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 TrumpSanders says he wouldn't 'drop dead' if Trump decided on universal healthcare Overnight Health Care: Trump officials lay groundwork for May reopening | Democrats ramp up talks with Mnuchin on next relief deal | Fauci says death toll could be around 60,000 Hillicon Valley: State officials push for more election funds | Coronavirus surveillance concerns ramp up pressure for privacy bill | Senators warned not to use Zoom | Agencies ask FCC to revoke China Telecom's license 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 NadlerHouse Judiciary Committee postpones hearing with Barr amid coronavirus outbreak House Democrats plead with key committee chairman to allow remote voting amid coronavirus pandemic Pelosi rejects calls to shutter Capitol: 'We are the captains of this ship' MORE (N.Y.) and Doug CollinsDouglas (Doug) Allen CollinsLoeffler liquidates stocks amid uproar over trades after Senate coronavirus briefing Democrats text over 1 million Georgia voters to boost mail voting efforts The Hill's Campaign Report: Wisconsin votes despite coronavirus pandemic 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 ColeHow to get coronavirus oversight right Democrats eye remote voting options Members of House GOP leadership self-quarantining after first lawmakers test positive 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 WoodallOmar endorses progressive Georgia Democrat running for House seat House candidate asks FEC to let her use campaign funds for health insurance House Democrats launch effort to register minority voters in key districts 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 RaskinTop House Oversight Democrats ask DHS to reduce immigrant detainee population 20 House Dems call on Trump to issue two-week, nationwide shelter-in-place order Senators urge Congress to include election funds in coronavirus stimulus 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 BidenSteyer endorses Biden for president Sanders 2020 press secretary: Democratic leadership interested in 'corporate status quo' or 'they're planning to replace Joe' Biden joins calls to release racial breakdowns of coronavirus cases, deaths 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 PelosiPelosi calls for investigation into reports of mistreatment of pregnant women in DHS custody Wisconsin highlights why states need a bipartisan plan that doesn't include Democrats federalizing elections Pelosi defends push for mail-in voting: GOP 'afraid' to let people vote 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.