Article II: Inside Impeachment
Trump is Impeached
Father Conroy: Let us pray. Merciful God, we give you thanks for giving us another day. We pause in your presence and ask guidance for the men and women of the people's house. As the members take this time to consider far-reaching legislation and consider historic constitutional action give them wisdom and discernment. Help them. And help us all. (MUSIC) Amen.
Steve Kornacki: From NBC News this is Article II: Inside Impeachment. I'm Steve Kornacki. Today is Wednesday, December 18th. And for the third time in American history the president of the United States has been impeached.
Nancy Pelosi: We gather today under the dome of this temple of democracy to exercise one of the most solemn powers that this body can take. The impeachment of the president of the United States.
Kornacki: Donald John Trump was charged by the House of Representatives with committing high crimes and misdemeanors in the form of two articles of impeachment.
Voice: For the second time in my life the House of Representatives will be voting to impeach a president of the United States.
Voice: All the chaos, all the sadness--
Voice: This is a sad day.
Voice: Article one, abuse of power.
Voice: This is a very sad day. And I do not take impeachment lightly.
Voice: Article two obstruction of Congress.
Voice: Madam speaker, this is a sad day in U.S. history.
Kornacki: It was the culmination of hours and hours of debate on the House floor.
Steny Hoyer: We have seen Republican courage throughout our history. In 1974 one congressman took the brave and principled step of becoming the first Republican on the Judiciary Committee to support impeaching President Nixon. Who among us many years from now will receive such praise as a man or woman of courage? Who will regret not having earned it?
Doug Collins: It has been said today where's bravery? I'll tell where you bravery is found and courage is found. It's found in this minority who has lived through the last year of nothing but rules being broken, people being put down, questions not being answered and this majority say be damned with anything else. We're going to impeach and do whatever we wanna do. Why? Because we won an election. I guarantee you one day you'll be back in the minority and it ain't gonna be that fun.
Adam Schiff: You do not uphold our constitution. You do not uphold your oath of office. Well, I will tell you this, I will uphold mine. I will vote to impeach (APPLAUSE) Donald Trump. I yield back.
Kornacki: House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff got the last word, wrapping up six hours of debate just after 8:00 p.m. eastern time Representative Diane DeGette of Colorado who was chosen to preside over today's historic proceedings announced the start of the first vote.
Diane Degette: The question of adoption of the resolution as amended shall be divided between the two articles. The question now occurs on the adoption of article one. All in favor say aye.
Degette: Oppose, no.
Kornacki: Dressed in black House Speaker Nancy Pelosi gaveled in the results of the first vote to adopt the first article of impeachment, abuse of power.
Nancy Pelosi: On this vote the yays are 230, the nays are 197. Present is one. Article one is adopted. (Gavel bang)
Kornacki: And moments later the house voted 229--
Kornacki: --to 198 to one to adopt the second article: obscuration of Congress.
Pelosi: Article two, (Gavel bang) is adopted.
Kornacki: Votes fell almost exactly along party lines. There was not a single Republican defector from the president's side and just four Democrats broke ranks with their party. Among them Representative Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey may have received the most attention over the past few days for his decision not only to vote against both articles of impeachment but also apparently to switch parties.
Rather than sit with the Democrats today Van Drew sat squarely in the middle of the Republican side of the chamber. Representative Collin Peterson of Minnesota also a Democrat who voted against both articles of impeachment. And Representative Jared Golden of Maine decided to split his votes, voting yes on one article one, that was abuse of power, and voting no on article two, that was obstruction of Congress.
All three of those Democrats represent districts that were won by then candidate Donald Trump in 2016. And in a surprise to many, Representative Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii was the single present vote. In a statement released to the press afterward, Gabbard said, quote, "After doing my due diligence in reviewing the 650-page impeachment report I came to the conclusion that I could not, in good conscious, vote either yes or no." After the vote, Speaker Pelosi praised her Democratic caucus.
Pelosi: I could not be prouder or more inspired by-- than 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.
Kornacki: And she questioned the fairness of the process in the Senate.
Pelosi: We have legislation approved by the rules committee that will enable us to decide how we will send over the articles of impeachment. We cannot name managers until we see what the process is on the Senate side. And I would hope that that would be soon as we did with our legislation, our resolution 660 to describe what the process would be. So far we haven't seen anything that looks fair to us. So hopefully it will be fair. And when we see what that is we'll send our managers.
Kornacki: Meanwhile almost 600 miles away from Washington D.C. in Battle Creek, Michigan President Trump addresses supporters as a rally just as the vote on impeachment (BACKGROUND VOICE) was getting underway.
Donald Trump: By the way, it doesn't feel like we're being impeached. (LAUGHTER) The country is doing better than ever before. We did (APPLAUSE) nothing wrong. We did nothing wrong. And we have tremendous support in the Republican Party like we've never had before. (CHEERING) Nobody's ever had this kind of support. (MUSIC)
Kornacki: So today on article two a look at what this historic vote means for our politics, for our country and for the future of impeachment. But first we're gonna take a quick break and be right back.
Kornacki: It was a long day in Washington in the latest in a series of long days in Washington. That's part of the reason why I'm here talking to you alone tonight. In the coming days and the coming weeks journalists like myself and historians and analysts and talking heads, all of us, are gonna be offering thoughts about what is as of tonight the third impeachment of a president in American history.
So I know I'm just one of many voices out there. But along with you I have been paying very close attention to what's been unfolding over these past few weeks. And a number of times I have invoked that cliché, it's a true cliché, but it's a cliché nonetheless. The cliché that impeachment is ultimately a political process.
And so to understand what is and what isn't happening we need to understand the politics surrounding it. And one question that emerges in the wake of today's events, will the politics of impeachment change after Trump? Will they change after this? What is the future of this 229-year-old constitutional process after today? When the country finds itself facing a political crisis it can be useful to look to the past. Now there aren't a lot of reference points when it comes to impeachment. But the last one, that was of President Bill Clinton back on December 19th, 1998.
Well, that one has some stories it can share with us. If you ask reporters who covered Clinton's impeachment what it was like back then they'll probably tell you that Congress was rife with partisan rancor. Republicans almost universally backing at least one article of impeachment against Clinton. And all but a few Democrats opposing all of them. Some of the rhetoric from the House floor on that day back in December, 1998 sounds eerily similar to what we heard today. Take, for instance, this moment. It was from Lindsey Graham. He's in the Senate now. But back in 1998 he was a Republican member of the House.
Lindsey Graham: We believe he lied under oath numerous times. That he tampered with evidence. That he conspired to present false testimony to a court of law. We believe he assaulted our legal system in every way.
Kornacki: And then today Representative Madeleine Dean, a Democrat from Pennsylvania said this.
Madeleine Dean: When is it ever right for a president to coerce a foreign power to interfere in our elections? And when is it ever right for a president to block a coequal branch of government from investigating the scheme to cheat an election? The answer, of course, is never.
Kornacki: Well, here is party of Jerry Nadler's speech on the floor back in 1998.
Jerry Nadler: This is clearly a partisan railroad job. The American people are watching and they will not forget. You may have the votes, you may have the muscle. But you do not have the legitimacy of a national consensus or of a constitutional imperative. This partisan coup d'état will go down in infamy in the history of this nation.
Kornacki: And today Republican Debbie Lesko from Arizona.
Debbie Lasko: This is the most partisan impeachment in the history of the United States. And not one Republican I don't think is gonna vote for it here today. Madam Speaker, this is a sad day. I believe that Democrats are tearing this country apart. They're tearing families apart.
Kornacki: You could almost swap each of these statements, Republican in '98 for Democrat in 2019. Democrat in '98 for Republican in 2019. Back in 1998 there were many who asked if the Clinton impeachment would give rise to more frequent impeachments in the future.
If impeachment would become just another item in the partisan toolbox. Well, there's been a lot of impeachment talk in the two decades since then. But there never was a serious impeachment drive against George W. Bush or Barack Obama. But now here we are, the end of Donald Trump's third year. And if anything, the vote count this time is even more partisan.
Back in December, 1998 there were 12 Republicans who voted against charging Clinton with obstruction of justice. And there were five Democrats who voted in favor of that. There were also five Democrats who voted for a perjury impeachment article against Clinton and there were five Republicans who voted no on that. Representative Peter King, a Republican from New York, was among that handful of lawmakers who broke with their party back in 1998.
Peter King: That's going down with the country. I think that's going to have long-term impacts in the country whether you're Democrat or Republican. It's gonna have a very, very negative impact in the country. We're setting a standard which is gonna make it very difficult for future presidents to be able to function without being subject to constant investigations and constant independent councils and constant lawsuits.
Kornacki: Today, King was also a no-vote. But this time that put him in lockstep with his party.
Voice: From New York, Mr. King.
King: I rise today as strong opposition to the articles of impeachment against President Trump. As Chairman Nadler must recall, exactly 21 years ago today I spoke on this floor in opposition the impeachment of President Clinton. And 21 years ago tomorrow I vote against all four articles of impeachment against President Clinton. Today's articles of impeachment against President Trump are an assault on our constitution and the American people.
Kornacki: So while the rhetoric from 1998 and 2019 have striking similarities the vote in the House was even more partisan this time around. There were no defections among House Republicans today. And there were only three Democrats who voted against one or both articles.
And the divide does not just exist in Congress. Back in 1998 a clear majority of voters were against impeaching Clinton. Republicans tried and tried to change that. They never could though. This time around however, the country is split right down the middle. How 'bout this? As the House was about to vote today, brand new NBC News, Wall Street Journal poll was released. And the finding? 48% of Americans (MUSIC) favor impeachment and 48% are against it.
So we're asking the same question now that folks did 20 years ago. Will every future president be at risk for this process if the rancor and the bitterness between the parties is strong enough? Some lawmakers did not hesitate to voice those concerns on the House floor today.
Stewart: If this impeachment is successful the next president, I promise you, is going to be impeached. And the next president after that. If you set this bar as being impeachable every president in our future will be impeached. It erodes our Republic in ways that our feuding fathers recognize. They got it right.
Hurd: Today a dangerous president will be set. Impeachment becoming a weaponized political tool. We know how this partisan process will end this evening. But what happens tomorrow?
Kornacki: What happens tomorrow is a question we don't have the answer for yet. In the first nearly 200 years of this country's history there's only one impeachment of a president that was in 1868, President Andrew Johnson. But in the last four decades or so, well, we've now witnessed two impeachments of presidents and a third that was about to become an impeachment until Richard Nixon read the writing on the wall and chose to resign in 1974.
So essentially that is three impeachments over the last four decades. Now that may not sound like a ton. But that's also a pretty clear uptick from what America had known any time before now. So is this just the tip of the iceberg? Are Republicans gonna seek vengeance on the next Democratic president and move to impeach him or her?
If they do that, will Democrats then respond in kind until this just becomes something that parties do? There's one more thing that makes today's vote different. Unlike Andrew Johnson and Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton, President Trump is running for reelection. That will be the final chapter of this impeachment drama. The chapter where the lessons are revealed. (MUSIC) And that chapter will not be written until this November.
Article II: Inside Impeachment is produced by Isabel Angel, Max Jacobs, Claire Tighe, Aaron Dalton, Preeti Varathan, Allison Bailey, Adam Noboa and Barbara Raab. Our executive producer is Ellen Frankman, Steve Lickteig is the executive producer of audio. I'm Steve Kornacki, we'll be back on Friday.