Judiciary panel takes first steps toward impeachment vote

WASHINGTON (AP) – The House Judiciary Committee has taken the first steps toward voting on articles of impeachment against United States (US) President Donald Trump, beginning a marathon two-day session to consider the historic charges with a lively prime-time hearing at the Capitol.

Democrats and Republicans used the otherwise procedural meeting on Wednesday evening to deliver sharp, poignant and, at times, personal arguments for and against impeachment. Both sides appealed to Americans’ sense of history – Democrats describing a strong sense of duty to stop what one called the president’s “constitutional crime spree” and Republicans decrying the “hot garbage’’ impeachment and what it means for the future of the country.

Rep David Cicilline of Rhode Island asked Republicans standing by Trump to “wake up” and honour their oath of office. Republican Rep Mike Johnson of Louisiana responded with his own request to “put your country over party.” Rep Lou Correa, D-Calif., shared his views in both English and Spanish.

One Democrat, Rep Val Demings of Florida, told the panel that, as a descendant of slaves and now a member of Congress, she has faith in America because it is “government of the people” and in this country “nobody is above the law.” Freshman Democratic Rep Lucy McBath of Georgia emotionally talked about losing her son to gun violence and said that while impeachment was not why she came to Washington, she wants to “fight for an America that my son Jordan would be proud of.”

Republican Rep Jim Jordan of Ohio said Democrats are impeaching because “they don’t like us,” and read out a long list of Trump’s accomplishments.

Representative Jim Jordan (C) speaks during the House Judiciary Committee’s markup of House Resolution 755, Articles of Impeachment Against US President Donald J Trump on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC. PHOTO: AFP

“It’s not just because they don’t like the president, they don’t like us,” Jordan added. “They don’t like the 63 million people who voted for this President, all of us in flyover country, all of us common folk in Ohio, Wisconsin, Tennessee and Texas.”

The committee is considering two articles of impeachment introduced by Democrats. They charge Trump with abuse of power for asking Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden while withholding aid as leverage, and obstruction of Congress for stonewalling the House’s investigation.

The committee is expected to vote to send the articles to the full House, which is expected to vote next week. That could come after hours of debate over Republican amendments, though the articles aren’t likely to be changed. Democrats are unlikely to accept any amendments proposed by Republicans unified against Trump’s impeachment.

Democrats are also unified. They have agreed to the language, which spans only nine pages and says that Trump acted “corruptly” and “betrayed the nation” when he asked Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden and the 2016 US election. Hamstrung in the minority, Republicans wouldn’t have the votes to make changes without support from at least some Democrats.

The Wednesday evening session of the 41-member panel lasted more than three hours, with opening statements from lawmakers on both sides of the aisle.

House Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler opened the hearing by making a final argument for impeachment and urging his Republican colleagues to reconsider. He said the committee should consider whether the evidence shows that Trump committed these acts, if they rise to the level of impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors and what the consequences are if they fail to act.

“When his time has passed, when his grip on our politics is gone, when our country returns, as surely it will, to calmer times and stronger leadership, history will look back on our actions here today,” Nadler said. “How would you be remembered?”