The US impeachment process explained
Donald Trump has been impeached by the House of Representatives, becoming only the third US president to suffer the ignominy and bringing him a step closer to being removed from office.
Two articles of impeachment were passed over his behaviour in the Ukraine scandal – one for abuse of power and the other for obstruction of Congress.
Not a single Republican voted for either article – a fact the White House seized on to portray the Democrats’ impeachment drive as motivated by political bias.
The issue will now pass to the Senate, the other body that makes up the US Congress, which will hold a trial on whether to convict and remove Mr Trump from office next month.
But given the Republicans – Mr Trump’s party – hold the Senate majority and two thirds of senators would need to vote for removal it is very unlikely to happen.
Even so, impeachment creates a permanent black mark on Mr Trump’s political legacy that he shares with only two past presidents – Andrew Johnson and Bill Clinton.
Addressing cheering supporters at a rally in Battle Creek, Michigan, as the House delivered its historic verdict, Mr Trump was dismissive and defiant.
“They’ve been trying to impeach me from day one,” he said.
“After three years of sinister witch hunts, hoaxes, scams, tonight, House Democrats are trying to nullify the ballots of tens of millions of patriotic Americans.”
Article one, abuse of power, passed with 230 votes to 197. Two Democrats voted against it. Article three, obstruction of Congress, passed with 229 votes to 197. Three Democrats voted against.
In the biggest surprise of the night, Tulsi Gabbard, the Hawaii congresswoman running for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination, voted ‘present’, meaning she did not back impeachment.
She later explained that US voters should be allowed to decide Mr Trump’s fate in next November’s election. “My vote today is a vote for much needed reconciliation and hope that together we can heal our country,” she said in a statement.
The vote plunges Mr Trump into uncharted political waters. No US president has ever won re-election after being impeached.
Mr Johnson, impeached in 1868, failed to win his party’s next presidential nomination. Bill Clinton, impeached in 1998, stood down when his second term ended in January 2000.
Yet there are perils, too, for the Democrats. The country is split down the middle on impeachment according to polls and moderate Democrats seeking re-election in pro-Trump districts could face a backlash.
Mr Trump, who had tweeted his fury and urged supporters to pray for him throughout Wednesday, showed no signs of remorse over the scandal which triggered impeachment during his rally.
“Crazy Nancy Pelosi’s House Democrats have branded themselves with an eternal mark of shame,” the president said, referencing the Democratic House speaker who decided to go for impeachment.
The Democrats have a comfortable majority in the House, which allowed them to win the impeachment vote without any Republican support.
“Every single Republican voted for us,” Mr Trump said, reacting to the result in real time. “The Republican Party has never been so affronted but they have never been so united as they are right now.”
It was a message echoed by the White House, which immediately issued a statement after the vote in the name of Mr Trump’s press secretary, Stephanie Grisham.
The opening line read: “Today marks the culmination in the House of one of the most shameful political episodes in the history of our Nation.”
Congressmen had rushed forward to the front of the House chamber when the first vote was called, signing red or green voting slips representing “nay” or “yea” and then handing them to the clerks to count.
There was a ripple of applause from Democrats when the first article of impeachment passed, but Ms Pelosi motioned for silence and their clapping soon stopped.
Ms Pelosi has repeatedly called impeachment a sad and solemn process, wary of appearing too partisan to voters. She wore black for the day of the vote itself.
“We could not be prouder or more inspired than by the moral courage of the House Democrats,” Ms Pelosi said in a press conference afterwards. “We never asked one of them how they were going to vote. We never whipped this vote.”
With less than a year to go before the election, Mr Trump’s campaign began the fightback against the impeachment vote within minutes of the result.
A fundraising email sent in Mr Trump’s name called for $4 million to be raised in the next 24 hours. “It’s US against THEM in this impeachment war,” it read. “And we need to strike first.”
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