Lawmakers spend hours sparring over proposed amendments to the two counts against Donald Trump
Representative Pramila Jayapal speaks during a House judiciary committee markup of articles of impeachment against Donald Trump. Photograph: Matt McClain/Pool/EPA
The House judiciary committee prepared to advance articles of impeachment against Donald Trump on Thursday, following a marathon and at times meandering debate that stretched late into the night.
Democratic and Republican members had spent the day sparring over several proposed amendments to the two articles, which charge the president with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. Following their expected approval, the articles will be delivered to the House floor, where the full chamber could vote on whether to impeach Trump next week.
The hours-long debate was punctuated by moments of partisan repartee – and fleeting mentions of Bill Clinton and Stormy Daniels – over proposed amendments to the articles leveled against the president.
At one point, the committee’s leading Republican, Doug Collins of Georgia, walked away from his chair after a heated exchange over whether to allow an article chronicling the deadly impacts of withholding aid to Ukraine be entered into the record.
A Democratic representative compared the Republican’s conduct to that of Judas. “Today I’m reminded of Judas – because Judas for 30 pieces of silver betrayed Jesus; for 30 positive tweets for easy re-election, the other side is willing to betray the American people,” said Cedric L Richmond of New Orleans.
With Democrats in control of the committee, the day’s debate was largely a formality, notwithstanding simmering disagreements that have defined the impeachment inquiry since it began in late September.
Those disagreements were rejoined with gusto on Thursday, with Democrats saying the evidence of Trump’s wrongdoing was overwhelming and Republicans claiming that no such evidence existed.
Democrats accuse Trump of abusing his power for his own political benefit and at the expense of US national security, by conditioning military aid and an Oval Office meeting for Ukraine on the announcement of an investigation into the former vice-president Joe Biden, his political rival in the 2020 presidential election, and into a debunked conspiracy theory that Ukraine interfered in the 2016 election.
“The president committed the highest crime against the constitution by abusing his office, cheating in an election, inviting foreign interference for purely personal gain, while jeopardizing our national security and the integrity of our elections,” said the congressman Eric Swalwell, Democrat of California.
Trump denies wrongdoing.
The proposed amendments weighed by the committee ranged from the mundane – changing “Donald J Trump” to “Donald John Trump” – to the extraordinary. The Republican Matt Gaetz proposed adding the name of Biden’s son, Hunter Biden, to the articles of impeachment, and proceeded to read into the official record reportage about the younger Biden’s history of substance abuse.
The Democrat Hank Johnson rebuked Gaetz, warning members not to wade into personal matters and alluding to a 2008 arrest of Gaetz for driving under the influence, in a case that was later dropped by prosecutors. “I don’t think it’s proper,” said Johnson.
For hours, the committee debated an amendment proposed by the Republican Jim Jordan of Ohio that the first impeachment article, charging “abuse of power”, simply be deleted.
Arguing in favor of the amendment, the Republican Jim Sensenbrenner of Wisconsin, who sat on the committee during the 1998 impeachment of Bill Clinton, said that an alleged “abuse of power” had never been central to articles of impeachment.
“I think it’s obvious to the American people that this is a railroad job,” he said.
In reply, Democrats pointed out that past wrongdoing by presidents, including by Clinton, who lied to a grand jury about his relationship with Monica Lewinsky, did not involve the exercise of the official powers of the presidency, while Trump is accused of using official acts for his own personal gain.
The amendment was voted down. But Sensenbrenner’s evocation of the Clinton case prompted a veteran Democrat on the committee, Zoe Lofgren of California, to invoke Stormy Daniels, the pornographic movie actor and producer paid off by Trump in advance of the 2016 election. Trump has denied the relationship.
“If it’s lying about sex, we could put the Stormy Daniels case before us,” said Lofgren. “Lying about sex with Stormy Daniels – we don’t believe that’s a presidential abuse of power. And that’s not before us and it should not be before us.”
Later, another GOP amendment proposed that the second article of impeachment – obstruction of Congress – be struck out. And yet another amendment from the Republican Jim Joran of Ohio suggested excising language recommending that Trump should be removed from office.
Nadler called the latter “silly”. The proposed change “renders the two articles simply a catalog of various bad acts by the president, but takes the force and effect of the articles entirely away”, he said.
In keeping with their strategy to this point, Republicans did not attempt to defend Trump’s conduct in the Ukraine scheme on its merits, instead arguing that Democrats were conducting the inquiry improperly and proceeding on false grounds.
Despite a sense of the historical importance – and members’ efforts to dramatize the hearing with outbursts and impassioned colloquies – the mood was subdued. There were plenty of open seats in the hearing room, fewer reporters and fewer members sitting for the duration.
The House speaker, Nancy Pelosi, said the Democrats were not “whipping” the impeachment vote, meaning they claim not to be pursuing an organized intra-caucus lobbying campaign to pin down members and arrive in advance at a likely vote tally.
As the morning wore on, the Democrat Sheila Jackson Lee of Texas urged the committee to act.
“The president abuses power and is a continuing threat not only to our democracy and to our national security,” she said.