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WASHINGTON – The House Judiciary Committee reconvened Thursday at 9 a.m. to decide whether articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump should be forwarded to the full chamber for a vote as early as next week.
With a heavy Democratic advantage, the panel is expected to approve both articles – abuse of power and obstruction of congress – which relate to Trump's efforts to pressure Ukraine into investigating political rival Joe Biden. But Republicans are expected to offer a number of amendments that could take most of the day to sort through.
If the panel adopts one or both articles, Trump would join Andrew Johnson, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton as the only presidents who faced specific charges over alleged misconduct. Johnson and Clinton were impeached while Nixon resigned before the House held a vote.
'Obstruction of Congress': Trump's stonewalling becomes basis for impeachment
Nadler: Hearings recessed until Friday
Ending proceedings for the evening, House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y. called a recess until 10 a.m. Friday to give lawmakers time to "search their conscience" until they voted on the articles of impeachment.
Republican lawmakers were furious at the delay.
"There was no discussion about time," said Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., the top Republican on the committee.
The delay "shows that Chairman Nadler's integrity is zero," Collins said. “That was the most lack of integrity thing I’ve ever seen by a member of Congress.”
Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., defended the decision to postpone voting until the morning in a tweet.
"A vote on Articles of Impeachment is one of the most consequential and historic votes any member will cast. It should only take place in the light of day - not at 11:30 at night."
“I mean, I think that it's too important to do it in the middle of the night,” said Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla. “I think the American people need to see what the committee does with the articles of impeachment.”
Mucarsel-Powell defended the committee from informing Republicans of this decision, saying they gave the minority hours and hours to debate everything.
“They had amendments,” she said. “We were debating, we've been here for 13 hours.”
The House Judiciary Committee will hold two votes on the articles of impeachment Friday morning – one vote on the article on President Donald Trump's abuse of power and the other on the obstruction of Congress.
Cohen: Zelensky was 'in an inferior position'
Rep. Steve Cohen, D-Tenn., shot back at his Republican colleagues, saying, “I think they are dead wrong in their thinking on the articles of impeachment.”
He responded to Republicans’ arguments that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky said he did not feel pressured by Trump by noting Zelensky’s political and acting background.
“I said earlier today that the president of Ukraine was an actor and a politician…A lot of actors are great. I love actors. I love politicians. I am a politician, but that is why he could not say that he was under any duress or any influence and he felt like he was being pressured,” Cohen argued.
Cohen compared Zelensky to a wife in an abusive relationship who was unable to report it.
“He could not say that because he is in an inferior position. It is like a battered wife with her husband around who beat her up,” Cohen said. “She can't say to the police, she can't say, ‘he beat me up,’ because he is there and when the police leave he will do it again. And so, he was in a terrible position.”
Members get into a war of words
Ranking member Doug Collins and Rep. Eric Swalwell got into a fierce war of words over whether the U.S. pausing military aid to Ukraine caused deaths in the region.
“Ranking member Collins, you can deny this as much as you want. People died in Ukraine at the hands of Russia,” Swalwell said. “You may not want to think about that. It might be hard for you to think about that, but they died.”
Swalwell said Trump was being “selfish” and “withheld the aid for his own personal gain.”
Collins shot back, attacking Swalwell and pointing out that he is a military veteran and knows death. He said that of course Ukrainians died during this period but there were deaths before this and after when U.S. military aid was flowing.
Collins called Swalwell’s comments an “amazing lack of honesty” and showing a “lack of integrity.”
Collins pointed to a news article Swalwell introduced that said there wasn’t a way to connect deaths with the pause in military aid. He asked if Swalwell had a “reading comprehension problem.”
Amendment to strike removal from office fails
The House Judiciary Committee rejected an amendment from Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who proposed to remove the final eight lines of each article of impeachment. Those are the sections that conclude President Donald Trump’s alleged misconduct with removal from office.
The amendment was rejected on a party-line vote of 23 to 17.
'I have not heard a new point or original thought from either side': lawmaker expresses frustration
Members of Congress appeared to be getting tired of the proceedings after hours of debate. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., quipped, "Dare I state the obvious: I have not heard a new point or an original thought from either side in the last three hours."
“Repeating a fact over and over doesn’t make it true, and denying a fact over and over doesn’t make it false,” he said.
McClintock offered a “modest suggestion” to his fellow members of Congress – to wrap things up. Proceedings started at 9 a.m. Thursday.
“That point is well taken,” said Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-Pa., who is currently overseeing proceedings.
Dem says GOP is trying to 'confuse the American people'
Rep. Cedric Richmond, D-La., drew some scattered laughter in the audience for his pointed rebuttals to Republican arguments.
Richmond said his Republican colleagues were trying to “throw a whole bunch of stuff at the wall, hope they can confuse the American people, hope that something sticks.”
He observed that witnesses had testified under oath about Trump’s efforts to pressure Ukraine to open investigations into his political opponents, whereas Trump had said “14,435 lies to date since he has been president.”
“He says it is about corruption, but we know from the facts in this case, from the three people who testified under oath, that all this was about was making sure that he gets an investigation into Joe Biden,” Richmond said.
Involvement, not interference
Rep. John Ratcliffe, R-Texas, attempted to correct Chairman Nadler during one of the more awkward moments of the hearing, which led to laughter throughout the crowd.
Nadler, while defending his committee’s work, said he was “startled” to hear Ratcliffe say earlier “that it is OK for a president to invite foreign interference in our elections.”
Nadler argued the reason for the urgency of this impeachment was because of the president’s efforts to hurt U.S. elections in 2020. “The president must be impeached to safeguard our elections,” he said.
After Nadler concluded his remarks, Ratcliffe said he wanted to correct the record.
“The Chairman of the House Judiciary Committee just made a false statement,” Ratcliffe said, explaining Nadler “said that I said that it was OK to solicit foreign interference in an election. I never used the word interference.”
The crowd laughed and Nadler smirked as he replied: “OK.”
Ratcliffe continued, saying that he said, “'Foreign involvement in investigations' and I used as an example for that, the Obama administration. It was just a few hours ago, you may not remember.”
Amendment to strike removal of office from articles of impeachment
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, proposed an amendment to remove the final eight lines of each of the two articles. Those are the sections that conclude that President Donald Trump’s misconduct described earlier in each article should be punished with removal from office.
"They are afraid they cannot beat him at the ballot box so they're going to do this rigged, rushed and wrong impeachment process."
Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said the facts amply justify the charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Nadler said the amendment would render the articles a catalog of misconduct without punishment.
“It is silly,” Nadler said.
Amendment to drop charge of obstruction of Congress fails
The House Judiciary Committee rejected a proposal from Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa., to drop the article of impeachment that accuses President Donald Trump of obstruction of Congress. The party-line vote was 23 to 17.
Nadler says White House refused to comply with subpoenas during inquiry
Democrats noted that they have asked federal courts to resolve disputes. A U.S. District Court judge ruled in favor of enforcing the committee’s subpoena for former White House counsel Don McGahn, but the Justice Department appealed the case to the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals, where it is pending.
But Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., said Trump’s White House refused to comply with any subpoena during the inquiry. Nadler called that a “large step toward dictatorship” because it would remove any check on the president.
“That is an obstruction of Congress,” Nadler said. “This is an assertion of tyrannical power.”
Amendment seeks to remove the article accusing obstruction of Congress
Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa., proposed to remove the article accusing President Donald Trump of obstructing Congress.
Reschenthaler said there are three branches of government for a reason. The legislative and executive branches must reach compromises on oversight, with the judicial branch resolving disputes. He said 25 administration officials have testified at oversight committees.
“The facts simply do not align with Democrats’ claims of obstruction,” Reschenthaler said. "Democrats have not afforded the president basic procedural protections."
Biggs' amendment on Ukrainian aid fails
The Judiciary Committee rejected an amendment from Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., that sought to insert language into the article explaining that the military aid was suspended until Ukraine approved anti-corruption laws. The party-line vote was 23 to 17.
Proposed amendment says Ukrainian aid was "on time"
Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz., introduced an amendment after the committee rejected Rep. Matt Gaetz’s, R-Fla., amendment. Biggs’ amendment inserts language into the impeachment articles asserting the aid to Ukraine was eventually released following Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky’s signing of anti-corruption measures into law.
“The administration never intended to or actually violated the law,” Biggs said, adding the aid’s release “destroys Democrats’ case for impeachment.”
“They got their material on time,” Biggs concluded.
Amendment to target Hunter Biden fails
The Judiciary Committee rejected the amendment from Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., to remove former Vice President Joe Biden as the target of the Ukraine investigation. The amendment would have replaced him with his son, Hunter Biden, and the company where he worked, Burisma Holdings. The committee rejected the amendment on a party-line vote of 23 to 17.
GOP fails to remove abuse of power article
The House Judiciary Committee rejected the first Republican amendment from Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio, who proposed the first Republican amendment to remove the entire article accusing President Donald Trump of abuse of power.
Jordan said Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky said there was not any pressure for Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden. Trump eventually met with Zelensky and released $391 million in military aid without Zelensky announcing any investigations.
“Article 1 in this resolution ignores the truth, it ignores the facts, it ignores what happened and what was laid out for the American people over the last three weeks,” Jordan said. “I hope this committee will come to its senses.”
Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., said Trump asked for the investigation of Biden during a July 25 call with Zelensky. Cicilline leafed through pages of documents quoting several diplomatic administration officials who testified that Trump was pressuring Ukraine in his requests during July and August.
“This claim that this is the thinnest of evidence is simply not true,” Cicilline said. “There is overwhelming evidence of the existence of a scheme led by the president, led by his personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, to corrupt the American elections, to continue to withhold military aid until such time as an announcement was made that would smear the president’s chief political rival.”
The committee rejected the amendment on a party-line vote of 23 to 17.
- Bart Jansen
Gaetz targets Hunter Biden in amendment
Rep. Matt Gaetz of Florida proposed the second Republican amendment to remove former Vice President Joe Biden as President Donald Trump’s target in the articles of impeachment and replace him with his son.
Gaetz said Trump’s target in the Ukraine investigations was Hunter Biden and the Ukraine energy company that hired him, Burisma Holdings.
Gaetz read several excerpts from a New Yorker magazine profile of Hunter Biden that described his drug use. Gaetz questioned why Burisma would have hired Biden to resolve its international disputes despite his problems with substance abuse.
“I don’t want to make light of anyone’s substance abuse issues,” Gaetz said.
Republicans have sought their own hearing to demonstrate Burisma was corrupt and why Trump was skeptical about providing aid to Ukraine.
“We have the ability to show that Burisma is corrupt,” Gaetz said. “We have the ability to show that Hunter Biden is corrupt. That totally exculpates the president.”
At that point, Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., said Republicans shouldn’t raise accusations about the Biden’s substance abuse because some of them may have had problems themselves.
“The pot calling the kettle black is not something that we should do," Johnson said. "I don’t know what members, if any, have had any problems with substance abuse, been busted in DUI. I don’t know. But if I did, I wouldn’t raise it against anyone on this committee. I don’t think it’s proper.”
Johnson did not mention Gaetz by name. Gaetz was arrested on suspicion of drunken driving in 2008, but the charge was later dropped.
- Bart Jansen
Scalise telling GOP to vote "no" on impeachment
The second-ranking House Republican, Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, said he would be encouraging fellow lawmakers to oppose the articles of impeachment if the Judiciary Committee sends them to the House floor.
Scalise’s office slammed Democrats for spending three years fighting to overturn the 2016 election and the “Soviet style” investigation. His office also said the article alleging abuse of power doesn’t cite crimes or facts about misconduct. And the article for obstruction of Congress ignored that previous administrations have negotiated for cooperation on oversight, according to his office.
All Republicans voted against the House resolution that set the rules for the impeachment inquiry and two Democrats joined them. House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said the inquiry was flawed enough that he was more confident that Republicans would remain unified against impeachment.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said Democrats wouldn't pressure their members about which way to vote on impeachment.
- Bart Jansen
Trump attacks Democrats over Zelensky call
President Donald Trump appeared to be tuning into Thursday's hearing, lashing out on Twitter at at Democrats Veronica Escobar and Sheila Jackson Lee, both of Texas. He said the two women "purposely misquoted" his July 25 call with Ukraine President Volodymy Zelensky, the subject of a whistleblower complaint that sparked the impeachment inquiry.
Turmp is accused of pressuring the Ukrainian president to open an investigation into political rival Joe Biden in exchange for aid and a White House meeting.
Escobar likened the president's call with Zelensky to a governor of a state calling a mayor of a town that has just suffered a natural disaster to offer disaster aid, but adding that in exchange "I want you to do me a favor though." The favor, she argued, would be directing the local police chief to "smear" the governor's opponent.
"Has there been a crime? The answer is yes, and that governor would go to jail," she said.
Trump responded, arguing the "favor" he mentioned during the phone call wasn't related to him.
"I said I want you to do us (our Country!) a favor, not me a favor," he tweeted. "They know that but decided to LIE in order to make a fraudulent point. Very sad."
As Trump pointed out, during the phone call he said "I would like you to do us a favor though," according to a rough summary of the call.
The president and his defenders in recent weeks have pointed out that he used the word "us," referring to the United States, arguing that it was not a personal request for his political gain.
In a follow-up tweet, the president also said that he's asked why Germany, France and other European countries haven't helped Ukraine more in the country's conflict with Russia. Trump has argued that part of the reason he withheld the military aid from Ukraine was over concerns other countries had not stepped up to support Ukraine.
- Courtney Subramanian
Confrontation over Trump holding Ukraine aid
One of the most confrontational exchanges in the debate focused on Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.
She said Republicans couldn’t argue both that President Donald Trump was concerned about corruption in Ukraine while releasing aid in previous years and then withhold aid after the Pentagon cleared Ukraine of charges of corruption.
“Why then did he decide he was so concerned about the corruption that he was not going to release aid?” Jayapal said.
Several Republicans were eager to answer. But Jayapal said repeatedly that she refused to yield her time.
“They got a new president, that’s why,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio., interrupting her while Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, nodded. Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., gaveled Jordan to silence.
Jayapal then asked whether any Republicans would say it is an abuse of power to condition aid on an official act.
“Forget about President Trump,” Jayapal said. “Is any one of my colleagues willing to say that it is ever OK for a president of the United States of America to invited foreign interference in our elections? Not a single one of you has said that so far.”
- Bart Jansen
Top Republican: ‘Minority rights are dead’
Republicans have been bemoaning what they see as the unfairness of the impeachment process for weeks and it didn’t take long for that theme to emerge Thursday.
Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the committee, accused Democrats of preventing the minority from having a day reserved for its own witnesses, calling it a “travesty” due to the rush to impeach.
“People understand inherent fairness, they understand due process. Why? Because it was what America is based on. It’s what America takes pride in,” Collins said. “This committee has sounded the death knell for minority rights. This committee is nothing but a rubber stamp.”
Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fl., pushed back saying the committee did hear from several GOP witnesses during the nearly two weeks of hearings and that the rules don’t guarantee a full day for minority witnesses.
In addition, “we invited the president of the United States … to advocate for his views, to submit requested witnesses. But he chose not to attend, and he chose not to suggest any witnesses,” Deutch told Collins. “So before telling us the sky is falling and there’s great disrespect for the rules, it’s important to look at the rules.”
Later, Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., who participated in the impeachment of Bill Clinton in 1998, said Republicans have not been able to put on a fair defense because of the way the Democrats have run the process, such as allowing live witnesses called by the president.
In 1998, “both sides were allowed to present whatever witnesses they wanted to,” he said. “Here we don’t have a fair defense because of the rulings that have been made.”
- Ledyard King
Democrat: presidential sex not an abuse of power
The references to the 1998 impeachment of Bill Clinton over his lying about an affair with intern Monica Lewinsky have emerged as a recurring theme in Thursday's House Judiciary Committee hearing.
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., who was in the House during the Clinton impeachment, accused Republicans of being unreasonable for thinking Clinton’s conduct with a White House intern was an impeachable offense 21 years ago but President Donald Trump’s pressuring a foreign government for help in an election is not.
“If it’s lying about sex, we could put Stormy Daniels’ case ahead of us,” she said, referring to the porn star that Donald Trump paid off to silence their affair ahead of the presidential election. “We don’t believe that’s a high crime and misdemeanor. And it isn’t before us. And it should not be before us because it’s not an abuse of presidential power.”
- Ledyard King
GOP asks for another hearing
Republicans opened the voting session by repeating their demand for a hearing with witnesses chosen by Republicans.
Rep. James Sensenbrenner, R-Wis., had made the request because his colleagues complained about the lack of witnesses with facts about the accusations. But Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., hasn’t yet scheduled the hearing.
“It is a farce that we’re ruling on this today,” said Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the panel.
But Nadler claimed the request represented a broader privilege than the House rule allows. He argued the rule doesn’t require him to follow a specific schedule and that it shouldn't be used to delay impeachment proceedings. However, Nadler said he is "willing to work with" Republicans to schedule a hearing.
Collins appealed Nadler’s ruling. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., moved to table the appeal. The appeal was tabled on a party-line vote of 23 to 17.
- Bart Jansen
Meeting begins with a reading of the charges
The meeting began with clerk Madeline Strasser of the House Judiciary Committee reading the entire nine-page resolution spelling out the two articles: abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
As she was reading, Rep. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, interrupted and asked to halt the reading. Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., objected and the clerk kept reading.
Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler, D-N.Y., later raised concerns about GOP tactics to delay the proceedings.
- Ledyard King
What may happen next
If the articles of impeachment are approved today by the committee, the full House would then vote as early as next week on whether to impeach Trump. If approved, the Senate would hold a trial in early 2020, to decide whether to remove the president from office. If two-thirds of the Senate, or 67 senators, vote to convict, Trump would be removed and Vice President Mike Pence would become commander in chief.
Few expect that to happen in the GOP-controlled Senate, including majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., who said last month he "can't imagine a scenario" like that.
Both articles are drawn from the work of the House Intelligence Committee, which released a 300-page report on the investigation last week.
The Abuse of Power charge stems from Trump's decision to withhold roughly $400 million of congressionally approved military aid from Ukraine until the country announced an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden, a political rival. A meeting with Trump at the White House that Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky wanted was also dangled as a reward for the public probe.
Trump and his GOP allies have dismissed the allegation, saying the aid was released and Ukraine never made an announcement to investigate the Bidens. In addition, they point to Zelensky's statements that he never felt pressured to act in exchange for the aid.
But the article alleges that Trump only released the money after what some have called his "quid pro quo" became public.
The Obstruction of Congress charge cites Trump’s refusal to cooperate with the House inquiry, including his "unprecedented, categorical and indiscriminate defiance" of congressional subpoenas for documents and his unwillingness to let aides testify "without lawful cause or excuse."
The president's conduct to ignore an equal branch of government was not only historically brazen but unconstitutional, the article alleges.
The panel has 24 Democrats and 17 Republicans. But Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., was absent Wednesday and Thursday because of a heart ailment. He was reported in good condition.
Contributing: Courtney Subramanian, USA TODAY.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Trump impeachment: House Judiciary to begin voting on articles