stonewalling the House's investigation.
Trump is only the fourth U.S. president to face impeachment proceedings and the first to be running for reelection at the same time.
Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., immediately asked for a full reading of the nine-page resolution, airing the two articles of impeachment against the president for the live TV cameras.
“The central issue of this impeachment is the corruption of our institutions that safeguard democracy by our president," Nadler said. “We cannot tolerate a president subverting the fairness and integrity of our elections.”
The top Republican, Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, called the proceedings a “farce” and said they should be halted until his side was provided a chance for its own hearing.
The request was denied, with the chairman saying the process was in line with the impeachment hearings of Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.
First up was an amendment from GOP Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who tried to delete the first charge against Trump. “This amendment strikes article 1 because article 1 ignores the truth,” he declared.
Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., argued there was "overwhelming evidence" that the president, in pushing Ukraine to investigate rival Biden, was engaged in an abuse of power "to corrupt American elections.''
Debate on that first Republican amendment lasted for nearly three hours before the panel rejected it, 23-17, on a party-line vote.
Another amendment, from Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., sought to replace part of the article that says Trump “corruptly solicited” Ukraine to launch an investigation into Biden with his reference to Biden’s son Hunter Biden and the gas company in Ukraine where he served on the board. That, too, was rejected by the panel on party lines.
The 41-member panel began the two-day marathon session Wednesday night to debate and amend the articles of impeachment, lasting for more than three hours.
Trump, apparently watching the live proceedings on television, tweeted his criticism of two Democratic women on the panel, Reps. Veronica Escobar and Sheila Jackson Lee, both of Texas. He called their comments about his actions inaccurate.
“Very sad,” Trump tweeted.
Thursday's hearing picked up where Wednesday's late-night session left off.
Into the night, Democrats and Republicans delivered sharp, poignant and, at times, personal arguments for and against impeachment.
The Judiciary Committee session drew out over two days, with both sides appealing to Americans' sense of history — Democrats describing a strong sense of duty to stop what one called the president’s “constitutional crime spree” and Republicans decrying the “hot garbage’’ impeachment and what it means for the future of the country.
Cicilline asked Republicans standing with Trump to “wake up” and honor their oath of office. Republican Rep. Mike Johnson of Louisiana responded with his own request to “put your country over party." Rep. Lou Correa, D-Calif., shared his views in English and Spanish.
One Democrat, Rep. Val Demings of Florida, told the panel that, as a descendant of slaves and now a member of Congress, she has faith in America because it is “government of the people” and in this country “nobody is above the law.” Freshman Democratic Rep. Lucy McBath of Georgia emotionally talked about losing her son to gun violence and said that while impeachment was not why she came to Washington, she wants to “fight for an America that my son Jordan would be proud of.”
But Jordan of Ohio insisted Democrats were impeaching because “they don't like us” — referring to Trump voters in what he called “fly-over” states like his.
Said Nadler: “History will look back on our actions here today. How would you be remembered?"
Republicans say Democrats are impeaching the president because they can't beat him in 2020. Democrats warn Americans can't wait for the next election because they worry what Trump will try next.
“People who know right from wrong are listening,” said Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif. Gaetz shot back, “They're right, they can't wait.”
On Thursday, the committee will likely vote to send the articles to the full House, which is expected to vote next week right before the Christmas holiday.
House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., (L) and ranking member Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., talk during a committee markup hearing on the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Capitol Hill on Dec. 12, 2019 in Washi
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi sounded confident Thursday that Democrats will have the votes to impeach the president but said it is up to individual lawmakers to weigh the evidence and decide for themselves. Republicans seem unwavering in their opposition to expelling Trump.
'“The fact is we take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States," Pelosi told reporters. "No one is above the law; the president will be held accountable for his abuse of power and his obstruction of Congress.”
Democrats contend that Trump has engaged in a pattern of misconduct toward Russia dating back to the 2016 election campaign that special counsel Robert Mueller investigated. And they say his dealings with Ukraine have benefited its aggressive neighbor Russia, not the U.S., and he must be prevented from "corrupting" U.S. elections again and cheating his way to a second term next year.
"It is urgent,” Pelosi said.
A House vote would send the articles to the Senate for a 2020 trial.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said this week that he would be "totally surprised'' if there were the necessary 67 votes in the chamber to convict Trump, and signaled options for a swift trial.
This story was reported from Cincinnati. The Associated Press contributed.