The House judiciary committee took the first steps on Wednesday toward voting on articles of impeachment against Donald Trump, beginning a marathon two-day session to consider the charges against him.
The committee held a rare evening session to put the finishing touches on the articles, which were unveiled Tuesday.
It was not expected that lawmakers would make substantial changes to the highly workshopped articles, which charge the president with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
In his statement opening the special session, the committee chair, Jerrold Nadler, called Trump’s obstruction of Congress “complete, absolute and without precedent”.
He went on to say the impeachment debate should be framed around three questions: “First, does the evidence show clearly that the president committed these acts?
“Second, do they rise to the level of impeachable high crimes and misdemeanors?
“Third, what are the consequences for our national security, for the integrity of our elections, and for our country if we fail to act?”
Dozens of committee members took the floor, one by one, to deliver their five-minute opening statements. Democrats framed the impeachment articles as a solemn responsibility, as Republicans sought to paint the inquiry as a political ploy.
The top Republican on the committee, Doug Collins, said the articles were baseless and “nothing new”. Jim Sensenbrenner called it “the weakest case in history”.
The evening session will be followed by a Thursday morning meeting in which the committee would debate amendments to the resolution and then vote on the articles. Both articles were expected to be approved by the committee along party lines.
If the committee completes its work by Thursday afternoon as expected, a full House vote on whether to impeach Trump could be held next Tuesday or Wednesday. But judiciary committee members would have to conclude their work Thursday before a planned recess that afternoon for a 75th anniversary commemoration of the Battle of the Bulge.
Running to barely nine pages, the succinct impeachment resolution describes how Trump allegedly used the power of his office to pressure Ukraine to tamper in the 2020 US election, at the expense of US national security and elections integrity.
The resolution says Trump further obstructed Congress by directing “the unprecedented, categorical and indiscriminate defiance of subpoenas issued by the House of Representatives pursuant to its ‘sole power of impeachment’.
“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 resolution states.
Saying that Trump had “ignored and injured the interests of the nation”, the resolution declares that Trump “thus warrants impeachment and trial, removal from office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any office of honor, trust or profit under the United States.”
At a campaign-style rally in Pennsylvania Tuesday night, Trump said impeachment was “stupid” and falsely claimed that “our poll numbers have gone through the roof” owing to the impeachment process. Polling averages show Trump’s approval basically static at about minus-12 points.
Agencies contributed reporting