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5 takeaways from the impeachment debate

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), speaks on Capitol

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), speaks on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C., on Wednesday after the House of Representatives voted to impeach President Donald Trump. Credit: AP / Susan Walsh

WASHINGTON — When the House of Representatives took up the debate and vote on impeachment of President Donald Trump on Wednesday, both Democrats and Republicans agreed that “this is a sad day” — but they did not agree on much else.

In the more than seven hours of debate, the two sides offered starkly different views of the July 25 call in which Trump asked Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky to do a favor and investigate Ukraine’s role in the 2016 U.S. election and Democrat Joe Biden and his son.

“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 Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) when she opened the impeachment debate.

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

Here are some highlights from the debate.

Pro-impeachment

Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), who led the impeachment inquiry, described the multilayered case of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress against Trump. “We have found incontrovertible evidence that 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. To carry out the scheme, he said, Trump withheld “a White House meeting” and “suspended hundreds of millions of dollars of military aid” to “coerce” Ukraine into doing “his electoral dirty work.” And he would have gotten away with it, Schiff said, except for a whistleblower. “He tried to cheat, and he got caught.”

Anti-impeachment

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 two articles of impeachment. “I will fight this on process, which has been deplorable,” he said, because Democrats “trampled” Republican’s rights and Trump’s due process to do it quickly. “I will fight facts all day long, because what we found here today is a president who did not do as being charged,” he said. “The two parties say no pressure, nothing was ever done to get the money. In fact, they didn’t even know the money was held.” And he concluded, “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.”

The voices of Long Island

Three Long Island representatives weighed in during the momentous debate. Neither Rep. Kathleen Rice (D-Garden City) nor Rep. Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) spoke. Rep. Lee Zeldin (R-Shirley) rose twice to speak. First, he challenged Democrats’ “indisputable” charges by offering alternative explanations for Trump’s actions, saying, “So stop saying the facts aren’t contested.” And later he argued against impeachment and for an investigation into the Bidens in Ukraine. Rep. Peter King (R-Seaford), who noted he voted no on the impeachment of President Bill Clinton 21 years ago, said, “President Trump and I grew up in the same borough of New York City, and today I am proud to stand with President Trump and urge a no vote on these horrible articles of impeachment.” And Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-St. Albans), the only Long Island Democrat to step up to the podium, said, “The camera of history is rolling” and he will vote for impeachment “because I could not look my granddaughter or any member of future generations in the eye having condoned actions that undermine our democratic system.”

Other voices

Some lawmakers on both sides drew attention with pointed or colorful rhetoric. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Ohio) said, “Today House Democrats are pursuing a wacky constitutional theory under which all four presidents on Mount Rushmore could have been impeached.” Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-Manhattan), the Judiciary Committee chairman, accused Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-Texas) of spreading “Russian propaganda” by saying Ukraine interfered in the 2016 U.S. election. Rep. Barry Loudermilk (R-Ga.) compared Democrats, unfavorably, to Pontius Pilot, who allowed Jesus to face his accusers. “Pontius Pilot afforded more rights to Jesus,” he said, “than the Democrats have afforded this president.” Noting Trump’s public appeals in his phone call and request for Ukraine and China to investigate Biden, Rep. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) said, “The president is the smoking gun.”

The deep divide

The Trump impeachment is more partisan than previous impeachments. All Republicans voted no, and all but a handful of Democrats voted yes. The abuse of power article passed 230 to 197, and the obstruction of Congress article passed 229 to 198. Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) stood out, voting no on both articles. So did Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey, but he’s switching parties to become a Republican. Rep. Jared Golden (D-Maine) split his vote: Yes on Article 1 but no on Article 2. And Rep. Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii) voted present on both. Rep. Jusin Amash (I-Mich.), who left the GOP over Trump, voted yes on both articles. In the President Bill Clinton impeachment, four Republicans — including King — broke ranks to vote against all four articles of impeachment and five Democrats broke ranks to vote for three of the four articles (and one for the fourth). King voted the party line on Trump.

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