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House chairman tables vote on impeachment articles until Friday

Updated December 12, 2019 - 10:29 pm

WASHINGTON — Republicans reacted with outrage late Thursday night when House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler, abruptly canceled a final vote on impeachment articles against President Donald Trump, pushing the planned vote to Friday.

Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., the ranking Republican on the committee, accused Nadler, D-N.Y., of “ambushing” the minority by pushing the vote back.

“They are more concerned about getting on TV,” Collins said, noting that the debate ended after television newscasts on the East Coast and after two days of debate.

Collins said he was not consulted about the delay in plans and called it “the most bush-league stunt” ever.”

Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, called the move “Stalinesque.”

The committee had spent Thursday debating the articles of impeachment charging Trump with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress over a request that Ukraine launch political investigations to aid his re-election.

Judiciary Democrats earlier dispatched Republican amendments on a straight 17-23 party-line vote.

“President Trump has acted in a manner contrary to his trust as president and subversive of constitutional government,” Nadler said before he recessed the committee vote until Friday.

It is only the fourth time in U.S. history that the Judiciary panel is considering articles of impeachment in a process that the nation’s founders included in the Constitution as a mechanism to remove a sitting president — an outcome that nonetheless appears unlikely in the Senate.

Partisanship on display

A hyper-partisan spectacle was on display Thursday as Republicans angrily accused Democrats of being politically motivated to push a vote on impeachment without evidence to prove the crimes they allege.

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said the charges are “not frivolous and without facts.”

Lee invoked the memory of the late Rep. Barbara Jordan of Texas, who rose to fame when the Judiciary Committee voted on articles to impeach Richard Nixon in 1974.

“There are no factual underpinnings to impeach this president,” Collins said.

Republican Rep. James Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin said: “It’s obvious to all Americans that this is a railroad job.”

The committee held a series of House hearings into a telephone call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskiy on July 25. In that call Trump asked Zelenskiy to investigate political rival Joe Biden.

While the request was made, the Trump administration withheld nearly $400 million in military for Ukraine to fight Russian-back separatists.

After a whistleblower complained about the call, the White House released a transcript of the conversation between the two leaders that became a road map for the Democrats who drafted the impeachment articles.

The U.S. president then ordered administration officials not to obey congressional subpoenas seeking testimony and documents when the House began an impeachment inquiry. That led to the obstruction article.

Trump has declined to appear before the House, calling the inquiry a “witch hunt” and a “hoax.” A White House spokesman said the president will make his case during a Senate trial on the House charges.

The president instead took to social media to defend himself on Twitter.

“New Polls Say Most Americans Oppose Impeachment,” Trump tweeted. “I did nothing wrong. This will be the first Impeachment ever where there was no crime. They don’t even allege a crime. Crazy!”

Republicans offered less of a defense of the president and more of an attack on Democrats for the process. The committee is expected to vote along party lines to approve the articles on Friday and the full House is expected to vote next week.

That would set up a trial in the Republican-led Senate in early 2020 — well before the general election.

Trump has used impeachment on the campaign trail to rally supporters, accusing Democrats of trying to undo the 2016 presidential election in a case that lacks proof.

But State Department and some administration witnesses testified that Trump sought the political investigation into Biden, and his son, Hunter Biden, who served on the Burisma board of directors while the elder was vice president. Burisma is a Ukrainian gas company.

Trump, through personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, also wanted an investigation into whether Ukraine, not Russia, meddled in the 2016 election, a theory that has been debunked by U.S. intelligence agencies.

Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., said the only two people who benefited from the investigations and the withholding of aid were the president, who would receive “a smear against his political opponent,” and Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Cicilline presented a letter signed by 500 constitutional scholars across the ideological spectrum that said the president’s misconduct is clearly impeachable, violated the public trust and undermined the security of the United States to benefit personally.

When Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga., asked his Republican colleagues whether it could ever be appropriate for a president to ask a foreign government to interfere in our elections, the question brought a silence to the hearing room.

“The silence is deafening,” Johnson said to Republicans.“Let your conscience be your guide.”

Republicans tried to shift the focus to the Bidens.

Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fla., offered an amendment to delete former Vice President Biden’s name into the charge of abuse of office and insert Hunter Biden’s name into the article.

Debate gets personal

The amendment by Gaetz raised the committee debate to personal recrimination.

Gaetz brought up the younger Biden’s substance abuse, a traffic stop and the discovery of a crack pipe.

That drew a rebuke from Johnson, who without mentioning Gaetz’s own DUI arrest, said any committee member to bring up substance abuse in the course of the debate is the “pot calling the kettle black.”

“This is about distraction, distraction, distraction,” Jackson Lee said.

But Gaetz continued. He brought up Hunter Biden’s divorce and gifts and money he has received from foreign governments.

And Gaetz predicted a “blood lust” of impeachment by Democratic leaders would hurt moderates in that party facing political challenges in congressional districts where Trump is popular.

“Republicans are united,” Gaetz said.

Full House vote expected next week

The full House is expected to vote on the articles of impeachment next week before Congress leaves for a holiday recess.

If the articles are approved, as is expected in the Democrat-controlled House, the charges will move to the GOP-led Senate for a trial.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said this week that it would be unlikely that Democrats could muster the two-thirds majority, or 67 votes, needed to remove the president from office.

Some Senate Republicans appear interested in holding a quick trial, without witnesses, to dispatch the divisive issue quickly.

Senate Majority Whip John Thune, R-S.D., told The Washington Post this week that some lawmakers want to hear arguments, hear the case and reach a conclusion.

But McConnell told FOX News on Thursday that the trial would be coordinated with Senate Republicans and the White House.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

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