“The republic for which it stands is what we are here to talk about today,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Wednesday as she opened up debate on the House of Representatives’ historic vote on the impeachment of President Donald Trump.
“We gather today under the dome of this temple of democracy to exercise one of the most solemn powers that this body can take: the impeachment of the president of the United States,” Pelosi said, standing next to a poster showing an American flag and the opening lines of the Pledge of Allegiance.
Pelosi took the floor of the House after lawmakers voted mostly on party lines, 228 to 198, on the rules setting up six hours of debate on the articles of impeachment. Just two Democrats (including one who’s said he’s about to become a Republican) voted against the measure, a sign that Democrats are largely unified going into today’s proceedings.
The House speaker tried to set a staid tone for the fierce partisan battle about to take place. She said impeachment was not something Democrats wanted to do, but rather something they were compelled to do because of the oaths they swore to the Constitution and the president’s actions.
“If we do not act now, we would be derelict in our duty. It is tragic that the president’s reckless actions make impeachment necessary,” Pelosi said. “He gave us no choice. What we are discussing today is the established fact that the president violated the Constitution.”
In making her case for the necessity of impeachment — for the president’s alleged abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — Pelosi invoked America’s framers, saying “great fear of a rogue or corrupt president is the very reason why they enshrined impeachment in the constitution.”
WATCH: Complete remarks from @SpeakerPelosi: "I solemnly and sadly open the debate on the impeachment of the President of the United States."— CSPAN (@cspan) December 18, 2019
Full video here: https://t.co/0AklHmZCqk pic.twitter.com/R9jvdUKXVn
Pelosi concluded with a tribute to late House Committee on Oversight and Reform Chair Elijah Cummings, who passed away in October and who was instrumental in overseeing numerous investigations into the Trump administration.
Pelosi noted Cummings had remarked “almost prophetically, ‘When we are dancing with the angels, the question will be, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact?’”
“Elijah, as you know, has since passed on,” she continued. “Now he’s dancing with the angels. And I know that he and all of us here are very proud of the moral courage of members, want to honor the vision of our founders for a republic, the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform to defend it, and the aspirations of our children to live freely within it.”
“Today,” Pelosi concluded, “we are here to defend democracy.”
Read Pelosi’s full opening statement below:
Thank you, Madam Speaker. I thank the gentleman for yielding, for his tremendous leadership in helping us honor the Constitution of the United States.
I also extend my gratitude to Chairman [Adam] Schiff, who will be presiding later in the day. My colleagues, this morning and every morning when we come together, members rise and pledge allegiance to the flag.
Every day, all across America, children in schools, members of the military, officials and those civically engaged also pledge allegiance to the flag. Let us recall what that pledge says: “I pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America, and to the republic for which it stands, indivisible, with liberty and justice for all.”
The republic for which it stands is what we are here to talk about today. A republic, if we can keep it. We gather today under the dome of this temple of democracy to exercise one of the most solemn powers that this body can take: the impeachment of the president of the United States.
No member, regardless of party or politics, comes to Congress to impeach a president, but every one of us, as our first act as a member of Congress, stood on this historic House floor before our beautiful American flag and raised our hands in this sacred oath, “I do solemnly swear that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic, so help me God.”
For 230 years, members have taken that sacred oath, which makes us custodians of the Constitution. When our founders declared independence, established our new nation, they crafted a system of government unlike anyone has ever seen before. A republic, starting with the sacred words, “We the people.”
For centuries, Americans have fought and died to defend democracy for the people. But very sadly now, our founders’ vision of a republic is under threat from actions from the White House. That is why today, as speaker of the House, I solemnly and sadly open the debate on the impeachment of the president of the United States.
If we do not act now, we would be derelict in our duty. It is tragic that the president’s reckless actions make impeachment necessary. He gave us no choice. What we are discussing today is the established fact that the president violated the Constitution.
It is a matter of fact that the president is an ongoing threat to our national security and the integrity of our elections, the basis of our democracy. Hundreds of historians, legal scholars, and former prosecutors, regardless of party, have stated that the president committed impeachable offenses. Since today is a national civics lesson, though a sad one, I submit these documents for the record and commend them for students to study.
[The Speaker pro tempore: Without objection, so ordered.]
Thank you, Madam Speaker.
What we are discussing today is established fact that the president, again, violated the Constitution. It is a matter of fact that the president is, again, an ongoing threat to our national security. And the testimony of decorated war heroes, distinguished diplomats, and patriotic career people over the past weeks have told us this.
The president used the power of his public office to obtain an improper personal political benefit at the expense of America’s national security. When the president weakens a democratic ally that is advancing American security interests by fighting an American adversary, the president weakens America.
This abuse of power also jeopardizes the integrity of our elections. All Americans agree that American voters should choose our president, not some foreign government. The founders understood that it is profoundly corrosive for our democracy for a president to invite interference in our elections.
As George Washington, our nation’s patriot under whose gaze we stand today warned, history and experience proves that foreign influence is one of the most baneful foes of Republican government.
Sadly, the American people have witnessed further wrongs of the president which necessitate the second article of impeachment, obstruction of Congress. When the president’s wrongdoing was revealed, he launched an unprecedented, indiscriminate and categorical campaign of defiance and obstruction.
Never before in the history of our nation have we seen a president declare and act as if he’s above the law. The president goes even so far as to say and act of this absurdity when he says Article II says, “I can do whatever I want.”
No, it doesn’t. That recklessness is a profound violation of the constitution and our republic, which endured because of our system of separation of power, three co-equal branches, each a check and balance on the other, a republic, again, if we can keep it.
The founders’ great fear of a rogue or corrupt president is the very reason why they enshrined impeachment in the Constitution. As one founder, William Davey of North Carolina, warned, unless the Constitution contained an impeachment provision, a president might spare no efforts or means, whatever, to get himself reelected.
Another founder, George Mason, insisted that the president who procured his appointment in the first instance through improper and corrupt acts might repeat his guilt and return to power.
We in Congress must stand up and make clear to the American people and to all people that this body still stands by the principles enshrined in the Constitution and defended by generations of Americans.
Last week, in observance of the 75th anniversary of the Battle of the Bulge, members traveled to that hallowed ground to express our gratitude to the heroes of freedom who sacrificed everything to secure victory of freedom over tyranny, not just for America, but for the world.
The veterans of that battle who were there, in their 90s, told us how after the war was won, the Europeans to whom they liberated would ask, “Why did you risk us? You don’t know us? And give your lives to save us, we’re not Americans.”
And our men would say, “We came here to fight for you, not because you are Americans, but because we are Americans.”
As our beloved chairman, Elijah Cummings, Oversight Committee Chair, said when announcing support for this action, “When the history books are written about this tumultuous era, I want them to show that I was among those in the House of Representatives who stood up to lawlessness and tyranny.”
He also said, almost prophetically, “When we are dancing with the angels, the question will be, what did we do to make sure we kept our democracy intact?”
Elijah, as you know, has since passed on. Now he’s dancing with the angels. And I know that he and all of us here are very proud of the moral courage of members, want to honor the vision of our founders for a republic, the sacrifice of our men and women in uniform to defend it, and the aspirations of our children to live freely within it.
Today we are here to defend democracy for the people. May God bless America. I yield back the balance of my time.