ABUSE OF POWER

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House impeaches Trump; president’s fate now rests with Senate.

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ARMANDO L. SANCHEZ / CHICAGO TRIBUNE /TNS
Protesters rally outside Trump International Hotel and Tower during a rally for the impeachment of President Donald Trump on Dec. 17.

BY JENNIFER HABERKORN, SARAH D. WIRE,
CHRIS MEGERIAN AND MOLLY O’TOOLE
LOS ANGELES TIMES/TNS

WASHINGTON — A divided House of Representatives voted Wednesday to impeach President Donald Trump for abuse of power and obstructing Congress, a condemnation that will permanently mar his legacy and one that only two other American presidents have faced in the nation’s history. 

In a partisan vote on two articles of impeachment, the Democratic-controlled House charged Trump with committing high crimes and misdemeanors, the constitutional standard needed to warrant his removal from office. Every Republican voted no.

The historic case now goes to the Republican-controlled Senate for a trial, probably in January. But the president is expected to win acquittal there and remain in office — and become the first impeached president to run for reelection. 

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Donald Trump

‘Private’ interests 

Democrats say Trump abused his oath of office when he asked Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son while Trump was with holding a promised White House meeting and crucial military aid to the struggling U.S. ally. 

A second article of impeachment accused Trump of obstructing Congress’ investigation into the alleged scheme by refusing to release subpoenaed documents or allow current and former aides to testify. 

“Taken together, the two articles charge that President Trump placed his private, political interests above our national security, above our elections, and above our system of checks and balances,” House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., said on the floor. 

How they voted 

The back-to-back votes fell almost completely along party lines. The House voted 230-197 on the first article and approved the second article by 229-198. 

One Republican-turned-independent, Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, voted to impeach. Only two Democrats voted against: Reps. Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Jefferson Van Drew of New Jersey, who is expected to switch parties to become a Republican. 

Rep. Jared Golden of Maine split his vote, supporting the article of impeachment charging abuse of power, but not obstruction of Congress. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, a Democratic presidential hopeful, voted “present” on both articles. 

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CHIP SOMODEVILLA/GETTY IMAGES/TNS
The House of Representatives votes on the second of two articles of impeachment of President Donald Trump in the House Chamber at the Capitol Building on Wednesday. The U.S. House of Representatives voted to successfully pass both articles, charging President Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.

Emotional punch 

Despite the historic vote, Trump’s fate has been sealed for days, if not weeks, in the House. But that did not drain the emotional punch from the day’s long drama. 

One by one, for more than 11 hours, dozens of Democrats and Republicans stood and offered impassioned, anguished and, in some cases, deeply personal arguments for and against the ignominy of impeachment.

Few if any Republicans echoed Trump’s claim that his conduct had been “perfect,” instead insisting that Democrats were trying to overturn the results of the 2016 election, and had created a sham investigation and a constitutional crisis to do so. 

Constitutional burden 

Democrats framed impeachment as a constitutional burden that they did not take lightly and claimed politics played no role its consideration. 

“Every one of us as our first act as a member of Congress stood on this historic House floor before our beautiful American flag and raised our hands in the sacred oath” to defend the Constitution, said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., whose legacy as the first female House speaker will now also include impeachment. 

Earlier this year, only a small group of progressive Democrats supported impeachment. 

Biblical reference 

Those numbers swelled after the White House released a memo of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Zelenskiy and as the Democrats’ investigation, much of it led by House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., progressed to include multiple witnesses who recounted a widespread effort to pressure Ukraine. 

Republicans blasted their House counterparts for launching what they called a political, personal vendetta against the president and argued that Democrats never provided the president due process. 

They claimed a moment of silence for what Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, called the “voices of the 63 million American voters the Democrats today are wanting to silence.” Some compared the impeachment effort to the Japanese attacks on Pearl Harbor and the crucifixion of Jesus. 

“During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than the Democrats have afforded this president and this process,” said Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga. 

Holding them

House leaders will hold the articles of impeachment to give the Senate time to finish other year-end legislation, including a bill to fund the federal government. 

Some impeachment supporters argued that the House could keep the articles as leverage to get Senate Republicans to agree to allow witnesses in a trial, although that appears unlikely to be effective. 

Trump, who declined to participate in the impeachment proceedings, watched the vote backstage at a campaign rally at an arena in Battle Creek, Mich. Moments after the first vote, his campaign texted supporters with the news, saying “Dems’ just voted to IMPEACH,” and urging them to send money. 

Trump furious 

Earlier Trump had unleashed a string of furious tweets, accusing Democrats of launching an “assault on America and an assault on the Republican Party!!!!” 

Despite the deeply partisan nature of the debate, many on Capitol Hill recognized the weight of the moment in history. Most regular business in the House, such as committee hearings, was rescheduled and lawmakers had little to do but wait and observe a day of speeches on the floor.

“The gravity of the moment is very powerful in terms of just the emotional weight of what we’re doing today,” said Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif. “Thank God we have a Constitution and a process that will allow for our system of checks and balances to work, even though this president tried — well, did — obstruct Congress over and over and over again.” 

‘Sad’ day 

Democrats said they did not strong-arm their members to support the articles — and swore that politics played no role in their decision. 

“No one raised their hand and swore to defend the polling data,” said House Majority Leader Steny H. Hoyer, D-Md. 

Since Pelosi announced the impeachment inquiry on Sept. 24, she has tried to strike a serious tone around impeachment — to counter any suggestion that Democrats reveled in the political victory. Democrats repeatedly cited what a “sad,” “somber” or “serious” day it was. 

Following the House vote, the articles of impeachment would go to the GOP-controlled Senate, where Trump is hopeful to be vindicated in a trial that is expected to get underway in early January. It is all but certain that Democrats won’t be able to garner the 67 votes needed to remove the president from office.

Other impeachments 

That would be in keeping with American history. The Senate did not convict President Andrew Johnson in 1868 or President Bill Clinton in 1999 after their impeachments. Wednesday’s vote took place one day short of 21 years since Clinton was impeached for lying under oath and obstruction of justice. 

Senate Republicans want a quick trial to deliver Trump a victory without going through the potentially messy process of calling witnesses who could share damaging information. Trump prefers a lengthy trial to give him a platform to prove his innocence. 

The president is frustrated by the impeachment process but is a realist, said Sen. John Thune of South Dakota, the Republican whip. “He knows now that the opportunity to defend himself is in the Senate, hopefully,” he said, “And he’ll soon get that chance.” 

Election fallout? 

Republicans have framed impeachment as a losing issue for Democrats, warning that the party will pay at the ballot box next fall for trying to remove a president from office. Democrats argue that politics was never a factor in the impeachment, but they will have to deal with the consequences that aren’t yet fully known. 

The fallout could be particularly noticeable in the swing congressional districts that flipped from a Republican lawmaker to a Democratic one in the 2018 election. 

The White House has already targeted one of those lawmakers, Rep. Gil Cisneros, D-Calif., for his impeachment vote. 

“Instead of working to uplift the middle class as promised, Rep. Gil Cisneros joins Nancy Pelosi and the rest of the coastal elites in support of their baseless impeachment proceedings,” said White House deputy press secretary Steven Groves. 

‘No regrets’ 

Cisneros, who last week was one of the few Democrats to attend the congressional Christmas party at the White House, said his district is split 50-50 on the issue. Still, he felt like he had no choice but to support the articles of impeachment. 

“If I’m going to look at every poll that needs to be done or decide which way the wind is blowing before I take a vote, then maybe I don’t belong here in this job,” Cisneros said in an interview. “I’m doing this for the benefit of our country and protecting our Constitution, and I’ll live with that. I have no regrets at all in supporting the impeachment of the president.”

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