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Trump, a master of branding, now wears this one: 'Impeached!'

President Donald Trump on the White House South

President Donald Trump on the White House South Lawn on Wednesday. Credit: EPA/Michael Reynolds

The scarlet 'I'

"ATROCIOUS LIES … AN ASSAULT ON AMERICA," Donald Trump said on Twitter. Then he went tweetless for a five-hour interlude as the final House debate on articles of impeachment slow-marched into the afternoon and early evening.

Sen. Lindsey Graham checked in on his friend. He passed along what Trump told him. "Well I’m being impeached, other than that, I’m doing OK," Trump said. The president's senior counselor, Kellyanne Conway, fielding questions from reporters in the White House briefing room, said Trump did not view impeachment as a stain on his legacy. "We think it’s ridiculous,” she said.

A White House official told NBC News the president's reaction was one of "disbelief" that the process had reached this point. Trump left the White House at dusk to fly to Michigan for a campaign rally, not stopping as he often does to parry questions from reporters waiting on the South Lawn. He was onstage when the House roll calls came in for two articles of impeachment, and he let loose.

"THEY'RE the ones that should be impeached. Every one of them," Trump told the crowd. "House Democrats are trying to nullify the ballots of tens of millions of patriotic Americans," he said. And who just got branded? "Crazy Nancy Pelosi’s House Democrats have branded themselves with an eternal mark of shame," said Trump. He had a new insult for House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff: "not exactly the best-looking guy we've ever seen."

Pointing to Republican unity behind him — "We didn't lose one Republican vote" — Trump said, "I'm not worried ... senators will do the right thing." Democrats, Trump says, will "receive a big backlash at the box office" — before correcting himself to "ballot box."

Impeachment aside, he stayed on his game, replaying many of his greatest rally hits: "Crooked Hillary," the anti-Trump FBI "lovers," "Pocahontas" Elizabeth Warren and "the greatest economy in history."

He also got angry with security officers for being too gentle, in his view, when removing protesters. "You've gotta get a little bit stronger than that, folks," Trump said. He called a female protester "a real slob." For more on Trump on Impeachment Day, see Newsday's story by Laura Figueroa Hernandez

Hear both sides

It wasn't really a debate. Democrats and Republicans, locked along partisan lines, took their turns on the House floor to recite talking points. They agreed that “this is a sad day” — but not on much else, writes Newsday's Tom Brune.

“The President used the power of his public office to obtain an improper personal, political benefit at the expense of America's national security,” said House Speaker Pelosi (D-Calif.) when she opened the impeachment debate. 

Schiff (D-Calif.), who led the impeachment inquiry, described the multilayered case of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress against Trump. “President Trump abused his power by pressuring the newly elected President of Ukraine to announce an investigation into President Trump’s political rival, Joe Biden, with the hopes of defeating Biden in the 2020 presidential election,” Schiff said. “ … He tried to cheat, and he got caught.”

Rep. James Sensenbrenner (R-Wis.), though, insisted Trump did nothing wrong because he said “ ‘do us a favor,’ not ‘me a favor,’ ” and contended, “He was referring to our country, the United States of America, not a personal political gain.”

Rep. Doug Collins (R-Ga.), the top Judiciary Committee Republican, led the attack on the process the Democratic majority employed to investigate and come up with the two articles of impeachment. “This is an impeachment based on presumption. This is basically a poll-tested impeachment on what sells to the American people.” He added, “What it is not is fair. What it is not is about the truth.”

Pelosi announced the results — 230-197 agreeing Trump abused his power, and 229-198 finding he obstructed Congress.

Cross that one off

Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) went too far even for Conway in Trump's defense when he said, "During that sham trial, Pontius Pilate afforded more rights to Jesus than Democrats have afforded this President in this process."

Said Conway: "I don't like many Jesus comparisons because he is my Lord and Savior and the Messiah to me and many Christians around the world.” Loudermilk wasn't the only House member going to extremes. Rep. Mike Kelly (R-Pa.), compared the impeachment of Trump to the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in 1941 and declared, "Today, December the 18th, 2019, is another date that will live in infamy."

On the other side of the aisle, Rep. Cedric L. Richmond (D-La.) compared Trump's actions to shooting the Constitution. Trump "bragged that he could shoot someone on Fifth Avenue and get away with it,” Richmond said. “Well, he’s shooting holes in our Constitution on Pennsylvania Avenue.”

Perhaps the tensest moment came after Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-Texas) voiced unsupported charges of Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. elections. House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler (D-Manhattan) said, “I am deeply concerned that any member of the House would spout Russian propaganda on the floor of the House.” Gohmert, shouting, angrily returned to the mic, which was turned off, and demanded those words be stricken from the record. Nadler ignored him. (See it on video.)

Janison: A clockwork impeachment

It may be that Democrats see getting impeachment done now is more important than what happens in a Senate trial, writes Newsday's Dan Janison.

Pelosi heads a majority that is barely a year old. They face voters again next year, creating the incentive for a show of party solidarity even as polls now suggest an uptick in Trump's approval. Proceeding with impeachment allowed Democrats on Wednesday to turn habitual GOP flag-waving around. Taking the position they are the true defenders of the U.S. Constitution is as nonpartisan an argument as there is.

If 2020 were not a national election year, the House Democrats perhaps could have strengthened their case by waiting for the courts to order enforcement of subpoenas the administration has defied. But both Trump and the House face survival at the polls in less than 11 months.

Now slam on brakes?

House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, who ranks second to Pelosi, said Democrats should consider a delay in sending the articles of impeachment to the Senate without concessions by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell on how a trial will be conducted, Politico reports.

Pelosi, in a news conference after the impeachment vote, didn't rule it out. "So far, we haven't seen anything that looks fair to us," she told reporters.

Hoyer (D-Md.) said Democratic colleagues have approached him in recent days citing a Washington Post op-ed in which constitutional lawyer Laurence Tribe calls on Democrats to hold out for better terms. McConnell has stated openly that he doesn't intend to be impartial and will coordinate strategy with the White House.

"Such a proceeding would fail to render a meaningful verdict of acquittal," Tribe wrote. "It would also fail to inform the public, which has the right to know the truth about the conduct of its President."

The notion of prolonging the impeachment process could raise the anxiety of House members from competitive districts. Justifying his expected fix, McConnell said Thursday: “The framers built the Senate to provide stability, to keep partisan passions from boiling over. Moments like this are why the United States Senate exists.”

Polling latest

A new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll finds the public deadlocked, 48% to 48%, over whether Trump should be removed from office. Most other recent polls have been close on the question.

An interesting poll from the Military Times finds 50% of active-duty service members have an unfavorable view of Trump, compared with 42% who approve. Officers have a dimmer view of Trump than the enlisted.

Trump's numbers are a decline from the 46%-37% positive rating he had when elected in November 2016. If it's any consolation for Trump, Barack Obama's rating when he left office was worse.

Obamacare ruling keeps fate in doubt

A federal appeals court on Wednesday struck down Obamacare’s individual mandate, which the then-Republican-dominated Congress effectively eliminated in 2017. However, the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans largely ducked the central question of whether the rest of the Affordable Care Act remained valid.

Politico writes that the ruling keeps the legal threat to Obamacare alive while reducing the likelihood the Supreme Court could render a final verdict on the law before the 2020 elections. But it could renew pressure on Trump and Republicans to explain how they will preserve insurance protections for preexisting conditions after failing to agree on an Obamacare replacement for years. 

What else is happening: 

  • A White House staffer made the rounds of Senate offices to drop off packages with an oversized Christmas card and a copy of Trump's scathing Tuesday letter to Pelosi.
  • Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, a 2020 Democratic presidential contender often at odds with her party, voted "present" on both articles of impeachment.
  • Some in the House Democratic rank and file who grumbled about Pelosi's leadership in the past now hold her in awe for how she fights against Trump, Politico reports. Ohio Rep. Tim Ryan, who challenged her for party leadership in 2016, said, “Nancy Pelosi is the absolute best politician that the Democratic Party has seen since Lyndon Johnson."
  • Michael Bloomberg said of his Democratic rivals for president: "I don't think any of them have the experience," In an MSNBC interview, Bloomberg said that includes Biden. "He's never been the manager of an organization, he's never run a school system," he said.
  • More than 2 million Americans who work for the federal government soon will have access to 12 weeks of mandatory paid parental leave under the military spending bill Trump is expected to sign.
  • A New York judge on Wednesday threw out state mortgage-fraud charges against Paul Manafort on double jeopardy grounds, saying it's too similar to the federal case for which the former Trump campaign chairman is serving a prison sentence. Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.'s office said it will appeal.
  • Trump intervened to cut the federal government's Medicaid funding for Puerto Rico as part of a larger government spending deal, Politico reported, citing four sources with knowledge of the discussions. Bad blood remains from criticism aimed at Trump over the response to Hurricane Maria in 2017.

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