House impeaches Trump

Chamber votes to impeach for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress

Speaker Nancy Pelosi presides over the House vote on two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
Speaker Nancy Pelosi presides over the House vote on two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. (SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images)
Posted December 18, 2019 at 12:00pm

Updated 8:56 p.m. — The House voted Wednesday to impeach President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, making him the third president in U.S. history and the first in 21 years to face such House action.

Trump, who has denied the charges in Twitter screeds during the impeachment inquiry that spanned more than two months, will stand trial in the Senate, where members there will decide whether to convict him, resulting in his removal from office, or acquit him.

The House voted 230-197 to approve the first article, abuse of power, and 229-198 on the obstruction of Congress charge. Rep. Jared Golden, D-Maine, voted for the first article but not the second. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, D-Hawaii, voted present on both articles.

The pair of historic votes followed hours of fierce partisan clashing on the House floor, where debate reflected the intense polarization of the body and lack of agreement over the basic facts of the case against the president.

Loading the player...

The Democrats’ case was centered on the allegation that Trump leveraged a White House meeting and military aid to pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter while Ukraine faced continued military aggression from Russia.

House Intelligence Chairman Adam B. Schiff, who led the impeachment probe, said that the risk Trump poses to the country is not past, but also present.

“The president and his men plot on,” the California Democrat said. “The danger persists. The risk is real. Our democracy is at peril.”

Before presiding over the votes on the articles of impeachment, Speaker Nancy Pelosi remained in the chamber for most of the day, listening and reacting to debate and entertaining a rotating cast of Democrats and staffers for quiet chats.

Loading the player...

She dressed in all black with a large brooch of the House mace, signaling what she continually called a “solemn and sad” day exercising the House’s constitutional power.

Republicans countered throughout the day that the impeachment process was a sham and a vendetta against a president Democrats do not like.

“Impeachment will not just be a stain on this Democrat majority. Impeachment will be their legacy,” House Minority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana said shortly before the vote.

The House chamber, usually empty besides a handful of members and staff outside votes, was full of life and lawmakers watching their colleagues make their case and conferring with one another.

Dozens of Democrats camped out on the House floor for the whole day of debate, a visual reminder of their majority when even the robust showing of Republicans looked small in comparison.

Partisan clashes

Democrats were under orders from Pelosi not to gloat or cheer during the proceedings. But that didn’t stop the fireworks.

One of the fiercest clashes of the day came after Texas Republican Louie Gohmert leaned on a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election. U.S. intelligence agencies have said repeatedly that Russia, and not Ukraine, interfered in the election.

House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler responded with an allegation that infuriated Gohmert, already a notorious firebrand.

“I’m deeply concerned that any member of the House would spew Russian propaganda on the floor of the House,” the New York Democrat said.

Gohmert immediately began shouting, demanding that Nadler yield to him to respond or rescind his comment.

Nadler declined to yield and Gohmert marched over to him, speaking intensely and with angry body language. Nadler appeared to not respond at all. Debate continued.

Weighing in

While nearly all members made their position on impeachment clear in the days before the vote, those who are not in party leadership or members of key committees have had much less airtime during the impeachment inquiry.

Wednesday’s debate provided the chance to weigh in for a national audience.

Loading the player...

Michigan independent Justin Amash, who left the GOP last summer, spoke in favor of impeaching Trump under Democrat-controlled time. He quoted Federalist No. 65, saying that Alexander Hamilton would today agree that Trump’s conduct is impeachable.

Earlier in the day, New York Democrat Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez spent some of the morning chatting up Amash. Minnesota Democrat Dean Phillips, who wants Amash on the Democrats’ management team in the Senate, also greeted Amash, who sat near the back of the chamber in a seat directly on the center aisle on the left side of the chamber.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., said the proceedings were like an intervention to de-escalate a dangerous situation.

“The president is the smoking gun. The smoking gun is already reloaded. Whether or not it gets fired — that is up to us,” she said.

Rep. Hakeem Jeffries said that impeachment, while divisive, is a clarifying moment.

“Slavery once divided a nation, but emancipators rose up and clarified that all men are created equal,” the New York Democrat said. “There is a difference between division and clarification.”

Republicans, meanwhile, mounted a vigorous defense of the president, blasting Democrats for launching the inquiry, which many called a long-running attempt to overthrow the president.

“I have descended into the belly of the beast. I have witnessed the terror within, and I rise committed to oppose the insidious forces which threaten our republic,” Rep. Clay Higgins, R-La., said on the floor.

Higgins went on to call the proceedings “a weaponized impeachment, brought upon us by the same socialists who threaten unborn life in the womb.”

Georgia Republican Barry Loudermilk evoked Jesus during his brief floor remarks.

“Before you take this historic vote today, one week before Christmas, I want you to keep this in mind: When Jesus was falsely accused of treason, Pontius Pilate gave Jesus the opportunity to face his accusers,” Loudermilk said. “During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than Democrats have afforded this president.”

Long day

House members hustled in for the first of a series of procedural votes just after 9 a.m. with their commuting coats, backpacks and tote bags in tow.

It was clear that the first vote would not be the last, with Republicans prepared to stall at least the outset of the debate. Members on both sides of the aisle stuck around, chatting, making notes or reading their morning paper.

Virginia Democrat Donald S. Beyer Jr. brought ample reading material for what members expected to be a long day. He had “Winter Soldier” by Daniel Mason, the Sunday Times magazine, notes on bridge declarer play, and rock climbing magazine Vertical Times with him in anticipation of hours in the chamber.

But even amid the rush of the early-morning votes, some lawmakers paused to reflect on the historic significance of impeaching a president for just the third time in U.S. history.

Pelosi called the day a “national civics lesson.” Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., a civil rights icon, gave an emotional and booming speech in support of impeachment.

“Our nation is founded on the principle that we do not have kings, we have presidents. And the Constitution is our compass,” Lewis said.

GOP procedural efforts

House Freedom Caucus Chairman Andy Biggs started the legislative day by trying, unsuccessfully, to end it with a motion to adjourn.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy of California then offered a privileged resolution to officially rebuke Democrats for their handling of the impeachment inquiry. The House quickly tabled the resolution.

Later, Scalise raised a point of order before the House considered the rule for the articles of impeachment, arguing that minority members’ rights were denied throughout the impeachment inquiry and that the rule therefore should not be adopted.

As Scalise made his case against the Democrats, Florida Republican Ted Yoho sat just a few seats away, a red baseball cap emblazoned with telltale white lettering sitting on his lap in a visual show of support for the president.

That party support will benefit Trump in the Republican-led Senate.

“Donald J. Trump is president,” McCarthy said, signaling despite Democrats’ efforts, the Senate will acquit Trump. “He is president today, he will be president tomorrow and he will be president when this impeachment is over.”

Trump was ending a campaign rally in Michigan as the House voted on his impeachment. 

“These people are full of hatred and envy and rage,” the president said. “You ever hear, ‘It’s the economy, stupid?’ That was Clinton’s saying. … I have the greatest economy in the history of this country, and nobody talks about it.”

He soon repeated his line that the impeachment inquiry and votes were merely an attempt to “nullify” the 2016 election.

Todd Ruger and John T. Bennett contributed to this report.