WASHINGTON — Democrats and Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee began sparring over the articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump on Thursday, the final step before voting on the resolution.
The panel is expected to approve two articles of impeachment — one for abuse of power, the other for obstruction of Congress — sometime Thursday. But committee rules allow for extended debate, which means Republicans could drag out the proceedings by delivering speeches or floating amendments, which are circulated on paper during the hearing and must be considered.
Although the committee room has been usually packed with spectators, tourists and congressional staff during weeks of public hearings, rows of seats were noticeably empty Thursday as the final procedural process began.
Republicans began the hearing by demanding that Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.), the committee chair, allow them to have their own hearing and call their own witnesses.
Nadler said Republicans were trying to delay the impeachment proceedings, and he suggested he would be open to such a hearing in the future — a concession that did nothing to placate his critics.
“For goodness sakes, we’re voting on this today,” Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.) said. “It’s no good to have a date in the future.”
Democrats’ case against Trump focuses on his push for Ukraine to launch investigations that would help him politically. In particular, he wanted Ukraine to announce an investigation of Joe Biden, the former vice president who could be his Democratic opponent in next year’s election.
Trump “betrayed the Nation by abusing his high office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections,” according to the articles of impeachment. He also “abused the powers of his high office” by directing administration officials to defy congressional subpoenas.
The Democratic-controlled House is expected to vote next week to make Trump the third president in U.S. history to be impeached. The Senate would conduct a trial early in the new year, but with Republicans in charge of the chamber, it’s unlikely that Trump will be removed from office.
The hearing began Wednesday evening as every member of the committee — there are 41, although Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) was absent for a heart procedure — had an opportunity to deliver an opening statement. The five-minute speeches lasted for more than three hours.
Democrats delivered dire warnings about Trump threatening U.S. democracy, often couching their speeches in personal stories about treasuring the right to vote in fair elections.
“He decided to cheat in the upcoming election,” said Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) said. “And he got caught.”
Republicans accused Democrats of trying to overturn the last election by railroading the president on specious charges — or as Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.) put it, pursuing a “three-year vendetta against someone they couldn’t beat.”
During the proceedings, Republicans have generally focused on criticizing the impeachment process itself, rather than claim Trump’s actions were blameless. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) called it the most “tragic mockery of justice in the history of this nation.”