In a surprise move that outraged his Republican colleagues, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler broke up a marathon impeachment hearing shortly before midnight Thursday without allowing members to cast their planned votes on articles of impeachment against President Trump.
After more than 14 hours of brutally partisan debate, Nadler suddenly gaveled out the hearing and told the panel’s 40 members to return at 10 a.m. Friday for a vote on the articles.
“It is now very late at night. I want members on both sides of the aisle to think about what has happened over these last days and to search their consciences before we cast our final votes,” Nadler (D-N.Y.) said before recessing, prompting gasps and shouts from the committee’s Republicans.
Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the panel’s top Republican, told reporters outside the hearing room that Nadler’s “integrity is gone.”
“This committee is more concerned about getting it on TV in the morning than it was finishing its job tonight and letting the members go home,” Collins said. “Words cannot describe how inappropriate this was … I’m just beyond words at this point.”
The first of the two impeachment articles charges Trump with abuse of power over his attempts to shake down Ukraine for investigations that would benefit his 2020 reelection bid. The second article charges Trump with obstruction over his flat-out stonewalling of the House impeachment inquiry.
The committee is expected to approve both articles Friday in a 23-17 party-line vote — the same tally that killed a string of doomed-to-fail amendments that Republicans tried to jam through during Thursday’s hearing, resulting in the extremely lenghty debate.
Ohio Rep. Jim Jordan, one of Trump’s most loyal Judiciary Committee allies, introduced the first amendment during the marathon debate. It proposed striking out the entire first impeachment article charging Trump with abuse of power.
“Article I of this resolution ignores the truth, it ignores the facts, it ignores what happened and what has been laid out for the American people,” Jordan said before entering the long-shot amendment, which alone took three hours of intense debate to kill.
The Judiciary Committee’s now-expected Friday thumbs-up on the articles will leave it to the full House of Representatives to take one final vote to officially impeach the president.
That House vote is expected next week — just in time for Christmas recess.
With widespread agreement among Democrats — and 233-197 control of the House — Trump’s impeachment is at this point a matter of when, not if.
Timeline of the impeachment inquiry against President Trump
Trump, the first president to face impeachment proceedings while running for reelection, is expected to face a much friendlier bunch in the Republican-controlled Senate, which is expected to hold a trial on whether to remove him from office starting in January.
“There is zero chance the president will be removed from office,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Fox News late Thursday.
Two-thirds of the Senate needs to vote in favor of conviction in order for Trump to be booted from the White House, and with Democrats only holding 47 out 100 seats, that appears impossible in the Trump-loyal chamber.
But House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said political calculations in the Senate won’t stop her chamber from carrying out its constitutional duty.
“The fact is we take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” Pelosi told reporters as the judiciary committee was locked in debate. “No one is above the law; the president will be held accountable for his abuse of power and for his obstruction of Congress.”
Staying out of the public spotlight, a furious Trump on Thursday thumbed out more than 100 tweets and retweets — a new record for the social media-obsessed president — while the judiciary panel debated and eventually shelved their recommendation for his removal from office.
“I said I want you to do us (our Country!) a favor, not me a favor,” Trump tweeted from the White House, referring to the infamous July 25 phone call on which he asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch one investigation targeting Joe Biden’s family and one into a debunked right-wing conspiracy theory about the 2016 election.
Of the Democrats, Trump claimed, “They know that but decided to LIE in order to make a fraudulent point! Very sad.”
Despite Trump’s Twitter tirade, Democrats at the judiciary committee’s final impeachment hearing at length delved into his multi-pronged bid to pressure Zelensky into launching his desired investigations while using $391 million in military aid and a coveted White House meeting as leverage in a quid pro quo push.
The Democrats argued that, despite GOP talking points, Trump didn’t freeze the aid out of concern for corruption in Ukraine.
“That’s just laughable on its face … He’s surrounded by criminals,” Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-La.) said, referring to the six people from Trump’s inner circle who have been convicted of federal crimes since he took office.
Moreover, the Democrats said evidence gathered over the nearly three-month impeachment inquiry shows Trump’s motives in the Ukraine scandal were squarely political.
Testimony from 17 current and former administration officials, they said, showed the president was only interested in disparaging Biden, the front-runner for the Democratic 2020 nomination, and lifting up claims that anti-Trump Ukrainians interfered in the last election — a debunked theory that originated in Russia and seeks to undermine the U.S. intelligence community’s conclusion that the Kremlin interfered in 2016 to help Trump and hurt Hillary Clinton.
“There is overwhelming evidence of the existence of a scheme led by the president 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,” Rep. David Cicilline (D-R.I.) said.
The committee’s Republicans insisted over and over that Trump has done nothing wrong, claiming he couldn’t have pulled off a quid pro quo since the aid he put on ice for nearly two months was eventually released. Ukraine relies heavily on the U.S. assistance to counter Russian military aggression in the country’s eastern regions.
Democrats poked holes in the GOP defense by noting that Trump only released the military aid to Ukraine after a CIA whistleblower complaint became known to the White House, saying that showed the president backtracked because he got caught, not because he wanted to do what was right.
They also noted that Trump has yet to grant Zelensky a White House meeting, which would publicly bolster his allegiance with the U.S. in the face of Russia’s invasion of his country.
Only two other presidents have been impeached — Bill Clinton in 1998, and Andrew Johnson in 1868. Neither was removed from office. Richard Nixon resigned his presidency in 1974 before the full House could vote on articles of impeachment passed by the judiciary committee.