Committee members debated for more than 14 hours over the abuse of power and obstruction of Congress articles, which allege the president used the power of his office to pressure Ukraine to open an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden that would benefit his 2020 campaign, and that he blocked Congress from pursuing its impeachment investigation.
Here are takeaways from Thursday’s voting session:
First, that surprise twist ending
Ending a grueling day of proceedings, Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler called a recess until 10 a.m. Friday to give lawmakers time to “search their conscience” until they voted on the articles of impeachment.
Republican lawmakers were furious at the delay.
“There was no discussion about time,” said Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the Committee.
The delay “shows that Chairman Nadler’s integrity is zero,” he said. ‘That was the most bush league play I’ve seen in my life.’
Republicans continue attack on process, Democrats fend off attempts to derail articles
Neither side of the Judiciary Committee stood down in Thursday’s session, as Democrats hammered on the evidence they say backs up allegations of wrongdoing, and Republicans accused the majority party of abusing its own power through the inquiry process.
GOP members said this impeachment process marks a turning point for the rights of the minority party. Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the committee, accused Democrats of denying the right to a full day of hearing from GOP witnesses.
“This committee has sounded the death knell for minority rights. This committee is nothing but a rubber stamp,” Collins said.
Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla., pushed back, saying the committee did hear from several GOP witnesses during the nearly two weeks of hearings and that the rules don’t guarantee a full day for minority witnesses.
Nadler introduced an amendment that would change references to “Donald J. Trump” to “Donald John Trump,” and Republicans soon began proposing amendments that undercut the premises of the articles.
GOP amendments aim high in Democratic-led body
Right off the bat, GOP Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio, moved to strike the entire first article of impeachment—abuse of power—on the grounds that it “ignores the truth” about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.
“Article one in this resolution ignores the truth, it ignores the facts, it ignores what happened and what was laid out for the American people over the last three weeks,” Jordan said. “I hope this committee will come to its senses.”
Another prominent committee Republican and Trump ally, Matt Gaetz of Florida, presented an amendment that would replace a reference to investigations into Joe Biden with “the true topic of the investigation, Burisma and Hunter Biden.”
Gaetz argued that because there was justification for Trump to pursue investigations into “a well-known corrupt company, Burisma, and its corrupt hiring of Hunter Biden,” abuse of power did not hold up as an article.
“We have the ability to show that Burisma is corrupt,” Gaetz said. “We have the ability to show that Hunter Biden is corrupt. That totally exculpates the president.”
Arizona Republican Rep. Andy Biggs had the third amendment, to introduce language acknowledging that aid money was released once Trump was assured it would not be going toward corrupt purposes.
This diverges from Democrats’ view, which is that Trump only released the aid money once knowledge of the anonymous whistleblower complaint began surfacing.
“The bottom line is the aid was lawfully delayed and lawfully delivered, and that means this entire process has been a sham,” Biggs said.
“The administration never intended to or actually violated the law,” Biggs said, adding the aid’s release “destroys Democrats’ case for impeachment.”
Rep. Guy Reschenthaler, R-Pa., proposed another amendment to remove the article accusing Trump of obstructing Congress.
Reschenthaler said there are three branches of government for a reason. The legislative and executive branches must reach compromises on oversight, with the judicial branch resolving disputes.
“The facts simply do not align with Democrats’ claims of obstruction,” Reschenthaler said. “Democrats have not afforded the president basic procedural protections.”
Republicans’ fifth amendment was also introduced by Jordan. It attempted to delete the sections of the articles that conclude Trump’s actions warrant impeachment in removal from office.
And though the Republicans failed to pass their amendments, they were able to draw out the process, and relitigate what they see as the unfairness of the process and misreading of the facts.
Arguments on the substance of claims show disagreement on the facts
As the stakes got higher with a looming vote, Republicans also stood in strong defense of the president’s actions, highlighting fundamental disagreements along party lines over the evidence.
Ohio Republican Rep. Steve Chabot laid out the core of his party’s defense of Trump: “First, there was no quid pro quo. Second, it’s a widely known fact that Ukraine is one of the most corrupt countries on the planet… Third, Ukraine actually received the aid after the president was satisfied that Ukraine had taken meaningful steps to address corruption.”
Republicans have repeatedly pointed to the White House’s released summary of the July 25 phone call between Trump and Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky as exoneration of the charge he established a quid pro quo.
But Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee, D-Texas, said the call record indicated otherwise: “I beg to differ with my friends.” Jackson Lee described how Zelensky expressed interest in military equipment from the United States.
“The very next sentence is not, ‘Yes, let’s get with the Department of Defense. Let’s review your request,'” Jackson Lee said. “The very next sentence: ‘I would like you to do a favor though.'”
And, Republicans argued, the president’s actions did not violate any laws, making the “abuse of power” charge vague. When Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., made the case that Trump’s request of Ukraine could be considered criminal bribery, Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, questioned why specific crimes weren’t alleged in the articles.
“Well then why aren’t they in this impeachment document?” he said. “It’s because they don’t exist.”
Echoes of past impeachments appear in debate
References to previous impeachment inquiries emerged as a recurring theme in the hearing Thursday, as the battle over established processes waged on between parties.
Republicans accuse Democrats of producing weak articles of impeachment, noting that “abuse of power” charges were “tacked on” to other articles in past impeachments.
Chabot said they were “far or less important in those cases than the actual high crimes charged against both of them. Here, it’s the main thrust of the House Democrats’ entire case.”
Rep. Zoe Lofgren, D-Calif., who was in the House during the 1998 impeachment of Bill Clinton, accused Republicans of being unreasonable for thinking Clinton’s conduct with White House intern Monica Lewinsky was an impeachable offense, but Trump’s pressuring a foreign government for help in an election is not.
Republicans said Clinton’s impeachment focused on the crime of perjury.
“If it’s lying about sex, we could put Stormy Daniels’ case ahead of us,” she said, . “We don’t believe that’s a high crime and misdemeanor. And it isn’t before us. And it should not be before us because it’s not an abuse of presidential power.”
‘I have not heard a new point or original thought from either side’
Members of Congress appeared to be getting tired of the proceedings after hours of debate. Rep. Tom McClintock, R-Calif., quipped, “Dare I state the obvious: I have not heard a new point or an original thought from either side in the last three hours.”
“Repeating a fact over and over doesn’t make it true, and denying a fact over and over doesn’t make it false,” he said.
McClintock offered a “modest suggestion” to his fellow members of Congress – to wrap things up. Proceedings started at 9 a.m. Thursday.
“That point is well taken,” said Rep. Mary Gay Scanlon, D-Pa., who was then overseeing proceedings.
Contributing: Ledyard King, Bart Jansen, Nicholas Wu and Courtney Subramanian, USA TODAY