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House votes to send impeachment charges to Senate, approving managers

The House impeachment managers on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.
The House impeachment managers on Capitol Hill on Wednesday.JIM WATSON/AFP via Getty Images

WASHINGTON — A team of newly appointed House impeachment managers marched two charges against President Trump across the Capitol on Wednesday, delivering them to the Senate along with a formal notification that they are ready to begin only the third presidential impeachment trial in American history.

The highly choreographed procession, just hours after the House voted almost entirely along party lines to send the articles and appoint the managers, marked the beginning of what promises to be a historic if partisan impeachment trial, a proceeding that has already opened divisions in the normally staid Senate.

The tribunal, the first impeachment trial to play out in a presidential election year, has the potential to shape Trump’s legacy, to stoke the country’s political polarization, and to inject new uncertainty into the 2020 elections.

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The 228-193 vote to adopt the articles and appoint the managers came almost a month after the House impeached Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, formally accusing him of seeking foreign election assistance from Ukraine and then trying to conceal his actions from a House inquiry.

Only one Democrat, Representative Collin C. Peterson of Minnesota, joined every Republican in voting “no.”

Now the trial is set to begin. On Thursday the Senate will invite the impeachment managers to formally exhibit the articles. Once they do so, the Senate will summon Chief Justice John Roberts to preside and all senators will take an oath to administer “impartial justice.”

The Senate must promptly issue a summons to Trump informing him of the charges and requesting a response. At the White House on Wednesday, an irate Trump denounced the inquiry anew as a “hoax,” and encouraged Republican lawmakers to rally to his defense shortly before the vote.

“I’d rather have you voting than sitting here listening to me introduce you,” Trump told lawmakers during a signing ceremony for an initial trade deal with China, instructing them to leave if they needed to cast votes at the Capitol against moving forward with impeachment. “They have a hoax going on over there — let’s take care of it.”

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“We are here today to cross a very important threshold in American history,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said as she spoke on the House floor before the vote. Regardless of the outcome, she added, Trump would be “impeached for life.”

Earlier Wednesday, Pelosi introduced the lawmakers who would serve as prosecutors, or managers, of the case. Both chambers were also grappling Wednesday with a trove of new documents related to Trump’s pressure campaign that played into Democrats’ arguments that any trial must include new witnesses and evidence. More material was expected to be disclosed, according to an official working on the impeachment inquiry.

“Time has been our friend in all of this because it has yielded incriminating evidence, more truth into the public domain,” Pelosi told reporters, arguing that the emergence of new revelations had validated her strategy to delay pressing charges for weeks.

In the Senate, the contours of an unpredictable trial were taking shape as crucial Republicans indicated they would soon debate the issue of whether to call witnesses during the proceedings. Senator Susan Collins, a moderate from Maine, said she had worked with a cluster of like-minded Republicans — Senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Mitt Romney of Utah — to ensure a vote on the matter after opening arguments from each side, which Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, the majority leader, has already proposed.

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Pelosi announced a House prosecution team that will be led by Representative Adam B. Schiff of California, the chairman of the Intelligence Committee who led the Ukraine inquiry.

He will be joined by Representatives Jerrold Nadler of New York, chairman of the Judiciary Committee; Zoe Lofgren of California; Hakeem Jeffries of New York; Val B. Demings of Florida; Jason Crow of Colorado; and Sylvia R. Garcia of Texas.

Several of the lawmakers have courtroom experience of some kind, a quality Pelosi said she sought. Two, Crow and Garcia, are first-term members.

The managers met for the first time as a group on Wednesday to discuss strategy in the basement chambers of the Intelligence Committee, where the impeachment inquiry unfolded last fall.

In the coming days and weeks, the managers will try to lift their arguments against Trump above partisan politics. Their task is twofold.

First they will aim to re-create the highlights of two-month investigation into the Ukraine matter, relying on testimony from more than a dozen senior US diplomats and White House officials who outlined a broad campaign by Trump to use the levers of his government to exert pressure on Ukraine to publicly announce investigations into former vice president Joe Biden and claims that the Democrats colluded with Ukraine in the 2016 election. The president, they said, ultimately withheld $400 million in military aid earmarked for Ukraine and a coveted White House meeting for its new leader as leverage.

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“This trial is necessary because President Trump gravely abused the power of his office when he strong-armed a foreign government to announce investigations into his domestic political rival,” Nadler said during a brief debate on the House floor before the vote.

But Republican leaders on both sides of the Capitol appeared unmoved. McConnell called the House’s Ukraine investigation “a pale imitation of a real inquiry.” Representative Kevin McCarthy, Republican of California, the House minority leader, called the whole process a “national nightmare.”

Both men also accused Democrats of hypocrisy for their decision to delay bringing the charges for nearly a month after arguing that the threat posed by Trump to the 2020 election was urgent and demanded speedy action to remove him.

“I have three questions for my friends on the other side of the aisle, the Democrats,” McCarthy said. “What happened to impeachment being urgent? What happened to Congress being on the clock? What happened to the House being derelict in our duty if we did not act immediately?”

Republican leaders have said the proceeding will not begin in earnest until next Tuesday, after the long holiday weekend.

That will give them time to clear other pending legislative items, including a North American trade agreement, and finish preparing for a process that could consume senators for weeks.