The U.S. House Judiciary Committee is expected to approve articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump as early as Thursday, as majority Democrats push to punish a leader they say abused his power while Republicans criticize the process as politically motivated and lacking evidence.
The committee spent Wednesday night debating the articles, which accuse Trump of abusing his office by soliciting a foreign government - Ukraine - to interfere in the 2020 election and of obstructing Congress by directing his administration to ignore subpoenas as lawmakers investigated his conduct.
The debate is scheduled to continue Thursday before the committee holds a vote on whether to send the matter to the full House of Representatives.
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Trump denies wrongdoing. He has repeatedly referred to his discussions with Ukrainian leader Volodymyr Zelenskiy as "perfect," and said statements by Zelenskiy and other Ukrainian officials confirm his innocence.
The central allegation is that Trump pressured Ukraine by withholding $391 million in military aid while seeking a commitment from Ukrainian officials to investigate Joe Biden, the former U.S. vice president and one of Trump's potential opponents in the 2020 election.
"When the President weakens an ally who advances American security interests by fighting an American adversary, the President weakens America," Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerry Nadler said. "And when the President demands that a foreign government investigate his domestic political rivals, he corrupts our elections."
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The top Republican on the committee, Congressman Doug Collins, said Democrats have wanted to impeach Trump since the moment he took office, and that the facts of the case do not match the allegations they have presented.
"The president did not commit any crimes," he said. "The president had a longstanding skepticism of foreign aid and a deeply-held belief that Ukraine was corrupt, and not a good destination for American taxpayer dollars."
Once the committee approves the articles, the full House with its Democratic majority is expected to vote on them next week.
The final step in the process would be a trial in the Republican-majority Senate, which Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Wednesday would happen next month."Assuming that House Democrats send us articles of impeachment next week, a Senate trial will have to be our first item of business in January," McConnell said.
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A conviction in the Senate would lead to Trump's removal from office, but that is highly unlikely because at least 20 Republicans would have to side with Democrats to achieve the required threshold of 67 of the chamber's 100 members.
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.