A vote on articles of impeachment against US President Donald Trump has been abruptly postponed.
The House Judiciary Committee shut down a divisive 14-hour session that dragged with sharp partisan divisions but had been expected to end with the charges being sent to the full House for a vote next week.
Approval of the charges against the president is still expected on Friday morning (Washington time) in the committee. But the sudden turn punctuated the deep split in the Congress, and the nation, over impeaching the president.
The committee, made up of some of the most strident Democrats and Republicans in Congress, clashed for all day and into the night as Republicans insisted on lengthy debate on amendments designed to kill the two formal charges with no hope of winning votes from the majority Democrats.
Chairman Jerrold Nadler, a New York Democrat, said the committee would resume the session at 10am (3pm UK time) on Friday.
“It is now very late at night,” Mr Nadler said after presiding over the two day session. “I want the members on both sides of the aisle to think about what has happened over these past two days and to search their consciences before they cast their final votes.”
Mr Trump is accused, in the first article, of abusing his presidential power by asking Ukraine to investigate his 2020 rival, Joe Biden, while holding military aid as leverage, and, in the second, of obstructing Congress by blocking the House’s efforts to probe his actions.
The Republicans on the panel. blindsided by the move, were livid.
“They do not care about rules. They have one thing, their hatred of Donald Trump,” said Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the panel.
Mr Trump is only the fourth US president to face impeachment proceedings and the first to be running for reelection at the same time. He insists he did nothing wrong and blasts the Democrats’ daily as a sham and harmful to America.
Republican allies seem unwavering in their opposition to expelling Mr Trump, and he claims to be looking ahead to swift acquittal in a Senate trial.
Speaker Nancy Pelosi sounded confident on Thursday that Democrats, who once tried to avoid a solely partisan effort, will have the votes to impeach the president without Republican support when the full House votes. But she said it was up to individual lawmakers to weigh the evidence.
“The fact is we take an oath to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” Ms Pelosi told reporters. “No one is above the law; the president will be held accountable for his abuse of power and for his obstruction of Congress.”
The president has refused to participate in the proceedings, mocking the charges against him in the House’s nine-page resolution as “impeachment light.” But Ms Pelosi said the president was wrong and the case against him is deeply grounded.
Democrats contend that Mr Trump has engaged in a pattern of misconduct toward Russia dating back to the 2016 election campaign that special counsel Robert Mueller investigated.
And they say his dealings with Ukraine have benefited Russia, not the US, and he must be prevented from “corrupting” US elections again.
“It is urgent,” Ms Pelosi said.
But Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said on Fox News, “There is zero chance the president will be removed from office.” He said he was hoping to have no Republican defections in the Senate trial next year.
As politicians dug in for the second day at the stately hearing room in the Capitol, Mr Nadler immediately asked for a full reading of the two articles of impeachment against the president as TV cameras carried the live proceedings.
Then came a long day of fights over amendments, primarily by Republicans trying to stop the impeachment. They were being rejected by Democrats along party lines.
“The central issue of this impeachment is the corruption of our institutions that safeguard democracy by our president,” Mr Nadler said. “We cannot tolerate a president subverting the fairness and integrity of our elections.”