After long day of debate, House votes to impeach President Trump

Trump, the third president to be impeached, calls it an ‘assault on America’

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., speaks as the House of Representatives debates the articles of impeachment against President Trump, Dec. 18, 2019, in Washington. (ABC News)

WASHINGTON – The U.S. House held a historic vote Wednesday evening on Capitol Hill.

The House voted, almost entirely along party lines, to impeach President Donald Trump on both articles of impeachment approved by the House Judiciary Committee.

Democratic Speaker Nancy Pelosi insisted Congress must “defend democracy” by evicting Trump from the White House, and now that decision will shift to the U.S. Senate.

Trump becomes just the third American president to be impeached, a distinctive dark mark on his tenure.

Trump said that despite the Democrats’ patriotic talk, they were actually perpetrating “an assault on America.”

Pelosi invoked the Pledge of Allegiance and the Preamble to the Constitution in arguing that the Founders’ vision for a republic was threatened by the actions by Trump in the White House.

“Today we are here to defend democracy for the people,″ she said to applause from Democrats in the chamber. “I solemnly and sadly open the debate on the impeachment of the president of the United States.”

Republicans swiftly came to the president’s defense.

Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia warned that the Founders were just as concerned about a purely partisan impeachment, as this one is on track to become, wielded by the power of a majority party.

“This is not a solemn occasion,” he mocked. “You’ve been wanting to to do this ever since the gentlemen was elected.″

The rare undertaking to impeach a president, unfolding over a long day of debate, has split the lawmakers in Congress much the way Americans have different views of Trump’s unusual presidency and the articles of impeachment against him. Final votes were expected late in the evening.

Democrats overwhelmingly approved the rules for the debate, 228-197, with just two defections from Pelosi’s ranks, an early indication of how the votes will eventually fall on the articles of impeachment.

No Republicans supported the procedural vote, but Democrats picked up backing from Rep. Justin Amash, the Michigan conservative, who left the GOP this year to become an independent over his support for impeachment.

Trump tweeted his outrage with even more capital letters and exclamation marks than usual:

According to a tally compiled by The Associated Press, a clear House majority was ready to vote to impeach him. The Senate, where the GOP has the majority, is expected to acquit him in a trial next year.

“This is a democracy defining moment,”said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., the chairman of the Rules Committee, as the proceedings began. “This is about protecting our democracy.”

Republican Rep. Tom Cole of Oklahoma, called it “a very sad day” with the partisan voting to come.

“Democrats have been searching for a reason to impeach President Trump since the day he was elected,” he said.

One Democrat, Joe Kennedy III of Massachusetts, read a letter to his young children explaining his vote to impeach. “This is a moment you will read about in your history books,” he told them.

The House chaplain, the Rev. Pat Conroy, opened the session with morning prayer. “Help them, and help us all,” he said.

As soon as the session opened, Republicans tried, and failed, to halt what one called the “unfair, rigged” process. All of their efforts -- to adjourn, to condemn, to delay -- were soundly turned away.

The president, who was to depart later for a rally in the election battleground state of Michigan, fired off a furious letter to Pelosi on Tuesday denouncing the “vicious crusade” against him but acknowledging he was powerless to stop the expected outcome.

Trump implores Americans to “read the transcript,” but the facts of his July phone call with the Ukraine president that sparked the impeachment inquiry have been largely confirmed by witnesses in impeachment hearings. Trump asked Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Democrats and his 2020 political rival Joe Biden. At the time, the newly elected Ukraine leader was hoping for a coveted White House visit to showcase his standing with the U.S., his country’s most important ally. He was also counting on nearly $400 million in military aid as his country confronted its hostile neighbor, Russia.

The question for lawmakers, and Americans, is whether those actions, and the White House’s block on officials testifying for the House investigation, are impeachable offenses.