WASHINGTON - President Donald Trump is angrily objecting to the House of Representatives’ articles of impeachment, accusing Democrats of “perversion of justice and abuse of power” in their effort to remove him from office.
In a fiery letter Tuesday to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on the eve of his expected impeachment, Trump maintained that he did nothing wrong in seeking foreign investigation of political rivals, and he attacked Democrats for focusing on impeachment rather than other issues.
Trump also repeated his objections to the process of the House inquiry, claiming “more due process was afforded to those accused in the Salem Witch Trials.”
Trump says he doesn't believe his letter will change anything, but that he is registering his objections “for the purpose of history.”
Meanwhile at the Capitol, House Democrats and Republicans sparred over the rules of debate for Wednesday's historic votes on impeaching Trump, dispatching the lofty rhetoric of constitutional duty for the rugged politics of the House action and Senate trial that is expected to follow.
The Democratic-majority House Rules Committee met through the day Tuesday, with lawmakers arguing over the parameters for Wednesday's debate, which is expected to culminate in votes to make Trump the third president to be impeached in American history.
“It's unfortunate that we have to be here today, but the actions of the president of the United States make that necessary,” said Chairman Jim McGovern, D-Mass. "The evidence is as clear as it is overwhelming.''
He said the president “jeopardized our national security. and he undermined our democracy” and added that "every day we let President Trump act like the law doesn’t apply to him, we move a little closer” to rule by dictators.
Republicans disagreed, firmly.
The top committee Republican, Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, said the split view among Americans over impeachment should be reason enough not to proceed with the rare action. “When half of Americans are telling you what you are doing is wrong, you should listen,” he said.
House Democrats are planning Wednesday to launch the debate and, likely, votes to impeach Trump, formally accusing him of abusing his power as president in dealing with Ukraine to help himself politically and then obstructing Congress by blocking the later investigation. Votes will follow.
No Republicans are expected to vote to impeach Trump. But one by one Democrats are amassing a majority from their ranks as lawmakers, including many freshmen who could risk re-election in fall from districts where Trump is popular, announced they will join in voting for the two articles of impeachment.
“We must impeach this president,” said a statement from Democratic Rep. Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania, an Air Force veteran who is among a group of newly-elected former national security officials calling for impeachment. “I grieve for our nation. But I cannot let history mark the behavior of our President as anything other than an unacceptable violation of his oath of office.”
Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who warned against pursuing a strictly partisan impeachment, is now all but certain to have the numbers as voting begins.
As impeachment appears set in the House, attention is shifting to the Senate which, under the constitution, is required to hold a trial on the charges. It is expected to begin in January.
Hoping to dispatch with lengthy proceedings, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is rejecting the Democrats' push for fresh impeachment testimony in a last-ditch plea for the House to “turn back from the cliff" of Wednesday's expected vote.
McConnell's remarks Tuesday effectively slapped the door shut on negotiations for a deal proposed by the Democratic leader, Sen. Chuck Schumer, who wants to call top White House officials for the Senate trial, which is set to start next year if the House impeaches Trump this week.
“If House Democrats’ case is this deficient, this thin, the answer is not for the judge and jury to cure it here in the Senate,” McConnell said. “The answer is that the House should not impeach on this basis in the first place.''
Schumer's proposal was the first overture in what were expected to be negotiations between the two leaders over the contours of a weeks-long trial. Trump wants a more showy proceeding to not only acquit but vindicate him of the impeachment charges from the House, though he has instructed officials not to appear in the House.
McConnell and most GOP senators prefer a swift trial to move on from impeachment. Many centrist House Democrats have begun to signal that they, too, are ready to vote and move on. Senate Democrats want to hear from John Bolton, Mick Mulvaney and others as the proceedings push to the chamber for the trial.
“Why is the leader, why is the president so afraid to have these witnesses come testify?” asked Schumer from the Senate floor. “They certainly ought to be heard.”
Trump faces two articles of impeachment brought by Democrats. They say he abused the power of his office by pressuring Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden ahead of the 2020 election and obstructed Congress by aggressively trying to block the House investigation from its oversight duties as part of the nation's system of checks and balances.
The president “betrayed the Nation by abusing his high office to enlist a foreign power in corrupting democratic elections,” says the 650-page report from the House Judiciary Committee. He withheld military aid from the ally as leverage, the report says, and ”Trump, by such conduct, has demonstrated that he will remain a threat to national security and the Constitution if allowed to remain in office.”
The report says the president then engaged in an unprecedented attempt to block the investigation and “cover up” his misconduct. The report also includes Republican rebuttals.
Trump, tweeting from the sidelines after instructing the White House not to participate in the House inquiry, insisted anew he had done nothing wrong. He has promoted lawyer Rudy Giuliani's investigation of Biden and a widely debunked theory that it was actually Ukraine not Russia that interfered in the 2016 election, a conspiracy-laden idea that other most other Republicans have actively avoided.
Americans are not fooled, Trump tweeted on Tuesday, by the “Scams and Witch Hunts, as phony as they are.”
As the House prepared for Wednesday's vote, many Democrats announced they would be voting for impeachment. A handful or even fewer are expected to break ranks as Speaker Pelosi marches her majority toward a vote she hoped to avoid having Democrats take on their own.
One freshman Democrat, Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, saw several staff members resign Monday after he said he would vote against impeachment and indicated he was switching parties to become a Republican. Another Democrat, Rep. Collin Peterson, a Minnesota centrist, had not decided how he will vote, his spokeswoman said,
McConnell is facing criticism for saying he's taking his “cues” from the White House for the expected trial. Republicans say Schumer acted much the same two decades ago when the Senate prepared to vote on convicted President Bill Clinton.