WASHINGTON, D.C. — House Democrats moved Tuesday to charge President Donald Trump with at least two articles of impeachment — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — making him only the fourth president in U.S. history to face such a formal effort to remove him from office.
“We must be clear: No one, not even the president, is above the law,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, head of the committee that drafted the articles. “We do not take this action lightly, but we have taken an oath to defend the Constitution.”
The House Judiciary Committee is expected to approve the articles — and potentially add more charges — during a session Thursday that could last upward of 24 hours. The full House would then vote on whether to impeach the president next week.
On the heels of Monday’s hearing to receive evidence collected over the last two months, Democrats met behind closed doors Tuesday morning to discuss the impeachment effort. Applause could be heard from inside the room as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi of California, Nadler of New York and House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam B. Schiff of California entered the meeting.
Democrats say Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate his Democratic rivals —which came while he withheld a promised White House visit for Ukraine’s president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, and nearly $400 million in congressionally mandated security aid for the Eastern European country —is an abuse of power.
“President Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office, and has acted in a manner grossly incompatible with self-governance and the rule of law,” the abuse of power article states.
The second charge, obstruction of Congress, focuses on Trump’s attempts to block congressional oversight by prohibiting federal officials from complying with requests and subpoenas for testimony and evidence.
“In the history of the republic, no president has ever ordered the complete defiance of an impeachment inquiry or sought to obstruct and impede so comprehensively the ability of the House of Representatives to investigate ‘high crimes and misdemeanors,’” the obstruction of Congress article states.
The president has also refused to send an attorney to participate in the hearings, which would have given him a chance to present evidence in his defense and question witnesses.
“The president’s continuing abuse of power has left us no choice,” said Schiff, whose committee conducted the bulk of the investigation into Ukraine. “The evidence of the president’s misconduct is overwhelming and uncontested. … And when the president got caught, he committed his second impeachable act.”
Republicans argue Trump was working within his authority to direct foreign policy and had legitimate concerns about corruption in Ukraine. They say Democrats had always intended to impeach him and were just looking for a reason.
“There’s nothing that has actually come close to an impeachable offense,” Judiciary Committee ranking member Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., told reporters after the announcement.
Collins was incredulous that Democrats would want to charge Trump with obstructing Congress during such a short investigation and said the charge of abuse of power is too broad.
“I could put anything in there: ‘I don’t like the way he talked to Congress, I don’t like the way he got up in the morning.’ Abuse of power is so amorphous,” Collins said.
White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in a statement that Democrats have announced the “predetermined outcome of their sham impeachment.”
“The announcement of two baseless articles of impeachment does not hurt the president, it hurts the American people, who expect their elected officials to work on their behalf to strengthen our nation. The president will address these false charges in the Senate and expects to be fully exonerated, because he did nothing wrong,” she said.
If Trump is impeached, the Senate would then hold a trial, probably in January. The Republican-controlled chamber is expected to acquit, meaning Trump would remain in office.
Even with the House leadership’s announcement, there is debate among lawmakers about how expansive the articles should be. Many Democrats, particularly progressives, want to see a broad case made against the president that would encompass obstruction of justice charges for Trump’s actions documented in special counsel Robert S. Mueller III’s report on Russian election interference, including trying to fire Mueller.
More moderate Democratic lawmakers, especially those who represent districts Trump won in 2016, have advocated for a targeted approach largely focused on Ukraine.