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The House is facing a moment of truth: the looming impeachment of President Trump on charges of abusing his power and obstructing Congress. As lawmakers took up the matter, Democrats argued that they must hold Trump accountable for his handling of Ukraine policy, while Republicans insisted the entire investigation is an unjustified “sham.” Lisa Desjardins reports and joins John Yang to discuss.
The House of Representatives is facing its moment of truth this evening, the impeachment of President Trump, the charges, abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
Our coverage begins with congressional correspondent Lisa Desjardins telling us about this momentous day.
The House will be in order.
perhaps it was a specter of history.
Today marks a sad day for America.
Or the high stakes involved.
Rep. Debbie Mucarsel-Powell, D-Fla.:
This president, elected by the American people, has violated his oath of office and violated the rule of law.
Rep. Hank Johnson, D-Ga.:
The president is, as we speak, abusing his power and placing himself above the law.
Or perhaps a sense that the die was already cast.
Rep. Phil Roe, R-Tenn.:
Since Donald Trump was elected in 2016, Democrats have been on a crusade to stop him by any means.
In the House chamber today, weeks of fiery words over hypothetical impeachment turned somber and serious when lawmakers faced the reality.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:
I solemnly and sadly open the debate on the impeachment of the president of the United States.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi wore a large broach of the House mace, a symbol of the power of the speaker of the House, as she charged that the president has undermined his office.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi:
If we do not act now, we would be derelict in our duty. It is tragic that the president's reckless actions make impeachment necessary. He gave us no choice.
Democrats laid out their argument, that President Trump abused his power, using his office to pressure Ukrainian President Vladimir Zelensky into opening investigations that would help Mr. Trump politically.
Jim McGovern of Massachusetts:
Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass.:
Our inquiry is simply to answer the following question: Did President Trump and his top advisers corruptly withhold official government actions to obtain an improper advantage in the next election?
We now know, through the hard work of our investigative committees and because of the president's own admission, that the answer to that question is yes.
And Pramila Jayapal of Washington state.
Rep. Pramila Jayapal, D-Wash.:
The president told us himself on national television exactly what he wanted from the phone call with President Zelensky. He came onto the White House lawn and he said, I wanted President Zelensky to open an investigation into the Bidens.
He solicited foreign interference before, he is doing it now, and he will do it again. The president is the smoking gun.
But Republicans portrayed President Trump as the victim here, offering several counterarguments, first assailing Democrats' evidence as incomplete.
Tom Cole of Oklahoma:
Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla.:
My colleagues in the majority believe they have proven their case. Let me be clear. They have not. The entire premise of these articles of impeachment rests on a pause placed on Ukrainian security assistance, a pause of 55 days.
The majority has spun creative narratives as to the meaning and the motive of this pause, alleging the president demanded a — quote — "quid pro quo" — unquote — but with no factual evidence to back it up.
Argument two from Republicans, that Speaker Pelosi and House Democrats are motivated by politics, not principle.
Utah’s Chris Stewart:
Rep. Chris Stewart, R-Utah:
This vote this day is about one thing and one thing only. They hate this president. They hate those of us who voted for him. They think we're stupid. They think we made a mistake.
They think Hillary Clinton should be the president, and they want to fix that. That's what this vote is about. They want to take away my vote and throw it in the trash.
And Florida's Ross Spano.
Rep. Ross Spano, R-Fla.:
The American people see through this sad charade for what it is, an attempt to undo the 2016 election, based on hearsay and opinion, not fact. This is incredibly divisive and has lowered the bar for what future presidents will face.
I strongly oppose the articles before us today, and I hope that we will finally move past this nightmare!
The rhythm of the day was partisan, but the tone was less caustic than recently, even as Republicans repeated the president's bottom line.
Rep. Debbie Lesko, R-Ariz.:
This impeachment is a total joke and a total sham.
And Democrats repeated that, for them, this is about principle and protecting the future.
Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I.:
To my friends on the other side of the aisle, I say this: This is not about making history. This is about holding a lawless president accountable in the way our framers intended.
As the House debated his fate, President Trump blasted out his response on Twitter, writing of "atrocious lies" by what he called "the radical left, an assault on America and an assault on the Republican Party."
Outside the Capitol, some voters loudly disagreed.
(CHEERING AND APPLAUSE)
Hundreds of pro-impeachment demonstrators rallied in the cold Washington morning. This followed last night's nationwide protests, including in San Francisco, represented by Speaker Pelosi, and New Orleans, where protesters stood outside Republican Whip Steve Scalise's office.
Now, early in the day, Republicans tried some parliamentary moves to voice their objections to this process, but I'm told they do not plan to have any more motions like that.
What that means, John, is, we are likely in the found hour or so of debate. We expect votes soon. And we expect it to be largely partisan, with the exception of perhaps two or so Democrats who may vote with Republicans.
Lisa, as we take a live look at what's happening on the House floor right now, I want to ask you. This is one of the days where, Lisa, you had a front-row seat to history.
Give us, give the viewers some idea of what it was like in the chamber, what it was like on Capitol Hill that they could not see and hear.
Well, as our viewers have no doubt felt, this has been an incredibly turbulent and dramatic story for the past two months.
But, John, today felt strangely like the moment after a storm, where lawmakers felt weary, to some degree. They didn't feel like they were at sort of their high-tempered selves. They had more of a moment of pause.
It was an unusual feeling, but one that was more reflective than I have seen in the past. Also noteworthy, John, today, you could see the full skills of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on display. It wasn't evident to those who saw the camera shots, but she the whole time, or much of the time, was on the House floor, sitting, talking with her members.
Didn't look like she was twisting elbows, as much as doing what she does well, keeping in very close touch with her caucus, which I think is how she's been able to keep them unified on something that is not an easy vote for all of her members.
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