House Judiciary Committee chairman Jerry Nadler (D-NY) put off a vote on two articles of impeachment against President Donald Trump until Friday morning, a surprise move after a marathon day of debate.
Nadler said that he wanted more members to “search the consciences” before the final committee vote. Republicans, thinking that the vote would take place in the middle of the night, quickly complained that they were not informed of the schedule change.
Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), the top Republican on Judiciary, said, “This is the kangaroo court that we are talking about.” Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) called it “Stalinesque.”
The delay may have been motivated by timing. The impeachment markup hearing stretched over 14 hours on Thursday, as Republicans extended the length of the proceedings by offering amendment after amendment, and a final vote would have come near midnight ET. Instead, the vote will take place at 10 a.m. ET, when more people will be watching.
The broadcast networks did not pre-empt programming for Thursday’s day of debate. But the cable news networks stayed with the proceedings through the day and into the evening.
Nadler said that Trump was subverting the system of checks and balances by issuing a blanket refusal to comply with congressional subpoenas. That is at the center of one of the articles, for obstruction, as the White House blocked testimony and refused to provide documents, as Congress conducted the impeachment inquiry.
Nadler said, “What is central here is, do we want a dictator? No matter how popular he may be, no matter how good or bad the results of his policies may be, no president is supposed to be a dictator in the United States.”
Others were even harsher about Republicans who still defend Trump’s conduct. Rep. Cedric Richmond (D-LA) said that “Judas, for 30 pieces of silver, betrayed Jesus,” while “for 30 positive tweets,” Republicans are “willing to betray the American people, their precious right to vote, and the future of our great country.”
“No one is here because we want to do this; we are here because we have no choice,” said Rep. David Cicilline (D-RI).
The marathon session was heavy in debate over precedent and past impeachment efforts, a session that likely will be studied by constitutional and legal scholars for years to come. But it also was very repetitive. Members at times used their five-minute segments on short, impassioned speeches and talking points; at others, they sounded as if they were ready for cable news combat.
As the hearing reached the evening hours, lawmakers looked weary. Rep. Doug Collins (R-GA), the top Republican on Judiciary, left the dais for a bit to sit with his wife. Rep. Tom McClintock (R-CA), stated the obvious: “The same talking points have been made over and over again on both sides.”
Journalists covering the hearing listened as they waited in anticipation for any sign that the final vote was near, their hopes dashed each time a member told the chairman, “I move to strike the last word.” That meant that they were allowed five minutes to speak.
Republicans spent a great part of the session making the case that Trump was concerned about corruption in asking the President of Ukraine to “look into” Joe Biden and his son, Hunter. Hunter Biden was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company, Burisma, when his father was US Vice President.
Collins was one of the most frequent speakers, and he argued that there was nothing wrong with what the president did, even as the White House withheld military aid to Ukraine. After Rep. Eric Swalwell (D-CA) entered into the record a news story about the number of Ukrainian soldier deaths as aid was delayed, Collins blasted the move as a misleading effort to link the two.
“This is the most despicable of drive-bys,” Collins said.
An example of the circular nature of the debate: Several hours later, when Swalwell raised the same argument, Collins lashed out again.
On their side of the dais, Republicans placed three large posters, one of which included pictures of Democrats on the committee and the words, “Two-thirds of Judiciary Democrats voted for impeachment before the Ukraine call.”
Republicans also proposed amendments as a form of counter-attack, as when Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-FL) introduced one change that would add language about Burisma’s “corrupt hiring of Hunter Biden.” The amendment was voted down, as were others offered by the GOP.
Only three other presidents have been the subject of the formal impeachment process. President Andrew Johnson was impeached by the House in 1868, but acquitted after a Senate trial. Bill Clinton was impeached in 1998, but the Senate declined to convict him the next year. Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 before a full House vote.
If the House passes the articles of impeachment in a vote expected next week, the Senate will then hold a trial. It’s highly unlikely that 2/3 of the Senate will vote to convict, given that it would take 20 Republicans joining all Democrats and independents in voting for Trump’s removal.