The House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump Wednesday evening for both abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
The first article of impeachment, charging Trump with abuse of power, passed by a 230-197 margin. The second article, on obstruction of Congress, passed 229-198.
The votes went down almost entirely on party lines. Justin Amash (I-MI), who left the Republican Party earlier this year, voted for impeachment. Just two Democrats — Reps. Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Jeff Van Drew (D-NJ), the latter of whom is reportedly joining the Republican Party — voted against the first article of impeachment. A third, Rep. Jared Golden (D-ME), voted for the first article but against the second. Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-HI), voted “present” (neither yes or no) on both articles. Every other Democrat and Republican voting has stuck with his or her respective party.
This impeachment vote does not remove President Trump from office. Instead, all it does is pave the way for a trial in the Senate. It is the Senate that will vote on whether to convict and remove Trump. And his acquittal there, in that GOP-controlled chamber, is all but certain.
The partisan split on the impeachment issue is remarkable because many of the underlying facts in the impeachment inquiry aren’t even disputed.
President Trump did urge Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky to investigate Joe Biden and the DNC server in their July 25 phone call. Trump officials did present the Ukrainians with a “quid pro quo” — an announcement on investigations would get Zelensky a meeting at the White House. President Trump did block hundreds of millions of dollars in military aid for Ukraine in part to get Ukraine to launch investigations, his chief of staff admitted.
All of this, Democrats argued, meant Trump clearly abused his power. “When President Trump conditioned military aid on a personal favor, he harmed America’s national security,” House Judiciary Committee chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY) said during a day-long floor debate. ”And when he demanded that a foreign government target his domestic political rival, he took steps to corrupt our next election.”
Yet none of this was sufficient to convince a single House Republican to vote for impeachment. Instead, the GOP united to defend their unquestioned leader: President Trump.
Republicans offered a variety of justifications for their no votes. Some simply said the Democrats’ process was too rushed. Some said there wasn’t enough evidence Trump did the things alleged. Some argued that, even if he did do them, it wouldn’t be so bad, because it’s really the Bidens, not Trump, who are corrupt. Some argued the Democrats themselves didn’t believe the conduct was so bad, and were just impeaching Trump out of personal animus or political fears about 2020. And some focused on insisting Democrats shouldn’t overturn “the will of the voters” (as, apparently, expressed in key Electoral College states in 2016).
Lurking behind all this, though, was the unavoidable fact that although Trump remains unpopular overall, he’s still quite popular with Republican voters. Those voters want their representatives to continue to support Trump. And so they did just that.
How we got here
Some Democrats have wanted to impeach Trump almost since he was inaugurated in 2017, but that was a minority position in the House caucus as 2019 began with Democrats in control for the first time since he took office. House leaders like Speaker Nancy Pelosi in fact spent most of the year trying to fend off pressure from the party’s base to impeach Trump (on either the Mueller investigation’s findings or other alleged abuses of office).
But everything changed in September, when news broke that a whistleblower alleged that Trump pressured Ukraine’s government to investigate the Bidens. Dramatic revelation after dramatic revelation followed, and Democrats — including some moderate members in Trump-voting districts — decided they had to take action. So Speaker Nancy Pelosi backed an impeachment inquiry for the first time on September 24.
What followed was a relatively brief but surprisingly revelatory fact-gathering process in the House, led by Chairman Adam Schiff’s Intelligence Committee. A lineup of current and former administration officials defied the White House’s edict not to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry, and came in to give closed-door depositions. One witness, former special representative for Ukraine Kurt Volker, even turned over a series of damning text messages laying out the efforts to pressure the Ukrainians.
The Intelligence Committee then called some of those witnesses back to give testimony at public hearings in November. Testimony from all these witnesses confirmed and further fleshed out the whistleblower’s initial account — and made clear there was a months-long pressure campaign on the Ukrainians, involving not one but two quid pro quos. They were: a White House meeting for Ukraine’s president in exchange for the announcement of investigations, and the release of $391 million in blocked military aid in exchange for that announcement.
Yet the Trump administration refused to turn over any documents whatsoever, and other witnesses with potentially important information decided to obey the White House’s demand that they not testify. So, rather than spend months fighting legal battles in court (as they have in other oversight investigations into the Trump administration), Democrats decided to simply move forward with what they had — arguing that their findings more than merited impeachment already.
In December, the Intelligence Committee completed a report on their findings and passed the baton to the House Judiciary Committee, which has jurisdiction over impeachment. After just one hearing with legal experts, Democrats on that committee drafted their articles of impeachment — alleging abuse of power, and obstruction of Congress — and approved them one week later.
House Republicans, though, have closed ranks around the president, defending his conduct with a variety of justifications. Some have complained about the process for the impeachment inquiry, some say they haven’t seen proof that Trump did what’s alleged, some say that what’s alleged isn’t so bad even if Trump did do it.
Those members of Congress who have tried to oppose their party on impeachment have quickly found their lives remarkably uncomfortable. Amash of Michigan announced he supported Trump’s impeachment over Mueller’s findings back in May, but then left the GOP to become an independent in July. Van Drew, meanwhile, announced he opposed impeachment — and, this month, word got out that he planned to switch over to the Republican Party.
Republican opposition didn’t impact the outcome in the House, which is controlled by Democrats. But it will be a far bigger problem for impeachment supporters in the Senate, which is controlled by the GOP, and where it would take a 67-vote supermajority to actually remove Trump from office. So long as Republican support for Trump remains strong, that isn’t going to happen. (And his job approval numbers have actually increased a bit since the inquiry began.)
Democrats, then, will likely have to content themselves with putting a black mark by Trump’s name in history — and will have to redouble their efforts to try to oust him in the 2020 election. Because while the impeachment inquiry has unearthed a great deal of new information about Trump’s misconduct, that information has changed few, if any, Republican minds.