Debate on historic articles of impeachment against President Trump kicked off in earnest shortly after noon on Wednesday amid fierce GOP objections and Speaker Nancy Pelosi declaring Democrats have “no choice” but to impeach.
The House approved by a 228-197 vote the rule for guidelines for impeachment debate. That set off what is expected to be six hours of floor arguments and an expected Wednesday evening vote to make Trump the third president ever impeached.
There were two Democratic defections on that initial vote: Reps. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and outgoing Democrat Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey who is planning to become a Republican. They are the same two members who broke ranks with the Democratic Party in launching the impeachment inquiry on Halloween.
Pelosi opened the debate next to a poster of the American flag saying it’s a matter of fact that Trump violated the Constitution.
“That is why today as speaker of the House, I solemnly and sadly open the debate on the impeachment of the president of the United States,” Pelosi said on the House floor. “If we do not act now, we would be derelict in our duty. It is tragic that the President’s reckless actions, make impeachment necessary.
“He gave us no choice.”
Rep. Doug Collins, R-Ga., swiftly shot back on the floor, “The president did nothing wrong.”
Punctuating the debate was a series of parliamentary curveballs, all in the run-up to this momentous moment in American politics — the product of a process that has sharply split the country in already-divisive times.
Shortly after the House gaveled in at 9 a.m., one GOP member forced a vote on whether to adjourn — requiring lawmakers to head to the floor before the debate even started.
“I just moved for the House to adjourn so that we can stop wasting America’s time on impeachment,” tweeted Rep. Andy Biggs, R-Ariz. “Republicans stand united against this radical, vindictive, partisan sham by the Democrats.”
The ill-fated motion kicked off what is expected to be a long day in the deeply divided House, where Democrats believe it’s their solemn duty to impeach the president to preserve the democracy and the integrity of elections. Meanwhile, Republicans have dismissed the impeachment as an illegitimate way to undo the results of the 2016 election.
There were fireworks outside the Capitol, too. Several hundred people protested in the chilly December cold in favor of impeachment and removing Trump from office, following more than 600 anti-Trump rallies across the country Tuesday evening.
Two votes are expected this evening on the articles. The first article alleges abuse of power over Trump pressuring Ukraine to launch investigations into Democrats that could benefit his re-election campaign — the president withheld aid at the time, but insists to this day that there was no “quid pro quo.” The second alleges obstruction of Congress over Trump preventing the House from interviewing witnesses and obtaining documents for the impeachment investigation.
Immediately after Biggs’ motion to adjourn was defeated Wednesday, Republican Leader Kevin McCarthy offered another privileged resolution to condemn the way Intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff and Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler handled the impeachment hearings.
That motion set off another round of voting. GOP Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., then stood up raising a “point of order” alleging the Democrats have violated the rights of the minority. The effort was dismissed by the presiding speaker Rep. Diana DeGette, D-Colo.
More than an hour later, House Democrats finally moved forward on debating the rules of the impeachment.
“The evidence is as clear as it is overwhelming,” said Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass. “If a president undermining our national security and using the federal government for his own selfish personal gain is not impeachable conduct then…I don’t know what is.”
But GOP Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., shot back.
“If we’re really being honest, Democrats have been searching for a reason to impeach President Trump since the day he was elected,” Cole said.
Despite the prolonged floor drama, Pelosi has the votes to make Trump the third president ever impeached. President Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton were impeached in the House, but acquitted in the Senate. President Richard Nixon resigned before impeachment.
In the hours leading up to impeachment day, most of the Democrats in the 31 districts Trump won in 2016 came out in support of impeachment, giving Pelosi the 216 votes necessary.
Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich, told Fox News that her decision to vote “yes” is the right thing to do, but acknowledged she’s in a tough spot politically. The Republican National Committee and other pro-Trump groups like the American Action Network are pumping millions into TV ads to attack the swing district Democrats.
“For me it reflects some of the tough polarization we have in our times right now, but I think a lot of those 30 [moderate Democrats] would be helped politically if they did vote no but they’re deciding to do it anyway,” Slotkin told “America’s Newsroom.”
Trump, emboldened by his virtually unanimous support from GOP members, sent Pelosi a letter on the eve of his impeachment calling it “an illegal, partisan attempted coup.”
“History will judge you harshly as you proceed with this impeachment charade,” wrote Trump.
Trump, who insists his call with the Ukraine president was “perfect,” heads to battleground Michigan for a campaign rally Wednesday night.
Schiff, who has been the target of Trump’s anger, stood by how he handled the impeachment process. Asked if he had any regrets as he headed to the House floor, the California Democrat responded: “No. Not at all. This was tragically made necessary by the president’s misconduct, by the abuse of his office.
“And I think there very well may be members who have regrets after this day when they’re asked in the future why they did nothing to stand up to the unethical president who is destroying our national security.”
Fox News’ Chad Pergram, Adam Shaw, Sarah Tobianski and Jason Smith contributed to this report.