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House panel sets guidelines for historic impeachment vote

Democrats on the House Rules Committee on Tuesday adopted guidelines to govern passage of the impeachment articles targeting President TrumpDonald John TrumpVenezuela judge orders prison time for 6 American oil executives Trump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation MORE, setting the stage for Wednesday’s vote to impeach a president for just the third time in U.S. history.

Under the guidelines, the impeachment articles will get six hours of debate, equally divided between Democrats and Republicans. The debate will be controlled by the top Democrat and Republican on the House Judiciary Committee — Reps. Jerrold NadlerJerrold (Jerry) Lewis NadlerTop Republicans praise Trump's Flynn pardon Democratic impeachment leaders blast Trump's pardon of Flynn Democrats accuse GSA of undermining national security by not certifying Biden win MORE (N.Y.) and Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsMajority say they want GOP in control of Senate: poll The Hill's Morning Report - Presented by the UAE Embassy in Washington, DC - Trump, Biden clash over transition holdup, pandemic plans Georgia secretary of state says wife has received threatening texts about recount MORE (Ga.), respectively.

Nadler or his designee is also able to consider “a resolution appointing and authorizing managers for the impeachment trial” of Trump after the rule is adopted, signaling the next phase of impeachment in the Senate will soon be underway.

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The guidelines passed through the Rules Committee along strict party lines, following a marathon 10-hour debate featuring closing argument-type statements from leaders of the Judiciary panel, which had drafted the articles last week.

Just before the rule was passed, Republicans sought to tweak the parameters. Rep. Tom ColeThomas (Tom) Jeffrey ColeHouse report says lawmakers could securely cast remote votes amid pandemic Next Congress expected to have record diversity Native Americans elected to Congress in record numbers this year MORE (Okla.), the top Republican on the panel, proposed an amendment to change the resolution to 12 hours of debate, arguing that Democrats rushed the impeachment of Trump and that such a fast inquiry warrants more time to debate.

Rules Committee Chairman Jim McGovern (D-Mass.), however, disagreed, saying they were giving members a "reasonable amount of time."

"We are dealing with fewer articles of impeachment with President Trump than we were with President Clinton, and I think it is a fair amount of time," McGovern said in response before the GOP amendment was voted down.

The second amendment, offered by Rep. Rob WoodallWilliam (Rob) Robert WoodallMcCarthy guarantees GOP will take back House in 2022 Rundown of the House seats Democrats, GOP flipped on Election Day Bustos won't seek to chair DCCC again in wake of 2020 results MORE (R-Ga.), would have granted Republicans the power to stage their own impeachment hearing. Both proposals were shot down by the majority Democrats.

The Rules hearing marks the last in a series of public forums on impeachment, which also passed through the chamber's Intelligence and Judiciary panels, before the full House floor moves to the historic vote.

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The arguments laid out before the panel Tuesday were decidedly familiar.

Democrats, who launched their impeachment inquiry in September, have argued that Trump abused his office in pressing Ukrainian leaders to find dirt on his political rivals and then obstructed Congress when Democrats sought to investigate the affair. They’re framing impeachment as Congress’s last resort in protecting the country’s democracy from a president who would enlist foreign help to sway an election.

“We all took an oath not to defend a political party but to uphold the Constitution of the United States,” said McGovern. “History is testing us.” 

Republicans rejected those charges outright, rushing to Trump’s defense with arguments that the president’s investigation requests were designed broadly to combat corruption while accusing Democrats of conducting a “scam” investigation that denied the president a fair defense.

“There's no way this can or should be viewed as legitimate, certainly not by Republicans whose minority rights have been trampled on every step on the way and certainly not by the American people observing this disastrous political show scene by scene,” said Cole.

The outcome was known from the start: Democrats used their majority to muscle the rule through the committee in a 9-4 vote, sending the impeachment articles to the floor for consideration beginning Wednesday morning.

The impeachment debate, which followed similar curvatures of previous dueling Democratic and GOP claims about the propriety of Trump’s contacts with Ukraine, provided a new cast of Democratic and Republican lawmakers the opportunity to amplify their views before the rolling television cameras.

The top Democrat and Republican on the Judiciary Committee were expected to kick off the hearing by going toe-to-toe in debating the merits of the two impeachment articles — abuse of power and obstruction of Congress — but an unexpected family emergency led Nadler to miss the high-profile hearing.

Rather, Rep. Jamie RaskinJamin (Jamie) Ben RaskinDemocrats debate fate of Trump probes if Biden wins Congress must repeal tax breaks for the wealthy passed in CARES Act COVID-19 and the problem of presidential succession MORE (D-Md.), a former constitutional lawyer and prominent Judiciary member, found himself propelled into the high-profile role of defending Democrats' view that Trump should be removed from office for seeking to recruit a foreign power to hurt a 2020 political rival’s campaign.

"The president's continuing course of conduct constitutes a clear and present danger to democracy in America. We cannot allow this misconduct to pass. It would be a sellout of our Constitution, our foreign policy, our national security and our democracy," Raskin said in his opening remarks.

He was also tasked with battling against the claims of Collins, who railed against the “sham” impeachment process as a precooked, partisan-driven effort to remove Trump from office because Democrats cannot beat him at the ballot box.

Collins, echoing other Republicans, also warned that the decisions made this week will have lasting consequences.

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“There will be a day of reckoning. The calendar and the clock will continue. But what you do here and how we have trashed the process in getting here will live on,” Collins said.

The Rules process is not limited to the 13 members of the panel and the two Judiciary representatives. Any lawmakers outside the committee could have testified or offered amendments. Yet in a surprise development, the markup was limited almost exclusively to Raskin and Collins, who sat for hours taking questions and trading barbs with opposing members of the Rules panel.

The Rules Committee hearing comes shortly after the Intelligence and Judiciary panels moved through the fact-finding part of the nearly three-month inquiry to drafting and debating the articles.

Democrats say Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to open politically motivated investigations into former Vice President Joe BidenJoe BidenTrump says he'll leave White House if Biden declared winner of Electoral College The Memo: Biden faces tough road on pledge to heal nation US records 2,300 COVID-19 deaths as pandemic rises with holidays MORE and interference in the 2016 presidential election.

In particular, they allege that he used the promise of a White House meeting and nearly $400 million in U.S. aid as leverage to get Zelensky to make a public commitment about such probes.

Trump has denied wrongdoing and sent a fiery six-page letter to Speaker Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiGovernors take heat for violating their own coronavirus restrictions Spending deal clears obstacle in shutdown fight Ocasio-Cortez, Cruz trade jabs over COVID-19 relief: People 'going hungry as you tweet from' vacation MORE (D-Calif.) on Tuesday accusing Democrats of an "unprecedented and unconstitutional abuse of power."

The full House vote will make Trump the third president in the nation’s history to be impeached, and it is expected to be largely along party lines.