The Democratic-controlled House Judiciary Committee is starting to weigh impeachment allegations against President Donald Trump late Wednesday, initiating a quick schedule that by next week could make him only the third American leader to be impeached.
The Judiciary panel will consider two articles of impeachment against Trump, the country's 45th president who is seeking reelection to a second term next November.
Democratic leaders on Tuesday accused him of abusing his presidency in recent months by soliciting Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open an investigation of one of Trump's chief 2020 Democratic rivals, former Vice President Joe Biden, and then obstructing congressional review of his actions by refusing to turn over key documents to impeachment investigators and blocking top aides from testifying.
After debate Wednesday night, the Judiciary Committee could vote as soon as Thursday to advance the impeachment allegations to the full House of Representatives for a simple-majority vote there next week. The committee vote is likely to fall along strict party lines, with all 24 Democratic lawmakers voting for impeachment and all 17 Republicans supporting Trump and opposing his impeachment.
Senate conviction unlikely
Trump has often mocked the impeachment effort targeting his three-year presidency, confidently predicting, assuming the House impeaches him in the coming days, that he will be vindicated by the Republican-majority Senate at a trial in January.
The U.S. leader boasted of his own political skills in handling the crisis at a political rally Tuesday night in Pennsylvania, a key state in next year's election.
"You're so lucky I became your president," he told cheering supporters. "A regular president would have been under the table, thumb in mouth, saying 'take me home, Mommy, this is too tough for me.'"
On Wednesday, Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell, a Trump ally, told other lawmakers that if the House, as expected, impeaches Trump, "A Senate trial will have to be our first item of business in January."
Trump's conviction in the Senate remains unlikely, with at least 20 Republicans needed to turn against Trump to reach the 67-vote threshold in the 100-member chamber to convict him and oust him from the White House. Two other U.S. presidents - Andrew Johnson in the mid-19th century and Bill Clinton two decades ago - were impeached, but both were acquitted in the Senate and remained in office.
In his Senate speech, McConnell assailed the Democratic impeachment effort against Trump, saying the president's political opposition has been set on his removal since the day he took the oath of office in early 2017. He called the process rushed and "based on the least thorough and most unfair impeachment inquiry in modern history."
He concluded, "If the House continues down this destructive road and sends us articles of impeachment, the Senate will take them up in the new year and proceed to a fair trial."
Articles of impeachment
The articles of impeachment accuse Trump of enlisting a foreign government, Ukraine, in "corrupting" the U.S. election process by asking for the Biden investigation and endangering national security at the same time he was temporarily withholding $391 million in military aid Kyiv, a U.S. ally, wanted to help fight pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
The nine-page impeachment resolution alleges that Trump, by his conduct, "demonstrated he will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office."
Trump has said he did nothing wrong in asking Zelenskiy for the investigation of Biden, his son Hunter Biden's work for a Ukrainian natural gas company and a debunked theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election to undermine Trump. The U.S. intelligence community concluded that Russia interfered to help Trump win.
Trump tweeted that to impeach a president "who has done NOTHING wrong, is sheer Political Madness."
It is only the fourth time in the 243-year history of the United States that impeachment charges have been brought against an American leader. Aside from the allegations against Johnson and Clinton, President Richard M. Nixon faced certain impeachment in the 1970s in the Watergate political corruption scandal, but resigned before the House could vote against him.
House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerrold Nadler contended that Trump "sees himself as above the law. He consistently puts himself above the country."
Trump, at the Tuesday political rally, called the allegations against him "two flimsy, pathetic, ridiculous articles of impeachment," saying Democrats "want to win an election and that's the only way they can do it."