WASHINGTON - The U.S. House of Representatives impeached U.S. President Donald Trump Wednesday night on accusations he abused the power of the presidency to benefit himself politically and then obstructed congressional efforts to investigate his actions.
It is unclear how quickly the process moves to the Senate for a trial likely to end with Trump's acquittal by the majority-Republican body. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said the trial would be a top priority in January, and he planned to speak about the impeachment Thursday morning on the Senate floor.
Before the Senate takes up the matter, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi must transmit the articles of impeachment, and shortly after the vote Wednesday night she was non-committal about the timing. She said she wants to see more from Senate leaders about how they plan to conduct the trial before the House chooses who will act as prosecutors.
On a near straight party-line vote, the Democrat-controlled House approved two articles of impeachment against Trump, a Republican, making him only the third U.S. president to be impeached in the country's 243-year history.
The White House released a statement shortly after the vote, calling it a "sham impeachment" and the culmination of "one of the most shameful political episodes in the history of our Nation."
The statement added, "The President is confident the Senate will restore regular order, fairness, and due process, all of which were ignored in the House proceedings. He is prepared for the next steps and confident that he will be fully exonerated."
The House debated the merits of Trump's impeachment for more than six hours before voting. Democratic lawmakers pointedly advanced the case for Trump's impeachment. They alternated with Republicans, who said Trump had done nothing wrong in his months-long push to get Ukraine to investigate one of Trump's chief 2020 Democratic challengers, former Vice President Joe Biden, his son Hunter Biden's lucrative work for a Ukrainian natural gas company and a debunked theory that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election that Trump won to undermine his campaign.
Trump made the appeal for the Biden investigations directly to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a late July phone call at a time when he was temporarily withholding $391 million in military aid Kyiv wanted to help fight pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine.
Trump eventually released the money in September without Zelenskiy launching the Biden investigations, proof, Republicans said during the House floor debate, that Trump had not engaged in a reciprocal quid pro quo deal, the military aid in exchange for the Biden investigations.
One of the articles of impeachment approved by the House accused Trump of abusing the power of the presidency by soliciting a foreign government, Ukraine, to undertake the investigations to help him run against Biden, who is leading national polls of Democrats in the race for the party's presidential nomination to oppose Trump next year.
In the 230-197 vote on Article I, all but two Democrats voted for approval, and all Republicans voted against it.
The second impeachment allegation said Trump obstructed Congress by withholding thousands of Ukraine-related documents from House impeachment investigators and then blocking key officials in his administration from testifying during weeks of hearings Democratic-controlled committees conducted into Trump's actions related to Ukraine.
In the 229-198 vote on Article II, all but three Democrats voted for approval, and all Republicans voted against it.
Pelosi opened the debate by telling lawmakers that Trump "gave us no choice" but to pursue his impeachment.
"If we do not act," she said, "we would be derelict in our duty. Today, we are here to defend democracy."
Republican Congressman Doug Collins, one of Trump's staunchest supporters, dismissed Pelosi's assessment of Trump, contending Democrats have wanted to impeach Trump since he was elected three years ago. Now, Collins said, rather than the House impeaching Trump less than a year before he seeks re-election in 2020, it should be "a matter for the voters" to decide his fate.
"The president did nothing wrong," Collins said.
The two other U.S. presidents who have been impeached were Andrew Johnson in the mid-19th century and Bill Clinton two decades ago. Both were acquitted in the Senate and remained in office.
The impeachment votes were held about the same time Trump began to speak at a campaign rally in the Midwestern state of Michigan, one of the pivotal states he won in the 2016 election.
Trump blasted the impeachment effort, telling supporters Wednesday night, "We did nothing wrong, and we have tremendous support in the Republican Party like we've never had before."
Can you believe that I will be impeached today by the Radical Left, Do Nothing Democrats, AND I DID NOTHING WRONG! A terrible Thing. Read the Transcripts. This should never happen to another President again. Say a PRAYER!— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 18, 2019
"This lawless, partisan impeachment is a political suicide march for the Democrat Party. Have you seen my polls in the last four weeks?" he said.
Trump has on countless occasions described his late July call with Zelenskiy as "perfect," when he asked him to "do us a favor," to investigate the Bidens and Ukraine's purported role in the 2016 election. As the impeachment controversy mounted,Trump has subsequently claimed the "us" in his request to Zelenskiy referred not to him personally but to the United States.