WASHINGTON — The chairman of the U.S. House Judiciary Committee kicked off a vote on impeachment articles Wednesday night with a plea to his Republican colleagues.
“I know you,” said Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-N.Y.). “I have worked with many of you for years. I consider you to be good and decent public servants.” He spoke as lawmakers convened ahead of a likely committee vote Thursday on articles to impeach President Donald Trump.
“I know this moment may be difficult, but you still have a choice,” Nadler said. He urged Republicans to remember that Trump “will not be president forever. … When our country returns as surely it will to calmer times and stronger leadership, history will look back on our actions here today. How would you be remembered?”
But anyone expecting a sea change from either political party would have been sorely disappointed while watching the opening statements. In the debate that went late into Wednesday night, lawmakers on both sides assailed their colleagues across the aisle, accusing them of overt partisanship.
Democrats implored Republicans to put politics aside and break ranks with the GOP to rebuke Trump; Republicans uniformly defended the president and accused the majority of fabricating a case in an attempt to oust an executive whose policies they have loathed since he assumed the White House.
Rep. Jim Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.) wasn’t swayed.
The lone Wisconsin lawmaker on the committee noted that it was the third time in the past 45 years that the Judiciary Committee has debated articles of impeachment against a president.
“What we’re debating here, in my opinion, is the weakest case in history,” he said.
Sensenbrenner blasted Democrats for moving “full speed ahead” and “trashing the rules of the House every time they can in order to speed things up, with a preordained conclusion, and that is a partisan vote for impeachment.”
He warned that Democrats are setting the bar “so low that what is happening is that a future president can be impeached for any disagreement when the presidency and the House of Representatives are controlled by different parties.”
After the public sparring, the Democratic majority on the committee is expected to approve impeachment articles this week, sending them to the full House floor for a vote. If they’re approved by the House as expected, a Senate trial will likely be held early next year.
GOP says impeachment boosts Trump in 2020
Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the panel, set the tone for his party with a sharp retort to Nadler. He accused Democrats of pursuing a three-year vendetta against Trump.
“This is not new. We’ve been trying this for almost three years,” Collins said of the efforts to impeach Trump. “The only thing that has changed is the opportunity from last November when you became the majority,” he told Democrats.
Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) prodded Democrats to change course, calling the impeachment proceedings “scary stuff.”
Democrats, he said, “have never accepted the will of the American people,” Jordan said. “I hope you guys will reconsider and stop it while you can.”
Republicans also warned Democrats that the impeachment proceedings would help Trump keep the White House in the 2020 election and could help the GOP reclaim the House majority.
“This is the quickest, thinnest, weakest, most partisan impeachment in all of American presidential history,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.). “We’ll see you on the field in 2020.”
‘One heck of an emergency’
Rep. Zoe Lofgren (D-Calif.), who was a staffer to the Judiciary Committee during the impeachment proceedings against President Richard Nixon in 1974, pointed to Republican lawmakers who supported impeachment following the Watergate scandal.
One of them was Rep. Lawrence J. Hogan Sr. — a Maryland Republican and the current governor’s father. “Unless Richard Nixon is removed from office and the disease of Watergate, which has sapped the vitality of our government, is purged from the body politic, government and politics will continue to be clouded by mistrust and suspicion,” Hogan said at the time, according to the Baltimore Sun.
Virginia Rep. Manley Caldwell Butler was another Republican who turned against the majority of his party to support Nixon’s impeachment, even though his own mother had warned him that a vote against the Republican president would spell political doom.
“Dear Mother, you are probably right. However, I feel that my loyalty to the Republican Party does not relieve me of the obligation which I have,” the congressman told her, according to The New York Times. He believed Nixon had lied and obstructed justice.
As the committee and the full House move toward what’s almost certain to be a highly partisan vote, Lofgren asked Wednesday, “Where are the Caldwell Butlers and Larry Hogans of today in the Republican Party?”
Rep. Hank Johnson (D-Ga.) disputed Republicans’ assertions that Democrats had their sights set on impeachment since Trump’s election.
“While I didn’t vote for President Trump, I respect the office that he holds,” Johnson said. But while he didn’t initially support impeachment, the Georgia congressman said, “this is one heck of an emergency.”
He supports impeachment now, Johnson said, because “President Trump’s high crimes threaten our democracy itself.”
He added, “I’m a black man representing Georgia, born when Jim Crow was alive and well. To me, the idea that elections can be undermined is not theoretical.”