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Impeachment charges head to House

WASHINGTON (AP) — Democrats propelled President Donald Trump’s impeachment toward a historic vote by the full U.S. House as the Judiciary Committee on Friday approved charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. It’s the latest major step 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 split in the committee vote — 23 Democrats to 17 Republicans — reflects the atmosphere in 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.

“Today is a solemn and sad day,” Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., told reporters after the session, marking the third time in U.S. history the panel had voted to recommend impeaching a president. He said the full House would act “expeditiously.”

At the White House after the votes, Trump denounced the inquiry and actions against him, using the terms he’s relied on for months. He referred to the impeachment effort four times as a hoax, twice as a sham and once each as a scam, a witch hunt and a disgrace. He described his actions as perfect three times and said four times he did nothing wrong.

When he had asked Ukraine to “do us a favor” in the July phone call that sparked the impeachment inquiry, he said, the “us” referred to the U.S., not a political favor for himself.

Trump noted that he watched “quite a bit” of the previous day’s proceedings and determined Democrats were making fools of themselves. He derided the government officials who testified that he pressured Ukraine and he claimed he was benefiting politically from impeachment.

Voting was swift and solemn, with none of the fiery speeches and weighty nods to history that defined the previous two days of debate, including 14 hours that stretched nearly to midnight Thursday. Nadler abruptly halted that rancorous session so voting could be held in daylight, for all Americans to see.

Nadler, who had said he wanted lawmakers to “search their consciences” before casting their votes, gaveled in the landmark but brief morning session at the Capitol.

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 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.

Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz., defended the president against what she called “unfair, rigged” proceedings. “They had no proof, no evidence, no crime, but they went ahead anyway and they’re tearing the country apart,” she said.

Democrats countered they had no choice but to protect the 2020 election from further Trump outreach for foreign interference.

Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash., who held up a copy of the Constitution as she voted, called impeachment “a very necessary thing to save our democracy.”

The president has refused to participate in the proceedings and instructed officials not to as well, tweeting criticisms from the sidelines and mocking the charges against him in the House’s nine-page resolution as “impeachment light.” But House Speaker 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.

With impeachment almost certain in the House, even with a smattering of defections from Democrats, particularly the freshman lawmakers seeking re-election in districts where Trump remains popular, the pressure will be on Republicans in the Senate to hold the line in support of the president.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said late Thursday on Fox News, “There is zero chance the president will be removed from office.” He said the Democrats have a “weak case” and he hopes to have no GOP defections in the Senate .

Republican senators have been advocating for a swift trial next year. But Trump is eager for a showdown in the Senate that will not only acquit him of the charges, but provide vindication while inflicting political pain on Democrats.