WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats propelled President Donald Trump's impeachment toward a vote by the full U.S. House on Friday, as the Judiciary Committee approved charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in the constitutional and political storm that has divided Congress and the nation.
The House is expected to approve the two articles of impeachment next week, before lawmakers depart for the holidays.
The partisan committee split — 23 Democrats to 17 Republicans — reflects the general atmosphere in the full Congress. The Democratic-majority House is expected to approve the charges against Trump next week, but the Republican-controlled Senate is likely to acquit him after a January trial.
Trump is accused, in the first article, of abusing his presidential power by asking Ukraine to investigate his 2020 rival Joe Biden while holding military aid as leverage, and, in the second, of obstructing Congress by blocking the House's efforts to probe his actions.
"No one is above the law; the president will be held accountable for his abuse of power and for his obstruction of Congress," House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said on Thursday as the Judiciary panel argued over the charges.
After Friday's votes, Trump's press secretary, Stephanie Grisham, labeled the proceedings a "desperate charade" and said, "The President looks forward to receiving in the Senate the fair treatment and due process which continues to be disgracefully denied to him by the House."
Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., who had said he wanted lawmakers to "search their consciences" before casting their votes, gaveled in the landmark but brief session.
Voting was swift and solemn, with none of the fiery speeches and commentary with weighty nods to history that have defined the days of debate, including 14 hours that stretched nearly to midnight Thursday.
Lawmakers responded "aye" or "yes" for the Democrats, and simple:"no's" from the Republicans.
"The article is agreed to," Nadler declared after each vote.
The top Republican on the panel Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia immediately said he would file dissenting views.
Minutes after the morning session opened, it was gaveled shut.
Trump is accused, in the first article, of abusing his presidential power by asking Ukraine to investigate his 2020 rival Joe Biden while holding military aid as leverage, and, in the second, of obstructing Congress by blocking the House's efforts to probe his actions. Trump has denied all wrongdoing.
Voting came quickly after two days of hearings at the Capitol and a rancorous 14-hour session that was abruptly shut down late Thursday when the Democratic majority refused to be forced, after a long and bitter slog through failed Republican amendments aimed at killing the impeachment charges, into midnight voting. Instead, the impeachment charges against Trump were aired in full view of Americans.
Trump took to Twitter early Friday to praise the panel's Republicans, saying "they were fantastic yesterday."
"The Dems have no case at all, but the unity & sheer brilliance of these Republican warriors, all of them, was a beautiful sight to see," he tweeted. "Dems had no answers and wanted out!"
Nadler said late Thursday night, after presiding over the two-day session, "I want the members on both sides of the aisle to think about what has happened over these past two days and to search their consciences before they cast their final votes."
The Republicans on the panel, blindsided by the move, were livid. When Nadler announced that the committee wouldn't vote until Friday morning, gasps were heard at the dais, and Republicans immediately started yelling "unbelievable" and "they just want to be on TV." Congress was to be out of session on Friday, and many lawmakers had other plans, some outside Washington.
"This is the kangaroo court that we're talking about" stormed Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the panel, who said he had not been consulted on the decision. "They do not care about rules, they have one thing, their hatred of Donald Trump. "
Trump is only the fourth U.S. president to face impeachment proceedings and the first to be running for reelection at the same time. The outcome of the eventual House votes pose potentially serious political consequences for both parties ahead of the 2020 elections, with Americans deeply divided over whether the president indeed conducted impeachable acts and if it should be up to Congress, or the voters, to decide whether he should remain in office.
The president blasts the Democrats' effort daily as a sham and harmful to America. Republican allies seem unwavering in their opposition to expelling Trump, and he claims to be looking ahead to swift acquittal in a Senate trial.
After slogging through two days of hearings, Democrats on the committee didn't want to be forced into late-hour voting, a dark-of-night session that could later be used politically against them. As the majority, they wanted to allow Republicans to offer as many amendments and not cut off debate, Democratic aides said. But as the process drew out, Democrats decided they would prefer to pass the articles in the light of day, the aides said.
The president has refused to participate in the proceedings, tweeting criticisms as he did Thursday from the sidelines, mocking the charges against him in the House's nine-page resolution as "impeachment light." But Pelosi said the president was wrong and the case against him is deeply grounded.
Democrats contend that Trump has engaged in a pattern of misconduct toward Russia dating back to the 2016 election campaign that special counsel Robert Mueller investigated. And they say his dealings with Ukraine have benefited its aggressive neighbor Russia, not the U.S., and he must be prevented from "corrupting" U.S. elections again and cheating his way to a second term next year.
"It is urgent," Pelosi said.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said late Thursday on Fox News, "There is zero chance the president will be removed from office." He said he was hoping to have no GOP defections in the Senate trial next year.
The Judiciary Committee session drew out over two days, much of time spent in fights over amendments.
First up was an amendment from GOP Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio, who tried to delete the first charge against Trump. "This amendment strikes article one because article one ignores the truth," he declared.
Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., argued there was "overwhelming evidence" that the president with his lawyer Rudy Giuliani, in pushing Ukraine to investigate rival Biden, was engaged in an abuse of power "to corrupt American elections.''
Debate on that one amendment lasted for hours before it was defeated, 23-17, on a party line vote. Others like it followed.