The US House of Representatives is marching towards an historic evening vote to impeach President Donald Trump.
Democratic speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi has insisted Congress must “defend democracy” by evicting him from the White House. Mr Trump would be the third American president to be impeached.
Mr Trump said that despite the Democrats’ patriotic talk, they were actually perpetrating “an assault on America”.
It is tragic that the President's reckless actions make impeachment necessary. He gave us no choice. It is a matter of fact that the President is an ongoing threat to our national security and the integrity of our elections, the basis of our democracy. #DefendOurDemocracy pic.twitter.com/fxTLr7I9x3
— Nancy Pelosi (@SpeakerPelosi) December 18, 2019
Ms Pelosi said: “Today we are here to defend democracy for the people. I solemnly and sadly open the debate on the impeachment of the president of the United States.”
Republicans swiftly came to the president’s defence.
Representative Doug Collins of Georgia said: “This is not a solemn occasion. You’ve been wanting to to do this ever since the gentlemen was elected.”
Today’s impeachment vote is going to be a lot of things, but today is not about:
— Rep. Doug Collins (@RepDougCollins) December 18, 2019
Democrats overwhelmingly approved the rules for the debate by 228 votes to 197, with just two defections from Ms Pelosi’s ranks, an early indication of how the votes will eventually fall on the articles of impeachment.
No Republicans supported the procedural vote, but Democrats picked up backing from representative Justin Amash, the Michigan conservative, who left the Republicans this year to become an independent over his support for impeachment.
Mr Trump tweeted his outrage using capital letters and exclamation marks, saying: “Such atrocious lies by the radical left, do nothing Democrats. This is an assault on America, and an assault on the Republican party.”
According to a tally compiled by The Associated Press, a clear House majority was ready to vote to impeach him. The Senate, where the Republicans have a majority, is expected to acquit him in a trial next year.
As proceedings began, representative Jim McGovern, the chairman of the Rules Committee, said: “This is a democracy defining moment. This is about protecting our democracy.”
SUCH ATROCIOUS LIES BY THE RADICAL LEFT, DO NOTHING DEMOCRATS. THIS IS AN ASSAULT ON AMERICA, AND AN ASSAULT ON THE REPUBLICAN PARTY!!!!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) December 18, 2019
Republican representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, called it “a very sad day” with the partisan voting to come.
“Democrats have been searching for a reason to impeach President Trump since the day he was elected,” he said.
One Democrat, Joe Kennedy, read a letter to his young children explaining his vote to impeach. “This is a moment you will read about in your history books,” he told them.
As soon as the session opened, Republicans tried, and failed, to halt what one called the “unfair, rigged” process. All of their efforts – to adjourn, to condemn, to delay – were soundly turned away.
The president, who was to depart later for a rally in the election battleground state of Michigan, fired off a furious letter to Ms Pelosi on Tuesday denouncing the “vicious crusade” against him but acknowledging he was powerless to stop the expected outcome.
Mr Trump implores Americans to “read the transcript” but the facts of his July phone call with the Ukraine president that sparked the impeachment inquiry have been largely confirmed by witnesses in impeachment hearings.
Mr Trump asked Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Democrats and his 2020 political rival Joe Biden. At the time, the newly-elected Ukraine leader was hoping for a coveted White House visit to showcase his standing with the US, his country’s most important ally.
He was also counting on nearly 400 million US dollars in military aid as his country confronted its hostile neighbour, Russia.
The question for members of Congress, and Americans, is whether those actions, and the White House’s block on officials giving evidence to the House investigation, are impeachable offences.