US lawmakers took the grave step Friday of approving two charges against Donald Trump, setting up a full House of Representatives vote to impeach the president for abusing his powers and obstructing Congress.
Democrats and Republicans in the House Judiciary Committee voted along strict party lines, 23 to 17, appearing somber as they put Trump on track to become only the third US president ever to be impeached.
“Today is a solemn and sad day,” committee chairman Jerry Nadler said after the votes, which were called with surprising speed following a caustic, 14-hour debate the previous day.
The historic votes approved two articles: one charges the president with abuse of power for conditioning military aid and a White House meeting on Ukraine launching investigations into Democrats and obstruction of Congress for his blanket refusal to cooperate with any aspect of the inquiry.
The articles of impeachment will now be considered by the full House, which will vote next week on impeaching Trump.
“The House will act expeditiously,” Nadler said in brief remarks.
The move would trigger a trial of Trump in the Senate, where the Republican majority is expected to protect the president by voting against conviction and removal.
Trump, who rejects the impeachment process as a “witch hunt,” sought to show he was hard at work during the vote, tweeting about a trade agreement reached with China.
But White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham slammed the committee vote as the “shameful end” to a “desperate charade.”
“The president looks forward to receiving in the Senate the fair treatment and due process which continues to be disgracefully denied to him by the House,” she said.
The panel’s fractious debate session Thursday came to a surprising late-night end when Nadler abruptly postponed the votes, saying he wanted to give committee members time to “search their conscience” over the evidence presented against the president.
Startled Republicans bitterly accused Nadler of running a “kangaroo court.” One them, congressman Louie Gohmert, called the proceedings “Stalinesque.”
But Democrats said they did not want to be accused of taking such a momentous action against the president in the dead of night.
Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, who appeared to hold up a pocket copy of the US Constitution as she cast her votes, said she was not acting against Trump as a person.
“It is a vote for the Constitution and for ‘We, the People,’” she said in a statement, quoting the preamble to the charter.
But Republicans have circled the wagons around their president, insisting he has done no wrong and accusing Democrats of dangerous overreach.
“Democrats are attempting to knee-cap our democracy” and have “gravely abused their power,” the Judiciary Committee’s ranking Republican Doug Collins said in a statement.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy branded the process as “nothing more than a political hit-job against the President.”
Both sides were already readying for a Trump trial in the Senate, where the president is protected by a solid Republican majority.
“There is zero chance that the president will be removed from office,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told Fox News.
The top Republican in Congress also revealed he will be in lockstep with Trump, regardless of his expected role as an impartial juror in the trial.
“Everything I do during this, I’m coordinating with the White House counsel,” McConnell said.
Trump has signalled to aides that he wants a full-throated defence in the Senate, with witnesses testifying in person.
But Republican leaders, mindful of political fallout, indicated they would rather not see the process turn into a drawn-out spectacle.