Donald Trump on Wednesday became the third U.S. president to be impeached as the House of Representatives formally charged him with abuse of power and obstruction of Congress in a historic step that will inflame partisan tensions across a deeply divided America.
The Democratic-led House’s passage of two articles of impeachment on a mostly party-line vote sets the stage for a trial next month in the Republican-controlled Senate – friendlier terrain for Trump – on whether to convict and remove him from office. No president in the 243-year history of the United States has been removed from office by impeachment.
That would require a two-thirds majority in the 100-member Senate, meaning at least 20 Republicans would have to join Democrats in voting against Trump – and none have indicated they will.
The Senate’s top Republican, Mitch McConnell, has predicted there is “no chance” his chamber will remove Trump when it holds its trial.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said after the vote she would wait to name the House managers, or prosecutors, until she knew more about the procedures for the Senate trial. She did not specify when she would send the articles to the Senate.
“So far, we haven’t seen anything that looks fair to us,” Pelosi told reporters. Trump, 73, is accused of abusing his power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate political rival Joe Biden, a leading contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, as well as a discredited theory that Democrats conspired with Ukraine to meddle in the 2016 election.
Democrats said Trump held back $391 million in security aid intended to combat Russia-backed separatists and a coveted White House meeting for Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy as leverage to coerce Kiev into interfering in the 2020 election by smearing Biden.
The second article accused Trump of obstruction of Congress by directing administration officials and agencies not to comply with lawful House subpoenas for testimony and documents related to impeachment.
Trump, who is seeking another four-year term in the November 2020 presidential election, has denied wrongdoing and called the impeachment inquiry launched by Pelosi in September a “witch hunt.”
At a raucous rally for his re-election in Battle Creek, Michigan, as the House voted, Trump said the impeachment would be a “mark of shame” for Democrats and Pelosi, and cost them in the 2020 election.
“This lawless, partisan impeachment is a political suicide march for the Democrat Party,” Trump said. “They’re the ones who should be impeached, every one of them.”
Impeachment is a remedy devised by the United States’ founders, wary of a monarch on American soil after breaking away from Britain and King George III in the 18th century, to enable Congress to remove a president who has committed “high crimes and misdemeanors.”
Only two previous presidents have been impeached.
The House in 1998 impeached President Bill Clinton on charges of perjury and obstruction of justice arising from a sexual relationship he had with a White House intern, but the Senate acquitted him.
The House impeached President Andrew Johnson in 1868, focused on his removal of the secretary of war, but he was acquitted by one vote in the Senate.
In 1974, President Richard Nixon resigned after the House Judiciary Committee approved articles of impeachment in the Watergate corruption scandal but before the full House could pass them.