Washington: Donald Trump has become the third US President in history to be impeached by the Democrat-controlled US House of Representatives, setting up a trial in the Republican-controlled Senate that will decide whether he remains in office.
The first of two articles of impeachment – accusing the President of abuse of power – was approved by a vote of 230-197 on Wednesday, reports Efe news.
Two Democrats voted against adopting the article, while one of the candidates seeking the Democratic nomination to challenge Trump in 2020, Hawaii Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard, voted “present”.
All 195 of the Republicans who were in the House for the vote opposed the article.
The House proceeded immediately to vote on the second article, obstruction of Congress.
The voting followed more than eight hours of heated debate.
The abuse of power charge stems from an allegation that Trump sought personal political gain this year by improperly pressuring Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to publicly announce a corruption investigation into former US Vice President Joe Biden, a leading contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, and his son Hunter.
The committee also voted to approve a charge that Trump obstructed the House impeachment inquiry by blocking officials from testifying and preventing the sharing of federal government documents with Congress.
The two Democrats who voted “no” were New Jersey Representative Jeff Van Drew, who is set to switch parties over the issue, and Minnesota Representative Collin Peterson.
A trial, probably starting in January 2020, will be held in the Republican-controlled Senate, where a highly unlikely two-thirds super-majority (67 out of 100) would be needed to convict Trump and remove him from office.
Before the process moved to the Judiciary Committee, the Democratic-led House Intelligence Committee had conducted closed-door interviews and public hearings starting in late September aimed at determining whether Trump abused his office through his Ukraine dealings.
On December 3, that committee – led by California Democrat Adam Schiff – approved a report stating that Trump had sought an investigation by Kiev into the Bidens and into alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 US election with a view to improving his re-election prospects in 2020.
It also said the President had “engaged in categorical and unprecedented obstruction in order to cover up his misconduct”.
The issue of quid pro quo – particularly as relates to a July 25 phone call between Trump and Zelensky – is at the heart of the impeachment inquiry, which was launched in response to a whistle-blower complaint.
Trump had temporarily frozen nearly $400 million in military aid to Ukraine just ahead of the phone call, prompting suspicion that the request to investigate the Bidens was linked to the release of the funds.
Trump, who vehemently denies that any quid pro quo was at work and says he withheld the aid over frustration with what he considered to be an insufficient amount of monetary assistance provided to Ukraine by other countries, says the transcript of the phone call shows he did nothing wrong. The aid was eventually released on September 11.
Following the vote on Wednesday night, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi it was “a great day for the Constitution” but “a sad day for America”.
“I could not be prouder or more inspired by the moral courage of the House Democrats. We never asked one of them how they were going to vote. We never whipped this vote,” she said.
As voting took place, President Trump was addressing a campaign rally in Battle Creek, Michigan, the BBC reported.
“While we’re creating jobs and fighting for Michigan, the radical left in Congress is consumed with envy and hatred and rage, you see what’s going on.”
In response to the voting, the White House released a statement saying that the President was “confident that he will be fully exonerated” in a Senate trial.
Trump is only the third US President to be impeached.
Andrew Johnson (in the 19th century) and Bill Clinton – 21 years ago – both were impeached by the House and acquitted by the Senate, while Richard Nixon resigned in 1974 before the lower house could vote on his impeachment.