Republican-led Senate to decide U.S. president’s fate in trial expected to begin next year
U.S. President Donald Trump was on Wednesday impeached for abuse of power by the House of Representatives, leaving it up to a Senate trial to either remove him from office or exonerate him.
With a 230 to 197 vote in the Democratic-majority House, the 45th U.S. president became just the third American leader to be impeached. Prior to the vote, Democrats said they had “no choice” but to formally charge the 73-year-old Republican, whose impeachment risks furthering the U.S. political divide.
“What is at risk here is the very idea of America,” Adam Schiff, the lawmaker who led the impeachment inquiry, was quoted as saying ahead of the vote by news agency AFP.
The House vote comes four months after a whistleblower alleged that Trump had pressured the Ukrainian president to launch an investigate into the business dealings of veteran Democrat Joe Biden, his potential White House challenger in 2020.
In a second vote of 229-198, lawmakers also approved the second article of impeachment facing Trump for obstructing the congressional probe into his Ukraine dealings.
While the debate and vote over the impeachment was ongoing, Trump was staging a rally in Battle Creek, Michigan. “The Democrats are declaring their deep hatred and disdain for the American voter,” Trump said to boos and cheers from his supporters. “They’ve been trying to impeach me from day one. They’ve been trying to impeach me from before I ran,” he said. “Four more years, four more years,” the crowd chanted back.
White House spokesperson Stephanie Grisham slammed the House vote as “one of the most shameful political episodes in the history of our nation,” saying Trump “is prepared for the next steps and confident that he will be fully exonerated.”
There is historical precedence for this note of confidence. The only two previous U.S. presidents to face impeachment—Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998—were both exonerated in the Senate and held onto their jobs.
Despite the high likelihood of Trump being cleared by Senate Republicans, Democrats said that overwhelming evidence had forced them to act. “It is tragic that the president’s reckless actions make impeachment necessary. He gave us no choice,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. “It is a matter of fact that the president is an ongoing threat to our national security and the integrity of our elections.”
Republicans, meanwhile, claimed Trump was treated more unfairly than witches tried in the 17th century—or even Jesus Christ. “Pontius Pilate gave Jesus the opportunity to face his accusers. During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than the Democrats afforded this president and this process,” AFP quoted Georgia Republican Barry Loudermilk as saying. “Voters will never forget that Democrats have been triggered into impeaching the president, because they don’t like him, and they don’t like us,” claimed Republican Matt Gaetz.
Removing Trump would require a two-thirds majority in the 100-member Senate, meaning at least 20 Republicans would have to join Democrats in voting against Trump—and none have indicated they will. The Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, has predicted there is “no chance” his chamber will remove Trump when it holds its trial.
Reuters/Ipsos polls show that while most Democrats want to see him impeached, most Republicans do not. Televised hearings last month that were meant to build public support for impeachment appear to have pushed the two sides further apart.
Democrats declared after Wednesday’s vote that McConnell needs testimony from four current and former White House aides with direct knowledge of Trump’s Ukraine dealings—and who he blocked from testifying in the House. “The question is now whether Senator McConnell will allow a fair trial in the Senate, whether the majority leader will allow a trial that involves witnesses and testimony and documents,” said Schiff.
Pelosi hinted that the House leaders could hold off sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate to pressure McConnell on the witness issue. “So far, we haven’t seen anything that looks fair to us,” she told reporters. “We’ll decide what that dynamic is. But right now, the president is impeached.”