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The first impeachment in a generation is about to hit the House floor — but not before a final burst of partisan rancor and an abrupt, if temporary, delay from the House Judiciary Committee.
The panel was moving Thursday to approve two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump — one charging him with abuse of power, the other with obstructing congressional investigations — while fending off last-ditch efforts by Republicans to derail them before a final floor vote expected next week
But just after 11 p.m., following a marathon 14-hour debate, Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.) paused the proceedings and announced the committee would wait until 10 a.m. Friday to vote on the articles of impeachment.
There is little doubt about the outcome: both articles of impeachment will advance to the House floor on a party-line vote. But Democrats opted for a daytime final vote following a lengthy debate over Republican-authored amendments. The move stunned Republicans, who said they were ambushed by the decision and viewed it as a sign of disrespect.
When the committee does approve the articles on Friday, it will mark just the fourth time in history the impeachment process has advanced this far.
The committee began formally debating the articles late Wednesday night, with lawmakers making direct appeals to their colleagues across the aisle. The debate continued late into the night on Thursday as Republicans offered several amendments to chip away at the articles of impeachment; all were doomed to fail on party-line votes.
Inside the cavernous Capitol Hill hearing room, Democrats made clear that they intended to indulge the string of GOP amendments as long as Republicans were willing to debate them. Though many members of the public flooded the hearing room when the session began early Thursday morning, the audience had mostly cleared out by 9 p.m. — even as the proceedings showed no signs of winding down.
Unsurprisingly, both sides remain entrenched, and lawmakers grew increasingly agitated as Thursday’s session entered its thirteenth hour. Some lawmakers even became visibly drowsy as their colleagues launched into repetitive and often passionate diatribes — with little indication that either party was prepared to concede on even a single point of debate.
Republican leaders have been working intensely to ensure that none of their rank-and-file colleagues join Democrats in favor of impeachment, and so far they are confident they have succeeded.
Republicans used their time during Thursday's hearing to offer amendments to strike various aspects of Democrats’ articles of impeachment and accuse the majority of procedural violations.
An amendment offered by Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio), for example, would have eliminated the “abuse of power" article, while another one, offered by Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), would have added language about former Vice President Joe Biden’s son, Hunter, to the articles. The GOP amendments were defeated on party-line votes.
The committee’s debate over articles of impeachment was fairly orderly and even substantive at times, focusing on what constitutes an impeachable offense and whether the evidence Democrats presented meets that standard. Republicans argued — as they have throughout the investigation — that Democrats’ case falls far short of warranting impeachment, while Democrats described it as open-and-shut.
A nearly three-month investigation by the House Intelligence Committee produced a 300-page Democrat-authored report alleging that Trump abused his power by pressing Ukraine to investigate his political rivals. The report also describes an alleged effort by Trump to withhold critical military aid and a coveted White House meeting in order to further pressure Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to announce investigations, including one targeting the Bidens.
Trump has mounted an unprecedented effort to resist Democrats’ inquiries, ordering all White House officials to defy document and testimony requests — even subpoenas — ensuring that lawmakers were unable to question several senior Trump administration officials.
Democrats have framed the committee vote as an urgent and necessary decision to protect the integrity of the 2020 election from a president exhibiting autocratic tendencies and trying to warp the institutions of government to his own personal benefit. Republicans, though, say Democrats’ case is based on a thin record of evidence, as well as conjecture and hearsay, and that impeaching Trump would pave the way for partisan impeachments of future presidents.
“This is as much about political expediency as it is anything else, and that should never be in articles of impeachment,” said Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the Judiciary Committee’s top Republican. “And anybody who defends that is treading on very thin ice.”
Thursday's markup began with some procedural jousting, as Democrats voted down a GOP effort to hold a “minority hearing day” to call their own set of witnesses before articles of impeachment were voted out of the committee.
Nadler said the Republicans’ demand for the minority hearing day could not be used to delay final consideration of the articles of impeachment, leading Collins to blast Nadler's decision as “the death of minority rights” in the committee and a “crushing blow” that would resonate far into the future.
Democrats also offered a minor amendment to the articles of impeachment to refer to the president as “Donald John Trump” rather than “Donald J. Trump.”
Trump himself appeared to be tuning into the committee’s marathon session Thursday morning. He wrote on Twitter that he was concerned about other nations sharing the burden of sending military aid Ukraine, appearing to justify his decision to place a temporary hold on U.S. security assistance to the besieged ally.
Much of the hearing was laden with a historical debate over the standards set in the last two presidential impeachment processes — those facing Richard Nixon, who resigned just before the House voted on articles of impeachment, and Bill Clinton.
The hearing also featured some tense moments behind the dais. After Rep. Mark Meadows (R-N.C.) approached the GOP side to chat with lawmakers, Nadler’s aides confronted him — likely because Meadows, a top ally of the president, is not a member of the Judiciary Committee. Meadows eventually left the dais.
Outside the hearing room, trash cans were overflowing with remnants of fast-food dinners ordered en masse by exhausted lawmakers, aides and journalists. Pizza boxes lined the walls of the hallways, and those loitering outside the room traded gallows humor about just how long the night might go.