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The House Judiciary Committee just approved articles of impeachment against President Trump

Both articles, on abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, will go to the full House for a vote next week.

House Judiciary Committee Chair Jerry Nadler (D-NY)
Shawn Thew (Pool)/Getty Images
Andrew Prokop is a senior politics correspondent at Vox, covering the White House, elections, and political scandals and investigations. He’s worked at Vox since the site’s launch in 2014, and before that, he worked as a research assistant at the New Yorker’s Washington, DC, bureau.

The House Judiciary Committee voted to approve two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump Friday — paving the way for votes in the full House of Representatives next week that could make Trump only the third president in history to be impeached.

Both articles — the first charging Trump with abuse of power, and the second charging him with obstruction of Congress — were approved by the committee on party-line votes, with all 23 Democrats voting in favor and all 17 Republicans voting against (Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) missed the vote because he was recovering from a heart procedure).

That outcome was no surprise, since the Judiciary Committee is generally filled with staunch liberals and conservatives, and since opinion on Trump’s impeachment and the Ukraine scandal has fallen along partisan lines in the House.

The committee’s vote came after a lengthy, three-part hearing — opening statements Wednesday night, a marathon all-day debate on amendments to the articles Thursday, and a final vote Friday. Watch it here:

Throughout the hearing, Democrats spoke of their concern over President Trump’s alleged abuse of power in the Ukraine scandal, and Republicans either complained about process, questioned the evidence, or outright argued that what Trump did wasn’t so bad after all.

The hearing, billed as a “markup” of the articles of impeachment, wasn’t really about deliberation — no serious amendments were proposed or discussed, and Republicans’ main goal was to attempt to slow things down with dilatory tactics.

The first true test for the impeachment push will occur on the House floor next week, when more than two dozen moderate Democrats representing districts Trump won will finally have to decide: Do they vote for impeachment, or against it?

Then, if either or both articles are approved by the House, that will mean Trump is impeached — and a trial in the Senate will follow, this January, to determine whether to remove him from office.

What the articles of impeachment say

Article I, “Abuse of Power,” focuses on the underlying facts of the Ukraine scandal. It asserts that Trump:

  • “Corruptly solicited the Government of Ukraine to publicly announce investigations” into his political rival Joe Biden, and into “a discredited theory” that Ukraine interfered with the 2016 election.
  • Attempted to condition two “official acts” on this announcement — a White House meeting with Ukraine’s president, and the release of $391 million of blocked military aid for Ukraine.

All this, Article I continues, is abusing the powers of the presidency “by ignoring and injuring national security and other vital national interests to obtain an improper personal political benefit.” The article also asserts that Trump “betrayed the Nation by abusing his high office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections.”

Article II, “Obstruction of Congress,” states that President Trump “has directed the unprecedented, categorical, and indiscriminate defiance of subpoenas issued by the House of Representatives pursuant to its ‘sole Power of Impeachment.’”

Specifically, the article goes on, Trump:

  • Directed the White House to defy a subpoena for documents
  • Directed other executive branch agencies, such as the State Department and Defense Department, to defy subpoenas
  • Directed current and former executive branch officials to refuse subpoenas for their testimony

“This abuse of office served to cover up the President’s own repeated misconduct and to seize and control the power of impeachment,” Article II reads. Therefore, both articles conclude, Trump should be removed from office and barred from holding any future office. And now, both have been approved by the House Judiciary Committee.

In introducing just these two articles, Democrats made a decision to focus narrowly on the facts surrounding the Ukraine scandal, instead of broadening their impeachment push to include other topics, such as the Mueller report.

What comes next: a numbers game on the House floor

In theory, members of the House of Representatives will each be solemnly reviewing the evidence for the allegations in each article, and then making up their minds to decide whether to exercise their constitutional powers of impeachment.

But in reality, next week’s votes will come down to raw politics.

There are currently 431 sitting members of the House of Representatives (due to four vacancies). So, if all of those members are present, the magic number for impeaching Trump (or passing anything through the House) would be 216.

Democrats have 233 members, and Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan (who left the Republican Party earlier this year and is now an independent) is expected to vote in favor of impeachment. Republicans, meanwhile, are expected to remain united against impeachment.

That math means 19 Democratic defections will kill impeachment.

Another important point is that the House of Representatives map is skewed toward the GOP — even though Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by 2 percentage points, Trump won more congressional districts. And currently, the Democratic majority includes 31 Democrats representing districts Trump won. Most of them are first-term members, elected for the first time in the 2018 midterms.

So if 19 Democratic defections will kill impeachment, that means that Speaker Nancy Pelosi can “afford” 18 defections from these Trump-district Democrats — but at least 13 of them would have to vote for impeachment, for it to pass.

Already, two defections seem near-certain — Reps. Collin Peterson (D-MN) and Jeff Van Drew (D-NJ) both voted against moving the impeachment inquiry forward in October, and Van Drew has confirmed he’ll vote no on the floor.

At least a few more will likely be tempted to join them, hoping they can brand themselves as moderates and thus better ensure their own reelections. The drawback to this approach, though, is that voting against impeachment would likely spark an intense backlash from Democratic base voters.

And early signs are that most of these vulnerable House Democrats are comfortable impeaching Trump over the Ukraine scandal. “I am supportive of the two articles of impeachment, and I’m also pleased it was kept narrow,” Rep. Elaine Luria (D-VA), one such Democrat, told reporters outside the House floor Thursday.