The U.S. House of Representatives impeached President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstructing Congress, the culmination of an effort by Democrats that further inflamed partisan tensions in Washington and deepened the nation’s ideological divide.
The historic votes on Wednesday evening, which won the support of almost all Democrats in the House chamber but not a single Republican, leave Trump as only the third president in U.S. history to be impeached — and the only impeached president likely to win his party’s nomination for re-election.
The Senate will hold a trial early next year to decide whether the president should be convicted on the charges and removed from office, though the Republicans who have the majority in that chamber will almost certainly acquit him.
House Democrats took depositions from more than a dozen witnesses, held weeks of hearings, and wrote hundreds of pages documenting Trump’s efforts to pressure the president of Ukraine to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son.
Yet public support for Trump’s impeachment and removal rarely went much above 50% in polling, and there is little evidence that the proceedings left him in a worse position politically on the eve of the 2020 election.
After more than six hours of debate, the House voted 230 to 197 to adopt the first of two impeachment articles, one alleging he misused the power of his office to pressure Ukraine to investigate the Bidens. The House voted 229 to 198 on a second article accusing him of obstructing Congress.
The final vote left all sides dissatisfied. Republicans fumed at what they called a rushed process, accusing Democrats of ignoring their demands for witnesses and trying to tarnish Trump heading into his campaign.
Democrats received a momentary boost when the details of Trump’s controversial call with Ukraine’s president first emerged in September. But they failed to inflict lasting damage to the president, even as the evidence mounted that Trump had done what Democrats alleged: an attempt to strong-arm a U.S. ally to investigate a prominent political rival by holding back military aid and an Oval Office visit.
“I could not be prouder or more inspired by the moral courage of House Democrats,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said after the votes.
Republican leader Kevin McCarthy, delivering the closing arguments for the GOP, said the legacy of House Democrats will be “the most partisan and least credible impeachment in American history.”
It is a “case is based on second-hand opinions and hearsay,” he said. “Simply put: they have no grounds for impeachment.”
Minutes before the House began voting, Trump took the stage for a campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan, a state that was crucial to his victory in 2016 and his chances for re-election next year, to provide a real-time rebuttal to the impeachment debate.
“After three years of sinister witch hunts, hoaxes, scams, tonight, House Democrats are trying to nullify the ballots of tens of millions of patriotic Americans,” Trump told the crowd. He said Democrats would pay the price in the next election.
Shift to Senate
The drama will now shift to the Senate for a trial next month that will be presided over by Chief Justice John Roberts. With a two-thirds vote required to convict the president, Trump’s acquittal in the Republican-controlled chamber is all but assured. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has already declared that he is “not an impartial juror” and is setting a course to bring the proceedings to a swift conclusion.
“The president is confident the Senate will restore regular order, fairness, and due process, all of which were ignored in the House proceedings,” White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement immediately after the second article was adopted. “He is prepared for the next steps and confident that he will be fully exonerated.”
It wasn’t clear Wednesday night how quickly the House would send the articles of impeachment to the Senate, a step that would trigger the trial and stop work on any other matters. Pelosi said she was holding off naming House managers for the trial “until we see what the process is in the Senate.” She suggested the Republican majority wasn’t being fair to Democrats but didn’t give specifics.
Trump and his Republican backers accuse Democrats of hurtling toward impeachment of the 45th president since the day he won election. In fact, at least a few the most liberal Democrats had been calling for his impeachment since the first reports by U.S. intelligence agencies that Russia interfered with the 2016 election to Trump’s benefit.
But Pelosi had staved off those demands, until the Ukraine revelations dramatically shifted the sentiment among Democrats, drawing support from more centrist members of the party who were wary of paying a political price with angry Trump voters in their districts.
Only two of the 31 Democrats representing areas Trump won in 2016, Collin Peterson of Minnesota and Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, voted against impeaching the president. A third, Maine’s Jared Golden, voted for the abuse of power article but against the obstruction article. Hawaii Representative Tulsi Gabbard, who is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination, voted present on both counts.
Michigan Representative Justin Amash, a Trump critic who left the Republican Party earlier this year and became an independent, voted with the Democrats for impeachment.
Even if Trump evades conviction and removal, the House vote will leave a stain on Trump’s time in the White House and his place in history.
With polling heading into the vote showing the country as sharply divided along party lines on impeachment as were the House members in their votes, Trump and his allies are vowing to make it an issue in coming elections. On Tuesday, the president sent an angry and rambling six-page letter to Pelosi saying the impeachment vote would backfire on Democrats.
“Any member of Congress who votes in support of impeachment — against every shred of truth, fact, evidence and legal principle — is showing how deeply they revile the voters and how truly they detest America’s constitutional order,” he wrote.
Although anger surrounding impeachment has animated voters in both parties, it’s not yet clear that it will be the central issue when they cast ballots next November in an election to decide control of the White House and Congress. The cost and availability of health care along with the state of the economy remain the top issues mentioned by voters in most polls. There also may be events over the next 10 months that reshape the campaigns.
“Things move so fast we can’t just assume that things that seem very important now are going to matter later,” Kyle Kondik, managing editor of Sabato’s Chrystal Ball website at the University of Virginia’s Center for Politics, said last week.