CT lawmakers wrestle with — and support — Trump’s impeachment
Washington — Connecticut’s lawmakers joined nearly all of their Democratic House colleagues late Wednesday in voting to impeach President Donald J. Trump, but that wasn’t their preference — at least not at first.
Connecticut’s lawmakers initially resisted calls from some Democrats seeking Trump’s impeachment, agreeing with House Speaker Nancy Pelosi that it it would take time and energy, hurting their ability to press their legislative agenda and result in an almost certain acquittal by a Republican-led Senate.
The complaints of a CIA whistleblower about Trump’s phone call to Ukraine’s leader changed all that.
“As with many of my colleagues, I was reluctant to call for impeachment because I feared it would further divide our country, be perceived as overturning the 2016 election, and go to the United States Senate where Republicans would acquit President Trump regardless of the evidence,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro, D-3rd District. “But the president’s unchecked actions gave the Congress no other choice.”
The House voted 230-197 on the first article of impeachment, which says says Trump abused the power of his office by soliciting Ukraine’s help in discrediting a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.
There was a smattering of applause among Democrats and loud booing from Republicans when the tally was announced signalling Trump’s impeachment. The vote made Trump the third president in history to be impeached, after Bill Clinton and Andrew Johnson.
The House then voted 229-198 on the second article, which accuses Trump of obstructing Congress by trying to block the Democratic inquiry into the Ukrainian matter, denying lawmakers access to witnesses and documents.
“It was a very solemn room,” said Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District of the House chamber. “No one relishes this, but we swore to uphold the law.”
Rep. Jim Himes, D-4th District, who was the first member of the Connecticut delegation to support an impeachment inquiry into Trump, was also the only member of that delegation to speak during the impeachment debate Wednesday.
“I am angry that President Donald Trump has treated his oath and office so disrespectfully that now we must hold him accountable,” Himes said during hours of partisan debate. “The truth is clear to anyone not deliberately looking away.”
Alternately, Republicans and Democrats made brief speeches at a lectern on the House floor. There was occasional bipartisan agreement that it was a “solemn” and “sad day.” But that’s where any agreement stopped.
The stark partisan divide over the president’s conduct, mirrored in the division in public opinion over the issue, was on display hour after hour.
Republicans called the impeachment proceedings a “charade” and a “sham” and insisted Trump has done nothing wrong.
Republicans also argued that Trump’s impeachment was inevitable, and Democrats had plotted since the president’s election to overturn the results of the 2016 elections.
“If we’re really being honest,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Okla., “Democrats have been searching for a reason to impeach President Trump since the day he was elected.”
But Democrats said the president had violated his oath of office and they were, as defenders of the U.S. Constitution, honor-bound to impeach him.
“This was not an attempt to reduce Ukrainian corruption,” Himes said of the president’s actions. “This was an attempt by Donald J. Trump to aim Ukrainian corruption straight at the heart of the presidential election of 2020.”
Himes, who as a member of the House Intelligence Committee had a leading role in the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry also said “what makes this impeachment essential is that the president’s abuse of power has not stopped.”
“As we speak, he continues to urge foreign interference in our democracy, beseeching China to investigate the Bidens, sending (personal lawyer) Rudy Giuliani overseas to chase Russian conspiracy theories,” he said.
House Speaker Nancy Pelosi began the historic debate, saying Trump’s actions corrupted the electoral process and threatened national security.
“He gave us no choice,” Pelosi said.
After Wednesday’s historic vote, the Speaker hedged when reporters asked her about reports that the House might not immediately transmit articles of impeachment to the Senate.
Democrats have already stated their concerns that Republicans won’t conduct impartial proceedings at a trial, and Wednesday Pelosi declined to commit to any timeline for sending the articles, which is required to begin the impeachment trial.
“So far we haven’t seen anything that looks fair to us,” she said of plans for the Senate trial.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., has assured the White House Trump will be acquitted and has indicated he would not allow witnesses to testify at the Senate trial.
Not business as usual
The historic day was a long and unusual one for many lawmakers.
Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-5th District, who is serving in her first term of office, said voting to impeach Trump had put her on an “emotional roller coaster.” She said she woke up Wednesday morning without enthusiasm for the task that lay ahead and wondering “what happens tomorrow?” The enormity of the day struck her, she said, when the two impeachment articles were read on the floor.
“It was one of those moments when you go, ‘This is happening,’” she said.
Hayes said she has close friends and constituents who oppose Trump’s impeachment. She said she’s also heard from those who strongly support impeachment. “It feels like people are picking sides,” she said.
Wednesday’s impeachment proceedings upended the normal work of Congress and that of many lawmakers.
Hayes said she took no meetings Wednesday, nor did she do other work or try to raise campaign cash — normal activities when in Washington D.C. Instead, Hayes said she monitored the speeches on the floor behind the closed door of her office, and had “some quiet time.”
“We’re human beings, too,” Hayes said. “It’s not like this was a traditional day.”
Rep. John Larson, D-1st District, who like Hayes is a former history teacher, also said all normal routine fell by the wayside on Wednesday. He said he convened a meeting with members of his Washington D.C. and district staffs to discuss the historical impact of the day.
“I thought it was important to have a discussion of what it means,” he said. “I also wanted to solicit from them what they heard from friends and family.”
Larson said calls to his office ran “four or five to one” in support of impeaching the president. “But a number of calls were from people concerned about the process,” Larson said. “Impeachment is a serious charge.”
Meanwhile Trump, who wrote a vituperative six-page letter to Pelosi on Tuesday, continued his angry denunciations of the impeachment process.
“SUCH ATROCIOUS LIES BY THE RADICAL LEFT, DO NOTHING DEMOCRATS. THIS IS AN ASSAULT ON AMERICA, AND AN ASSAULT ON THE REPUBLICAN PARTY!!!!,” Trump tweeted as the debate began Wednesday.
Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said Trump delivered his controversial letter to U.S. senators on Wednesday in a very strange manner.
“True story: there is a White House staffer going around the Senate delivering to each office, as a package, the incoherent, scathing Pelosi letter AND…wait for it…a giant 16×12 White House Christmas card (along with, implausibly, a second smaller Christmas card). What a day,’” Murphy tweeted.
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