The House will come one step closer to impeaching President Donald Trump Friday when the Judiciary Committee is expected to approve charges of obstruction of Congress and abuse of power.
The panel abruptly recessed after 11 p.m. Thursday night after more than 14 hours of debate just before they were expected to take final votes on the articles, extending the impeachment markup into a third day.
Collins said there was no consultation with the minority about the schedule.
The five amendments offered by minority members of the Judiciary panel were rejected. But in the process, lawmakers engaged in more than 14 hours of rancorous televised debate, with the sparring touching on topics ranging from constitutional law to crack cocaine.
In one example of how acrimonious the day became, Rep. Cedric L. Richmond,D-La., a senior House Judiciary member, compared Republicans’ support of Trump to Judas’s betrayal of Jesus in the Bible.
“Today I’m reminded of Judas — 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,” Richmond said.
Collins began the marathon markup by raising a point of order requesting a hearing day for GOP-called witnesses.
Nadler refused to consider the request, but said he is “willing to work with the minority,” on such a hearing after marking up the articles, an offer that was quickly rebuffed.
Republicans have repeatedly called for House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff of California, the White House whistleblower and Joe Biden’s son Hunter to appear before the committee, witnesses Democrats have repeatedly blocked from appearing.
The White House has refused to cooperate with the inquiry, urging senior officials to not testify before the House, leading Democrats to include the charge of obstruction of Congress in its impeachment articles.
Republicans then tried to water down the first article of impeachment drafted against Trump, which alleges that he abused his power by inviting Ukrainian interference in his 2020 reelection bid.
Ohio Republican Jim Jordan offered an amendment, which was defeated, 17-23, along party lines, to strike the first article, arguing, as Republicans have for months, that the Ukrainian government never announced an investigation into the Bidens to hamper Joe Biden’s 2020 presidential bid in exchange for receiving military aid.
Rhode Island Democrat David Cicilline recounted various testimony from senior State Department officials and other witnesses who appeared before the House Intelligence Committee pointing toward wrongdoing by Trump, suggesting that such an exchange did not happen because Trump's scheme was exposed.
Pennsylvania Republican Guy Reschenthaler later offered an amendment to eliminate the second impeachment article, which alleges that Trump obstructed Congress. As with Jordan's amendment, it was defeated, 17-23.
Reschenthaler argued that the Trump administration has provided the panel thousands of documents and a sufficient number of witnesses, despite Judiciary Committee Democrats refusing GOP requests to call witnesses.
Democrats, Reschenthaler said, could have gone to the courts if they wanted to settle a dispute between Congress and the administration.
Nadler defended the obstruction article, saying that Trump's decision to not recognize Congress' authority of impeachment by barring witnesses and collection of documents and testimony, without asserting executive privileges, is an “usurpation of Congress' role.”
“It is not up to the president to decide whether an impeachment inquiry by the Congress is legitimate or not. That's our function,” Nadler said.
Florida Republican Matt Gaetz offered an amendment that would include in the articles that Trump wanted to investigate “a well-known corrupt company, Burisma, and its corrupt hiring of Hunter Biden,” instead of Joe Biden.
Gaetz argued that Hunter Biden was unqualified to hold a lucrative spot on Ukrainian gas company Burisma’s board while his father was vice president.
“It can only be an abuse of power,” Gaetz said, “and not a correct use of power if the president was pursuing something under which there was no reasonable basis to ask a question of Hunter Biden and Burisma.”
Gaetz's amendment was defeated, 17-23, along party lines.
Gaetz, citing a recent New Yorker Magazine profile of Hunter Biden, detailed Hunter Biden's crack cocaine usage, arguing that someone with such addiction problems would not likely add value to the company’s board if he was not the vice president’s son.
Gaetz argued that the Obama administration prepared former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch for questions on Biden’s involvement with Burisma when Yovanovitch was nominated to that post.
For those reasons, Gaetz argued, Trump was right to get to the bottom of whether Hunter Biden was involved in nefarious activity while a member of Burisma’s board.
“If Democrats can’t prove that the Bidens are clean,” Gaetz said, “then President Trump can’t be guilty of abusing power if he’s asking a reasonable question.”
Hunter Biden has never been accused of wrongdoing while at Burisma.
Republicans, however, have argued that serving on Burisma’s board while Joe Biden as vice president was involved in U.S.-Ukraine policy could be a conflict of interest.
Gaetz offered multiple disclaimers that he was not making light of Hunter Biden’s abuse issues, including when he mentioned that a crack pipe was found in a rental car that Hunter Biden crashed.
“The pot calling the kettle black is not something we should do,” Georgia Democrat Hank Johnson said in response. Gaetz was arrested for driving under the influence in 2008.
Arizona Republican Andy Biggs offered an amendment that would include in the articles an acknowledgment that Ukraine, after a delay caused by the Office of Management and Budget, ultimately received congressionally appropriated military aid. It was also defeated along party lines.
Democrats contend that Trump withheld the nearly $400 million in military aid with the intention of releasing it only when the Ukrainian government announced an investigation into the Bidens.
Republicans, though, have argued that the aid was stalled as Washington vetted Ukraine's recently elected president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy.
Zelenskiy took office in May 2019, and Republicans say the Trump administration first needed to ensure that the Zelenskiy government would responsibly use the aid to fight the Russian soldiers that control large chunks of sovereign Ukrainian territory and not to line oligarchs' pockets.
“Democrats want to impeach the president for trying to ensure that taxpayer funds are spent efficiently and responsibly,” Biggs said. “The bottom line is the aid was lawfully delayed and lawfully delivered.”
Democrats, citing the White House-released transcript of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelenskiy and witness testimony from the impeachment inquiry, have argued that the aid was disbursed because Trump got caught.
“The aid was released after the administration was busted,” California Democrat Karen Bass said.
Republicans stated earlier this week that they will “avail ourselves of every parliamentary tool available to us in committees and the House floor in order to highlight your inaction.”
But that promise to interject with objections and offer amendments may be at odds with their desire to celebrate the holidays with their partners at a ball at the White House on Thursday evening.
Lisa Collins, wife of the panel’s ranking member, sat in the front row of the markup’s audience in a festive red jacket with sequins and her pin designating her as a congressional spouse worn on a gold chain around her neck.
Mid-afternoon Thursday, Collins pushed back on the idea that Republicans would curtail their defense of the president to make the White House party.
“We're going to be here a long time tonight. Don't let anybody worry, there are plenty of balls we can go to,” Collins said.
He said that the impeachment markup is a top priority for his members.
“This is all that's been happening right now,” Collins said.
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