House Democrats moved Tuesday to charge President Trump with at least two articles of impeachment — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — making him only the fourth president in U.S. history to face such a formal effort to remove him from office.
“We must be clear: No one, not even the president, is above the law,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), head of the committee that drafted the articles. “We do not take this action lightly, but we have taken an oath to defend the Constitution.”
The House Judiciary Committee is expected to approve the articles — and potentially add more charges — during a session scheduled to begin Wednesday evening, which could drag through to Friday. The full House would then vote on whether to impeach the president before leaving for the holiday next week.
On the heels of Monday’s hearing to receive evidence collected over the last two months, Democrats met behind closed doors Tuesday morning to discuss the impeachment effort. Applause could be heard from inside the room as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-San Francisco), Nadler and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff (D-Burbank) entered the meeting.
The nine-page impeachment document asserts that Trump “ignored and injured the interests of the nation.”
Democrats say Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate his Democratic rivals — which came while he withheld a promised White House visit for Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelensky, and nearly $400 million in congressionally mandated security aid for the Eastern European country — was an abuse of power.
“President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law,” the abuse of power article states.
The second charge, obstruction of Congress, focuses on Trump’s attempts to block congressional oversight by prohibiting federal officials from complying with requests and subpoenas for testimony and evidence.
“In the history of the republic, no president has ever ordered the complete defiance of an impeachment inquiry or sought to obstruct and impede so comprehensively the ability of the House of Representatives to investigate ‘high crimes and misdemeanors.’” the obstruction of Congress article states.
The president has refused to send an attorney to participate in the hearings, which would have given him a chance to present evidence in his defense and question witnesses.
“The president’s continuing abuse of power has left us no choice,” said Schiff, whose committee conducted the bulk of the investigation into Ukraine. “The evidence of the president’s misconduct is overwhelming and uncontested.... And when the president got caught, he committed his second impeachable act.”
Republicans argue Trump was working within his authority to direct foreign policy and had legitimate concerns about corruption in Ukraine. They say Democrats had always intended to impeach him and were just looking for a reason.
“There’s nothing that has actually come close to an impeachable offense,” Judiciary Committee ranking member Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) told reporters after the announcement.
Collins was incredulous that Democrats would want to charge Trump with obstructing Congress during such a short investigation and said the charge of abuse of power is too broad.
“I could put anything in there: ‘I don’t like the way he talked to Congress, I don’t like the way he got up in the morning.’ Abuse of power is so amorphous,” Collins said.
In a tweet, Trump called the charges “ridiculous.”
White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement that Democrats have announced the “predetermined outcome of their sham impeachment.”
If Trump is impeached, the Senate would then hold a trial, which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) said Thursday would probably occur in January. The Republican-controlled chamber is expected to acquit, meaning Trump would remain in office.
Republicans have argued that acting on impeachment less than a year out from the election amounts to Democrats trying to influence 2020, and that they should let voters decide. Democrats say the nature of the allegations — election interference — makes it necessary for them to act.
“The argument ‘Why don’t you just wait’ amounts to this: ‘Why don’t you just let him cheat in one more election?’” Schiff said. “Why not let him have foreign help just one more time?”
On Tuesday, Democrats largely wanted to focus on the legislative work they are doing during impeachment, pointing to the House agreement on a long-stalled North American trade deal announced an hour after the articles were unveiled.
For weeks, lawmakers had debated how expansive the articles should be. Many Democrats, particularly progressives, wanted to see a broad case made against the president that would encompass obstruction of justice charges for Trump’s actions documented in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report on Russian election interference, including trying to fire Mueller.
More moderate Democratic lawmakers, especially those who represent districts Trump won in 2016, have advocated for a targeted approach largely focused on Ukraine. Rep. Karen Bass (D-Los Angeles) said Judiciary Committee members were satisfied that both concerns were addressed. Both articles describe the president’s conduct as an example of a pattern of behavior.
“What’s most important is that the articles be very, very focused, and I think that’s the way they are.... [I]t really is broad enough. It didn’t need to include everything,” Bass said.
Members of Congress can offer amendments to the proposed articles of impeachments at the meeting later this week, but members of both parties said it was unlikely any substantial changes would be made ahead of a full House vote.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) said she would have liked to see articles for a variety of other reasons, including obstruction of justice, but she recognizes that it would have been hard to get broad support among the Democratic caucus. She and other progressive members will likely meet before the meeting, but she trusts that progressive Democrats on the committee did as much as they could to get other articles included, she said.
“Honestly, I understand that the caucus is where it’s at, and it took so long just for us to get to this point that I’m glad that we have two,” she said.
Republicans could offer procedural amendments to drag out the process, or force Democrats to take tough votes. Collins said he was not yet sure whether he would offer amendments.
“We’re looking at it, but you can’t fix bad, and you know there’s no sense in us trying to fix bad in something we don’t believe in to start with,” he said.