WASHINGTON – As the House of Representatives debated making Donald Trump the third president in history to be impeached, his aides expressed grim defiance Wednesday at what they called an unfair process.
Trump fired off an all caps tweet in the middle of the day, attacking the impeachment drive as "ATROCIOUS LIES BY THE RADICAL LEFT" and an "ASSAULT ON AMERICA."
The president steadily tweeted and re-tweeted missives railing against the impeachment drive as he prepared what aides described as highly critical remarks for a campaign rally in Michigan in the evening.
"Can you believe that I will be impeached today by the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats, AND I DID NOTHING WRONG!" Trump wrote, later adding: "This should never happen to another President again. Say a PRAYER!"
Within the West Wing, aides went about their regular duties, holding meetings and making calls while occasionally glancing at banks of television screens where the House debate played.
They have anticipated this day for weeks, various aides said, and are used to the attention. Some noted they have been under siege since Trump moved into the White House. Others said they wanted the House to get it over with and send the impeachment case to the Republican-led Senate for trial.
When not watching television – the volume was turned up in some offices – aides planned future Trump events, including the signing of a defense spending bill now scheduled for Friday, his last action before he leaves town for his Mar-a-Lago resort in Palm Beach, Fla., for the holidays. Aides are also preparing for approval of an overall spending bill to avoid a shutdown of the government, as happened last year.
Keep up with the news: Stay updated with USA TODAY's impeachment coverage
Uncharacteristically, Trump passed up a chance late Wednesday afternoon to talk to reporters as he boarded the presidential helicopter on the South Lawn ahead of the Michigan rally, but aides said he'd have a lot say about the day's events at the rally.
Trump and his aides expressed confidence they would prevail in the long run – surely in the Senate next month, and perhaps at the ballot box in November. They cited polls showing slight improvement in Trump's numbers during the course of the House impeachment inquiry.
In an interview on Fox & Friends, one of Trump's favorite news programs, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said "today is a very, very sad day for this country." She said "history is not going to look kindly" on Democrats leading the impeachment drive against Trump.
Grisham told Fox that Trump is "focused" on his work, but also "frustrated" by the impeachment process, as evidenced in his harsh letter Tuesday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
She said Trump would be "working all day," and would be briefed on the debate throughout the debate. He "could catch some of the proceedings between meetings," she said.
In an angry six-page letter to Pelosi Tuesday, Trump told that the Democrats "have cheapened the importance of the very ugly word, impeachment!” He used words like "coup," "assault," and "derangement" to describe efforts to drive him from office.
The White House delivered a copy of that letter along with a Christmas card, emblazoned with a gold American flag to all 100 U.S. senators.
Meanwhile, senior White House aide Kellyanne Conway attended a GOP Senate luncheon to discuss impeachment and the latest polls before appearing in the press room for a pair of media interviews and an impromptu news conference with reporters. She criticized the impeachment articles as "spare" and "specious."
"I don't think anybody is surprised today," she said, calling the House vote "pre-ordained."
After starting his tweet storm before the sun came up, Trump later headed one of his favorite places: a campaign rally in a key swing state. Trump will take the stage in Battle Creek, Michigan, a state he won by less than 11,000 votes in 2016.
The expectation of an evening House impeachment votes raised the potential for an extraordinary split-screen moment: Trump on one side whipping up his supporters, the House on the other casting votes to impeach him.
When a Republican-run House voted in late 1998 to impeach President Bill Clinton, he invited Democrats over to the White House for a pep rally of support. Nothing like that is in the offing Wednesday.
Previewing that rally in an interview with a Detroit-based talk radio host, White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said the president plans to keep working on behalf of the people who elected him,.
"The president has done nothing wrong and he's moving forward," Gidley told WJR-AM radio.
Vice President Mike Pence is also in Michigan pushing back on the impeachment vote, telling supporters in Saginaw it was "a disgrace." He planned to introduce Trump in Battle Creek, a role he's played on the campaign trail in recent weeks.
Trump is poised to join Andrew Johnson and Clinton as the only U.S. presidents to be impeached, though both were acquitted by the Senate. President Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 as the House prepared to impeach him.
From a 'perfect' call to a party switch: How we got to the impeachment of Donald Trump
The president and his aides do not expect the Republican-run Senate to convict and remove him from office – in fact, they claim the trial will bolster him as he seeks re-election in November.
At the start of the day, social media director Dan Scavino used his personal Twitter account to post a countdown clock toward the next election - 320 days away as of Wednesday.
Tweeted Scavino: "While Dems interfere in the 2020 Presidential Election... The countdown for a massive #TrumpLandslideVictory2020 has begun..."
Campaign spokesman Tim Murtaugh on Twitter pointed to a new Gallup poll that found Trump's approval rating had jumped six points to 45% since the start of the impeachment inquiry, showing the president "is on the rise again."
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Impeachment: Trump, aides defiant as they brace for historic vote