U.S. House impeaches President Trump on abuse of power, obstruction

(Evan Vucci | AP) President Donald Trump speaks during a campaign rally at Kellogg Arena, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019, in Battle Creek, Mich.

Washington • It was a sad day. A somber day. A historic day.

And in the end, as expected, it was a partisan-filled day as the House voted largely along party lines to impeach President Donald Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, making him only the third president to face a Senate trial and possible removal from office in the 243-year-old American experiment.

For Democrats, the drastic move was about holding the president to account for his efforts to leverage hundreds of millions in U.S. aid to a foreign ally in exchange for an announcement of an investigation into a political rival.

For Republicans, it was a continuation of a three-year campaign by Trump's opponents to overturn the 2016 election.

“This vote this day is about one thing and one thing only: They hate this president,” Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, said of Democrats. “They hate those of us who voted for him. They think we’re stupid.”

Stewart, a staunch Trump supporter, and his Republican colleagues from Utah, Reps. Rob Bishop and John Curtis, voted against both articles of impeachment while Rep. Ben McAdams, the state’s only Democrat in Congress, backed the charges against Trump.

The evening vote, as expected, came down nearly along party lines with only two Democrats voting against both articles — one of whom has already said he’d switch to the Republican Party — and all GOP members casting ballots in lockstep against the impeachment. Independent Rep. Justin Amash, of Michigan, voted for impeachment.

Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a Hawaii Democrat and presidential candidate, voted “present.”

The final tally was 230 to 197 on the abuse of power charge and 229 to 198 on the obstruction charge.

Trump, at a rally in Michigan, dismissed the impeachment votes, noting “they’ve been trying to impeach me from day one.”

“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,” he said, adding later that it wasn’t him who would be stained by the vote.

“Crazy Nancy Pelosi’s House Democrats,” he said, “have branded themselves with an eternal mark of shame."

The divisive day, which comes nearly 21 years after the House impeached Democratic President Bill Clinton, began with a rally outside sprinkled with anti-Trump Santas and a prayer inside beckoning “wisdom and discernment” from the members assembled.

It ended with the Democratic-led House setting Trump up for a trial in the Senate, where the Republican majority is expected to acquit him in a year he seeks reelection.

(House Television via AP) Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah, speaks as the House of Representatives debates the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump at the Capitol in Washington, Wednesday, Dec. 18, 2019.

The timing was uncertain, after Pelosi suggested late Wednesday that she might wait to send the articles to the Senate, holding them out as leverage in a negotiation on the terms of a trial.

Republicans and Democrats traded time speaking on the House floor Wednesday, though their remarks were squarely aimed at their own side rather than convincing someone across the aisle.

"By his actions, President Trump has broken his oath of office,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat and chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. “His conduct continues to undermine our Constitution and threaten our next election. His actions warrant his impeachment and demand his removal from office.”

Responded Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee: “The biggest, most dangerous lie being peddled here is that the president, as an American citizen, is guilty until proven innocent.”

Bishop of Utah, an 18-year veteran of the House and a former high school history teacher, said between votes that "this is definitely a bad historic day.”

After the vote, he said that the entire process was horrible and has no real purpose other than allowing the Democrats to claim they did something.

“I actually I don’t know what it means,” Bishop said. “Obviously, as far as getting rid of Trump, it’s not going to happen. There’s no way there’s a conviction in the Senate.”

But, he noted, the last two presidents to be impeached, Clinton and Andrew Johnson, weren't removed from office and actually saw their popularity spike.

“This could be a plus for Trump,” Bishop said.

Trump’s son Eric Trump echoed that point in a conference call with reporters, predicting that Democrats will lose seats in the 2020 election and Trump will remain in the Oval Office.

“It’s going to backfire on them," Eric Trump said, “and he’s going to win a second term.”

It's unclear how the impeachment vote — or the eventual trial — will affect voters in the 2020 election.

Americans are split: 47 percent of Americans support impeachment and 47 percent oppose it, according to a tally by FiveThirtyEight’s poll tracker.

That survey shows public opinion hasn’t shifted on impeachment since the public hearings began.

The fracture also was reflected in a newly published poll by Utah Policy showing registered Utah voters are divided over whether the president should be impeached and removed from office, with a plurality of 47% opposed and 43% in support. The results were within the poll’s margin of error of plus or minus 4.6 percentage points.

McAdams, who barely won his seat in a district that Trump carried by 7 percentage points in 2016, said Wednesday he was “at peace” with his decision to back the impeachment, no matter the political consequences.

“It’s important to acknowledge that what the president did was wrong," McAdams said, “and that he should be held accountable for his actions that have weakened our country and weakened the checks and balances that are enshrined in the Constitution.”

The Democrat had not revealed how he would vote until Monday, when he announced it at a news conference.

As McAdams pointed out, Republicans hold a 53-seat majority in the Senate and it takes 67 votes in that chamber to remove a president from office, so Trump almost certainly won’t be cast out of the White House.

“Ultimately," McAdams said, “the voters are going to be the ones to decide President Trump’s consequences.”

On Wednesday, though, it was the House judging Trump over whether he violated his oath of office by pushing the leader of Ukraine to announce a corruption investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden while withholding congressionally approved military aid and then trying to cover up the effort.

While Republicans and Democrats shared the floor to speak, back and forth, it was at times like the two sides were on different planets.

Rep. Barry Loudermilk, R-Ga., compared the impeachment of Trump to the crucifixion of Christ.

“When Jesus was falsely accused of treason, Pontius Pilate gave Jesus the opportunity to face his accusers,” Loudermilk said. “During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than Democrats have afforded this president in this process.”

Rep. Mike Kelly, R-Pa., noted that the impeachment was happening in December, just like the attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941.

Today, he said, would be “another date that will live in infamy."

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, meanwhile, framed the impeachment to members as a duty to their oath of office.

“No member regardless of party or politics comes to Congress to impeach a president," said the California Democrat, “but every one of us, as our first act as a member of Congress, stood on this historic House floor before our beautiful American flag and raised our hands in this sacred oath.”

When a smattering of applause began on the Democratic side of the chamber after she announced approval of the first article of impeachment, Pelosi shot a look that immediately halted any clapping.

After 11 hours of debate Wednesday that followed 12 weeks of hearings and depositions that came on the heels of 18 months of investigation into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election, House members were ready to put the ball in the Senate’s court.

“Most of us are quite anxious to have the day behind us,” said Utah’s Congressman Curtis.