The House is quickly moving forward on articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump. But first, lawmakers have to wade through the murky and messy world of legislating inside a congressional committee.
Wednesday’s Judiciary Committee meeting to consider the articles of impeachment kicks off a two-day committee marathon to debate and vote on the articles of impeachment, which is expected to be long and contentious – and will give viewers a real window into the messy sausage-making process on Capitol Hill.
The committee’s meeting is an important, if not inevitable, step toward impeachment for House Democrats. The sessions on Wednesday and Thursday are sure to contain plenty of debate, theatrics and arguing over the procedure. But Democrats hold a 24-17 majority on the committee, meaning they can vote down any GOP attempt to change the impeachment articles, making Republicans’ only real weapon in the proceedings the ability to extend the debate indefinitely.
Democrats introduced two articles of impeachment against Trump on Tuesday, charging that the President should be removed from office for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. The Judiciary Committee is expected to approve those articles of impeachment on Thursday after considering amendments, sending them to the House floor for a vote next week that could make Trump the third president in US history to be impeached.
House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler said the President was being charged by Congress with using his office to “demand that a foreign government attack his political rivals” and obstructing the investigation into his conduct that was “complete, absolute, and without precedent in American history.”
“Taken together, the two articles charge President Trump with placing his private, political interests above our national security, above our free and fair elections, and above our ability to hold public officials accountable,” the New York Democrat said. “With a heavy heart but clear in my duty to our country, I support these articles of impeachment. I urge my colleagues to support them as well.”
Republicans shot back with blustery language of their own, denouncing their Democratic colleagues of embarking on a “political vendetta” to impeach the President.
“The ‘big lie’ that we’re hearing perpetrated is the ends justify the means,” said Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the Judiciary panel. “The lie is that a sham impeachment is OK because the threat is so real, is so urgent and so imminent. The ‘big lie’ is that political expediency is honorable and justifiable. History has shown that to be untrue and dangerous.”
Wednesday’s meeting effectively amounted to a talk-a-thon: Every lawmaker on the committee will have the chance to give an opening statement to kick off the debate. Democrats and Republicans traded speeches – Democrats explaining why they were duty-bound to impeach Trump, and Republicans attacking them for a partisan impeachment less than a year before the presidential election.
Back and forth the speeches went, Democrats and Republicans, both quoting the founders, both reaching back into history and both urging their colleagues in the other party to reconsider.
“Do what you were elected to do. You didn’t swear an oath to Donald Trump. You swore an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States. Honor that oath,” Rep. David Cicilline, a Rhode Island Democrat, said to Republicans.
“For the sake of our country, and for the future trajectory of this body, I implore my colleagues to take a hard look at the course of this investigation,” said Rep. Martha Roby, an Alabama Republican. “It has severely discounted the tenets of our democratic system. Tomorrow we write history. A history that cannot be undone. A dangerous precedent will be set for future majorities of this body.
On Thursday morning, the real legislative wheeling and dealing will begin: At the Judiciary Committee meeting, which begins at 9 a.m. ET, any member can offer any amendment he or she wants, and the committee has little choice but to consider it.
Democrats may not offer any. Republicans, on the other hand, are expected to flood the markup with numerous amendments. A member can decide to offer an amendment on the spot. All they have to do is take the text to the clerk, and the chairman will have to recognize the amendment.
For each amendment, every member has the right to speak for up to five minutes each, which means that Republicans can make the committee meeting – referred to around Capitol Hill as a markup – go as long as they want to on Thursday.
But what could end the session by 7 p.m. ET Thursday: the congressional ball at the White House, according to multiple sources, since a number of members – particularly Republicans – are expected to attend.
Collins wouldn’t say how many amendments Republicans would offer. But he suggested they would use the session to mount a defense of the President and “present the facts and evidence that the other side is not permitting.”
Once the amendments have all been considered, the committee will vote to approve the articles of impeachment, sending them to the House floor, where they will likely get a vote next week.
This story has been updated with additional developments Wednesday.