For nearly three years, Republicans and Democrats have fought tooth and nail over the deeds and demeanor of the mercurial figure in the Oval Office. With Friday's move to send impeachment charges against President Trump to the House floor, the divide has never been more pronounced.
The House Judiciary Committee voted 23 to 17 along strict party lines Friday morning to approve two impeachment articles accusing Trump of abusing his office in his dealings with Ukraine and obstructing Congress as Democrats sought to investigate the affair.
The votes, staged in the august, wood-walled Ways and Means Committee room just steps from the Capitol, was a sharp departure from the proceedings in the same cavernous space just a day before, when the sides clashed for 14 hours over the propriety of Trump's handling of foreign policy in Kyiv. Then, there were some moments of levity, even cordiality, as several Republicans applauded Chairman Jerrold Nadler's (D-N.Y.) handling of the marathon markup.
That tinge of comity was obliterated late Thursday night, when Nadler abruptly postponed the impeachment votes for 11 hours amid a hail of protest from Republicans, who were not forewarned. And the acrimony spilled into Friday morning, when a dour cast of Republican lawmakers reassembled on the dais to cast their nays, one by one, with sour expressions of lingering resentment. The process took all of seven minutes; there was no idle chatter across the aisle.
“The chairman's integrity is gone,” Rep. Doug Collins (Ga.), senior Republican on the committee, had charged the night before.
The tensions, while partly theatrical, highlight the increasing estrangement of the parties in the age of Trump — a dynamic only exacerbated by the fast-rolling impeachment inquiry that's captivated the country over the last three months and complicates efforts for bipartisan cooperation on any legislative initiatives heading into an election year.
The facts underlying the debate are hardly in dispute. Trump had pressed Ukraine's president to open two investigations that might have helped him politically — one into the son of former Vice President Joe Biden, a 2020 presidential hopeful; and another into 2016 election meddling — even as the administration was withholding $391 million in U.S. aid to Kyiv.
What remains hotly contested is whether that conduct represented a brazen abuse of power, as Democrats maintain; or a routine effort to combat corruption — and protect U.S. taxpayer dollars — in a country infamous for profiteering, as Republicans contend.
Those opposing narratives defined the three-day markup of the two impeachment articles, now scheduled to hit the House floor next Wednesday. And Democrats quickly praised the development, saying the effort to remove Trump from office is an unfortunate but necessary step for protecting the nation's very democracy from a president who sought foreign help to sway an election.
“This is a sad day for our country. But it is a necessary one,” said Rep. David Cicilline (R.I.), who heads the Democrats' messaging arm. “Donald Trump left us with no choice but to proceed as we have.”
Republicans countered with a host of gripes about the process, accusing Democrats of ramming the articles to the floor based on insufficient evidence and preconceived intentions of undoing Trump's 2016 victory.
“I have never in my entire life seen such an unfair, rigged railroad job against the president of the United States,” said Rep. Debbie Lesko (R-Ariz.), a member of the Judiciary panel. “They had no proof, no evidence, no crime. But they went ahead anyway, and they're tearing the country apart.”
Friday's votes all but ensure that Trump will become just the third president in U.S. history to be impeached, while guaranteeing even more than before that the president — already at the top of the 2020 ticket — will play an outsize role in congressional races down the ballot.
The president weighed in Friday morning, shortly after the Judiciary votes, to amplify arguments of his innocence and accusations that Democrats had denied him a fair defense.
“It’s a witch hunt, it’s a sham, it’s a hoax,” Trump said during an Oval Office meeting with Paraguay’s President Mario Abdo Benítez. “Zero was done wrong.”
Republican campaign operatives have already pounced on impeachment to attack vulnerable House Democrats, who are lining up to support the articles despite an early reluctance and the risks at the polls.
“[Voters] see what's happened here, they see the lack of evidence, they see this paper-thin impeachment proceeding. ... And I think there's going to be a huge political price paid by the Democrats at the polls next year,” Rep. Mike Johnson (La.), another Judiciary Republican, said Friday morning.
Democrats face the challenge of deflecting those barbs as they fight to keep the House majority, even as polls indicate that voter sentiment has shifted little on the topic in the weeks of public hearings and the markup of impeachment articles.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) acknowledged the challenge, but said she's confident that voters will swing in greater favor of impeachment once Democrats make “our case that their vote is being undermined.”
“It's robbing them of self-governance, it's robbing them of a democracy. Because there is no democracy unless your vote is meaningful, unless elections are fair and free,” she said.
“When Americans understand that, and if they can see through the lies and the obstruction and the obfuscation of the Republicans, then regardless of what happens in the Senate, I think this is a historic moment.”