WASHINGTON: US President Donald Trump (pix) stood on the verge of impeachment Friday after a House panel approved charges he abused his power and obstructed Congress, setting up a historic vote in the chamber next week.
In a grave moment for a deeply divided nation, members of the Judiciary Committee voted along party lines to approve two articles of impeachment against the president for committing acts that met the constitutional threshold of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
The panel recommended by 23 votes to 17 that the Democratic-led House ratify both articles, ahead of a vote by the entire chamber that is expected to make Trump only the third US president in history to be impeached, after Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998.
“Today is a solemn and sad day,“ committee chairman Jerry Nadler said after the vote, which was called with surprising speed the day after a rancorous 14-hour debate.
“Yet we must meet the challenge posed by a president who puts himself before the country, whose actions pose a direct threat to the integrity of our elections, and to the separation of powers that safeguard our liberty.”
One article charges the president with abuse of power for conditioning US$391 million (RM1.6 billion) in critical military aid and a White House meeting on Ukraine launching investigations into Democrats ahead of the 2020 presidential election.
The other charges him with obstructing Congress for refusing to cooperate with the inquiry, a development Democrats say is unprecedented in American history.
Nadler said the House will act “expeditiously” to vote on the charges.
The chamber’s Rules Committee will convene Tuesday morning to lay out guidelines for the impeachment debate and eventual vote.
Impeachment would trigger a January trial in the Senate, where the solid Republican majority is expected to protect the president by voting against conviction and removal.
An ever-defiant Trump, who insists there is a witch hunt against him, called the panel’s impeachment vote “an embarrassment to our country.”
He also insisted the divisive process will be “very good for me politically” as Americans face a presidential election next November.
But while the White House said Trump looks forward to a fair trial and due process in the Senate, the president lashed out at Democratic “fools” and branded House Speaker Nancy Pelosi a “liar.”
‘Travesty for America’
The panel’s fractious debate session Thursday came to a surprising late-night end when Nadler abruptly postponed the votes.
Startled Republicans accused Nadler of running a “kangaroo court,“ but Democrats said they did not want to be accused of taking such momentous action against the president in the dead of night.
Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, who held up a pocket copy of the US Constitution as she voted, said she was not acting against Trump as a person.
“It is a vote for the Constitution and for ‘We the People,‘” she said, quoting the charter’s preamble.
But Republicans have circled the wagons around the president, insisting he has done no wrong and accusing Democrats of dangerous overreach.
Republican Debbie Lesko emerged from the ornate hearing room where she cast her vote calling the process a “travesty for America.”
“I have never, in my entire life, seen such an unfair, rigged railroad job against the president of the United States.”
Fellow Republican Matt Gaetz warned that Democrats were eager to oust Trump “with no direct evidence” of criminal behavior.
“For Democrats, impeachment is their drug, it is their obsession,“ he said.
Both sides were already girding for Trump’s trial in the Senate, where conviction and removal would require two-thirds of votes.
“There is zero chance that the president will be removed from office,“ said Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose Republicans hold 53 of the 100 seats.
McConnell also told Fox News he will be in lockstep with Trump, “coordinating with the White House counsel” regardless of his expected role as impartial juror in the trial.
Trump has signalled to aides that he wants a full-throated defense in the Senate, with witnesses testifying in person.
Republican leaders, mindful of political fallout, indicated they would rather not see the process turn into a drawn-out spectacle.
“I’ll do long or short,“ Trump said Friday when asked whether he wants an extended trial.
But he added that he “wouldn’t mind a long process” because he wants to hear testimony from the whistleblower who triggered the process earlier this year.
Pelosi launched the impeachment inquiry in September after an unidentified whistleblower warned in a complaint that Trump, on a telephone call with his Ukrainian counterpart, used the power of his office to “solicit interference” from the foreign leader in the 2020 election.
In the July 25 call Trump asked President Volodymyr Zelensky to launch an investigation into former US vice president Joe Biden, Trump’s potential election rival. — AFP