President Donald Trump of the United States has just been impeached by the Democratic-controlled House of Representatives, on counts of abuse of powers and obstruction of Congress investigation. Trump’s impeachment hearings has been on for quit awhile now.
Two articles of impeachment were passed over his behaviour in the Ukraine scandal – one for abuse of power and the other for obstruction of Congress.
Not a single Republican voted for either article – a fact the White House seized on to portray the Democrats’ impeachment drive as motivated by political bias.
The issue will now pass to the Senate, the other body that makes up the US Congress, which will hold a trial on whether to convict and remove Mr Trump from office next month. But House Speaker, Nancy Pelosi may delay passing both articles to the Senate.
But given the Republicans – Mr Trump’s party – hold the Senate majority and two thirds of senators would need to vote for removal it is very unlikely to happen.
Even so, Trump impeachment creates a permanent black mark on Mr Trump’s political legacy that he shares with only two past presidents – Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton.
Addressing cheering supporters at a rally in Battle Creek, Michigan, as the House delivered its historic verdict, Mr Trump was dismissive and defiant.
“They’ve been trying to impeach me from day one,” he said.
“After three years of sinister witch hunts, hoaxes, scams, tonight, House Democrats are trying to nullify the ballots of tens of millions of patriotic Americans.”
Article one, abuse of power, passed with 230 votes to 197. Two Democrats voted against it. Article three, obstruction of Congress, passed with 229 votes to 197. Three Democrats voted against.
In the biggest surprise of the night, Tulsi Gabbard, the Hawaii congresswoman running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, voted ‘present’, meaning she did not back Trump’s impeachment.
She later explained that US voters should be allowed to decide Mr Trump’s fate in next November’s election. “My vote today is a vote for much needed reconciliation and hope that together we can heal our country,” she said in a statement.
The vote plunges Mr Trump into uncharted political waters. No US president has ever won re-election after being impeached.
Mr Johnson, impeached in 1868, failed to win his party’s next presidential nomination. Bill Clinton, impeached in 1998, stood down when his second term ended in January 2000.
Yet there are perils, too, for the Democrats. The country is split down the middle on impeachment according to polls and moderate Democrats seeking re-election in pro-Trump districts could face a backlash.
Mr Trump, who had tweeted his fury and urged supporters to pray for him throughout Wednesday, showed no signs of remorse over the scandal which triggered impeachment during his rally.
“Crazy Nancy Pelosi’s House Democrats have branded themselves with an eternal mark of shame,” the president said, referencing the Democratic House speaker who decided to go for impeachment.
The Democrats have a comfortable majority in the House, which allowed them to win the impeachment vote without any Republican support.
“Every single Republican voted for us,” Mr Trump said, reacting to the result in real time. “The Republican Party has never been so affronted but they have never been so united as they are right now.”
It was a message echoed by the White House, which immediately issued a statement after the vote in the name of Mr Trump’s press secretary, Stephanie Grisham.
The opening line read: “Today marks the culmination in the House of one of the most shameful political episodes in the history of our Nation.”
The two Democrats who voted against both articles of impeachment were Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, who is now expected to join the Republicans, and Collin Peterson of Minnesota.
Both hold districts which are supportive of Mr Trump. Jared Golden, a Democrat from Maine, voted against the obstruction of Congress article.
Congressmen had rushed forward to the front of the House chamber when the first vote was called, signing red or green voting slips representing “nay” or “yea” and then handing them to the clerks to count.
There was a ripple of applause from Democrats when the first article of Trump’s impeachment passed, but Ms Pelosi motioned for silence and their clapping soon stopped.
Ms Pelosi has repeatedly called impeachment a sad and solemn process, wary of appearing too partisan to voters. She wore black for the day of the vote itself.
“We could not be prouder or more inspired than by the moral courage of the House Democrats,” Ms Pelosi said in a press conference afterwards. “We never asked one of them how they were going to vote. We never whipped this vote.”
With less than a year to go before the election, Mr Trump’s campaign began the fightback against the impeachment vote within minutes of the result.
A fundraising email sent in Mr Trump’s name called for $4 million to be raised in the next 24 hours. “It’s US against THEM in this impeachment war,” it read. “And we need to strike first.”
What Is A Senate Trial
The articles of impeachment are now expected to be sent to the Senate, where senators will consider evidence, hear witnesses and vote to acquit or convict the president. The chief justice of the US Supreme Court presides over the trial.
A two-thirds majority vote is required in the 100-member Senate to convict and remove a president from office. A conviction appears unlikely in the case of Trump.
The Senate is made up of 53 Republicans, 45 Democrats and two independents who caucus with the Democrats. At least 20 Republicans would have to vote with all Democrats and the two independents to remove the president from office.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has indicated that he would like swift proceedings, but the president has said he would not mind a robust trial, with testimony from a number of witnesses, including Biden and the whistle-blower whose complaint led to the impeachment inquiry.
On Tuesday, McConnell appeared to reject the Democrats’ request for new witnesses in the trial, saying the Senate would not “do House Democrats’ homework for them” or go on a “fishing expedition” after the House impeachment process.
Senate Democratic leader Chuck Schumer has said he wants to hear from four additional witnesses, including acting White House Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney and Trump’s former National Security Adviser John Bolton.
McConnell said on Tuesday he hopes to meet Schumer soon to determine the next steps. He added that he is “optimistic” that Republicans and Democrats can agree on a “phase one” of the trial, which would include the presentation of the case and defence.
“We’ll see at that point whether there are 51 members of the Senate who want to take one of two directions – either going in the direction of witnesses or going in the direction of voting on the articles of impeachment,” McConnell was quoted by Reuters News Agency as saying.
But following Wednesday’s impeachment votes, Pelosi said she would wait, for now, to send the articles of impeachment to the Senate.
US media have reported that some House Democrats are urging Pelosi to withhold the transmittal of the articles until the “appropriate time”.
Pelosi on Wednesday evaded questions about when she plans to send the articles to the Senate.
“It would have been our intention” to send the articles to the Senate, but “we’ll see what happens over there,” Pelosi told reporters.
“We cannot name managers until we see what the process is on the Senate side,” Pelosi said, referring to members who will serve as House prosecutors in a Senate trial. “So far we have not seen anything that looks fair to us”.
Withholding the articles of impeachment may give the Democrats leverage when it comes to setting the procedures for the trial.
Pelosi said Democrats will make a decision on next steps as “a group”.
A specific date has not been set for the Senate trial but in the event that Trump is removed from office, Vice President Mike Pence would become President to complete the remaining term.